We’ve all set goals for ourselves only to abandon them later, but it’s not because we’re lazy or can’t hack it. It turns out that setting good goals is much more difficult than it seems. For instance, it’s hard to imagine, at the outset, all the problems you may encounter along the way to achieving your goals, and even more difficult to plan for them.
Because we’re just entering a new year, and many of us have goal setting on the brain, we want to talk about what goes into an attainable goal.
Motivation is your most precious resource when it comes to achieving your goals, and unless your goal is something you really care about, that motivation can start to falter on you. Getting into better shape, saving some money—these are both very common goals, and sensible, but they are also a few of the goals that people most commonly abandon. Your goal shouldn’t just be something you know is a generally good idea, or something you’re supposed to want. Your goals should really inspire you. Pursue the things that light you up.
One of the most common reasons we fail on follow through is because our goals aren’t very specific. It’s not easy to pursue a vague objective, and even more difficult to measure our vague progress and vague results. Eating healthier is a common goal, for instance, and one that’s often abandoned. What does “Eating healthier” really mean anyway? Make your goals specific; I want to cut back on fast-food by preparing at least three-quarters of my weekly meals at home, or maybe it means eating a salad for at least one meal a day, or learning two new healthy recipes a week. Instead of a general notion, make your goals specific, measurable, and achievable.
Goals can also be made more specific and attainable when we break down the larger goal into sub-goals. If your goal this year, just for an example, is getting into your dream college, then make an inventory of all the things you’ll need to do first to accomplish that goal. How many hours will you set aside for studying each week? What will you need? Maybe your goal plan will include time studying with a tutor, or hours spent volunteering, soliciting letters of recommendation, or beefing up your extracurriculars. When we divide our goals into their smallest pieces, not only do we come up with a more achievable and comprehensive plan, but we give ourselves the opportunity to tackle sub-goals as we go, which helps us keep our motivation strong and our spirits high.
3. Measured in effort
When you’re setting your goal, instead of focusing on the finish line you hope to reach, frame your goal in terms of the amount of effort you want to put into it. It’s easy to misjudge just how far the finish line is from the start. We’ve all set finish lines that were too bold. The trouble is, when we fail to reach a finish line, we can feel like failures—it’s as if we can either achieve the goal or we can fail it, and that gives us very little space in between total success and total failure to actually do the hard work.
Instead, it’s better to think of goals as manageable, sustainable lifestyle changes. If you want to be healthier this year, don’t frame the goal in terms of pounds lost. Focus instead on how many hours you want to put in at the gym, or what changes you’ll make in the kitchen. Or, if your goal is to learn the banjo, then frame your goal in terms of hours you’ll commit to practicing per week. This way you can find pride, not just in the final result, but in your daily efforts and hard work. No progress is too small to celebrate.
Many people find it useful to make a declaration of their goals, either by telling close friends and family, or putting the goal down in writing. If a goal exists only in our thoughts, it can feel less “real,” and easier to abandon. So, try writing it down in a checklist you update along the way, or tell someone close to you, who can help keep you honest. This goal isn’t just a passing idea; it’s the real deal. Let it be known!
A good goal doesn’t fall apart at the first setback. Failure is always a part of the process, and a good goal is made with that in mind. Often people will give up on a goal entirely when they slip up once, as if they’ve broken their winning streak and now all is lost. When you encounter setbacks along the way, remember that there were always going to be setbacks. Now it’s time to adjust, refocus, and continue on. Instead of imagining your goal as something you’ll either fail or achieve, try to imagine your goal as something you’ll pursue, day after day, setback after setback, and triumph after triumph.
We want to hear about the goals you’re setting for yourself this year, and your plans to achieve them. Join the conversation online using the hashtags #BeWell, #BeHeard, and #BeThere.