When setting a goal, it often feels harder to reach them when you don’t have any specifics down. You want more money? Well, how much? Why? You want to travel, but where?
It’s also sometimes a good idea to pinpoint other specifics, like a time-frame or how you’re going to achieve it. So, with less specific goals, like “better physical health” you might want to say that “by summer, I want to jog without having to stop“. Or, “I will improve my health by doing yoga and jogs throughout the week“.
I am being careful with this one because I feel that goals which are too specific can be a set up for failure. As in, I will run 5k in 3 months by jogging 5 times a week every morning. That’s likely to fail because there’s no wiggle room. There’s too much pressure and if you slip up even a little, you’re likely to beat yourself up for it and quit.
So, be specific but also don’t overwhelm yourself or stifle the goal with too many parameters.
It’s good to have a goal that is more about a feeling or an intention, and then be specific from there…
“I want to read more books and feel like I’m learning new things. This will improve my craft, intelligence, and knowledge. I will make this a routine part of my day, fitting it in where possible. Ideally, I want to read 24 books this year, 2 a month.”
Specific, realistic, action-based, intentional, and includes a feeling you want to achieve. Done!
The next thing to think about when goal-setting is progress. You need to be in control of your progress otherwise you will fall short. This is because, with many goals, the progress can feel slow when you’re too focused on the end result. Instead, focusing on progress (big or small) is a great motivator to keep you going.
So, for me, I have a progress tracker on my whiteboard for the 24 books I aim to read this year. That way I can colour in the little boxes as I go, seeing that I’m not at 24 yet, but with every book, I’m getting closer. This feels good and keeps me going.
I also have a Habit Tracker. I tally my habits each day as I do them, displaying what I need to do and showing that each week I’m doing them (or not). This makes me feel good even if the desired end result isn’t yet reached (i.e. I’m not a yogi master yet, but I can see that I did yoga 5 times in a week, thus moving forwards).
Focus on the little steps forward and reward yourself for them, where appropriate. This will keep you motivated and not end with you quitting!
TIP: Use the Two-Day Rule where you are allowed to miss a day with a goal or a habit, but never two days in a row. So, you can (theoretically) miss more than one day in a week, but never two days consecutively. This ensures that you don’t fall off track, but allows you to be human and have a break.
Sphere of control
It’s important to bear in mind that your goals for 2020 need to be focused on things that you are actually in control of. If you try to set goals outside of your control, you are putting them in the hands of someone else, thus setting yourself up for potential hurt and failure.
So, don’t set the goal of reaching 10k Instagram followers; instead, set the goal of posting more regularly and learning about the algorithm (or whatever!)
Don’t set the goal of getting straight As at university; set the goal of putting more time into your study sessions, getting help from your tutor, and reading more around the topics you’re studying.
Focus on what you can literally do to achieve your desired outcome, not on something that is in the hands of someone else or fate or anything else.
Keep it personal with a why
As I always say, goals are personal! You are less likely to succeed at a goal if you’re doing it for or because of someone else. Or if it means nothing to you on a personal level.
The goal of running a marathon means nothing to me. It’s cool and challenging and fantastic, but I’m not a runner (anymore) and I don’t have any desire to run such a length. Improved stamina and flexibility, totally! But a marathon…no thanks.
The same goes for anything else. Don’t set goals because other people are setting them. Don’t do things to look cool or brave or just because it’s the New Year. These things are likely to fail.
But when you set a goal based on a personal and strong reason why, you are more likely to be motivated to do it and keep at it even when it’s hard.
I want to read and write more. My reasons why:
- Reading helps me write better
- Reading improves my intelligence and knowledge (something I feel insecure about a lot)
- Writing brings me joy
- Writing is a big part of who I am
- Writing helps me understand myself and the world
- I want to make a career as a novelist
- I want to speak more articulately
- Stories make me feel alive; somehow you can escape into them while understanding your own life better at the same time
These reasons why drive me towards sitting at my desk and hitting the keyboard; they drive me to pick up a book instead of my phone.
If I set the goal “just because“, then trust me, I wouldn’t bother.
Habits – make it your lifestyle
And lastly, you can’t look at goals as an end destination, as I said before. You will do well to simply make them a part of your life. This is why things like running a marathon can sometimes be harder to achieve than simply saying I want the habit of being a runner.
It takes time to ingrain habits into your life, sure, but once you have them, you’re golden! I never used to read often; definitely not by default. But now I do, with ease. It takes time but with a real reason why and perseverance and enjoyment in what you’re doing, it becomes a lifestyle choice.
Make your chosen goals a habitual part of your life. A routine, a lifestyle, a part of who you are. Then, before you know it, you’ll be doing the things you once wished you could without even thinking about it.
Tips for developing habits:
- Set up your environment for that habit: keep a book by your bed, keep your yoga mat out, get your jogging clothes ready the night before, don’t store junk food in the house…
- Be held accountable: tell someone you trust and have them help or keep on top of you, write yourself notes, have a habit tracker displayed to keep you on track
- Make it easy: break it down into smaller chunks, set a short timer for a task, make it less daunting, get help
- Set your specifics: I’ll write 1k a day, I’ll read 10 pages a day, I will enter a fun run in July, I will enter a writing competition in Autumn…
- Make it fun: reward yourself for doing them, include fun elements like music or dancing or doing them with a buddy, make yourself look forward to doing them
Be patient, be kind, have fun and don’t see your goals or habits as a punishment! I surely hope they’re not. When you want to do these things, you actually do them. So, enjoy the journey.