In order to find success, you first have to define what that looks like for you. Many great achievements begin as far-off goals, that seem impossible until it’s done. Though you may not absolutely need a goal to succeed, research still shows that those who set goals are 10 times more successful than those without goals.
Yet setting goals isn’t really the hard part — it’s everything that comes after. The path to achieving a goal is filled with setbacks and doubts and changes. It’s because of this that you may not be surprised to learn that 92 percent of people who set New Year’s resolutions never achieve them. The long road to making your dreams of owning your own home or paying off your excessive student loan debt can be hard, but there are tools out there designed to help make the journey easier.
We’ll go into detail on how to make your goals work better for you, and proven successful techniques below. You can also skip to the infographic.
1. Figure Out Your Driving Purpose
While your goal may be something small, like cooking at home more, understanding how this goal fits into your overall motivations can help you stay on track. For instance, cooking at home more may mean that you spend more time with your kids, allowing you to feel fulfilled. Or perhaps cooking at home means you have more money to put into a travel fund, fulfilling your dreams of experiencing as much adventure as you can.
When you understand how your goal relates to what you truly value, you can use these values to strengthen your motivation.
Standford Psychologist Kelly McGonigal recommends these questions to get connected with your ideal self:
- What do I want to experience more of in my life, and what could I do to invite that/create that?
- How do I want to be in the most important relationships or roles in my life? What would that look like, in practice?
- What do I want to offer the world? Where can I begin?
- How do I want to grow in the next year?
2. Write Out Your Goals
Writing your goals out means you’ll be anywhere from 1.2 to 1.4 times more likely to fulfill them. Experts theorize this is because writing your goals down helps you to choose more specific goals, imagine and anticipate hurdles, and helps cement them in your mind. Plus, displaying your goals in a prominent location can help remind you each day of what you’re working towards.
When writing down your goals, don’t forget to make them specific, measurable, and time-bound. Rather than writing down, “lose weight,” write, “lose 5 pounds in a month by working out three times a week.”
3. Break Them Into Manageable Pieces
No matter if your goal is to travel the country in a portable tiny house, or to learn to cook a great pie, one of the most important parts of making your goals happen is breaking them into manageable pieces. There are two ways to think about this: by time, or by task.
You could determine that you’ll have an hour each day to dedicate towards achieving your goal. If that’s the case, determine which tasks can be started immediately, which you can do every day and every month. If you’re learning a language, you can download an app and start right away. Each week you can compile your learning into notes, and each month you could attend a local meetup
Alternatively, you could break your goal into smaller milestones, and even small steps within those. While you may not set determine weekly and monthly goals, the idea is to break down the important tasks enough that you could easily tackle one each day.
4. Create A Realistic Schedule
Many people set an end date in order to motivate themselves to work hard — but this often results in them becoming demotivated the moment they fall off track. Instead of using a deadline as a way to force yourself to act, think of it as a tool to break up your tasks. When your tasks are broken up realistically, it should be easier to meet the deadline.
Remember to consider external factors. If your goal involves other people, like starting a business and hiring others, allow for flexibility.
Finally, when scheduling out your tasks, don’t forget to include small rewards, too. Determine a prize for completing milestones along the way, so you can stop and appreciate how far you’ve come — and springboard yourself on to the next task.
5. Plan for Hurdles
There’s a saying that the more you learn, the more you realize you don’t know. The sentiment applies to goal-setting as well. When you’re just starting out, there’s no way for you to know what you don’t know. You can’t anticipate every hurdle that will come your way, but understanding that having a moment where you might be a little in over your head is a part of the process will help you combat something known as the false hope syndrome.
The false hope syndrome is a term coined by social science researchers that describes how people tend to have unrealistic expectations of self-change. Once the illusion has been shattered, they lose their confidence in ever completing their goal.
Yet achieving your goals has nothing to do with avoiding failure. Failure is inevitable — quitting is not. Research shows that those who complete their goals don’t have fewer setbacks than those who give up on them. So when planning your goals, understand there will be setbacks, but the only thing you can do is learn from them and keep going.
6. Create a Support Team
Your friends and family can be there to cheer you on if you’re too exhausted to go on one more run at the end of the workday or keep you accountable if your new language skills are slipping. You may also want to take the opportunity to find a community of people all working towards the same goal online. If you’re trying to write a book, a forum where aspiring authors edit and give feedback and advice can be invaluable to your progress.
There is one caveat to the power of your support team, however. Some experts theorize that by telling your friends and family about your goal, you gain a rush of positive emotions and achieve what’s known as an identity goal. By announcing that you’re going to write a book, you know that your friends begin to see you as an author. This shift in your identity tricks your brain into feeling the goal has already been accomplished — stealing the momentum from the actual goal.
So when looping in your friends and family on your goals, be mindful about how you let their praise and expectations affect you. If you want to play it safe, you may not want to tell anyone at all.
7. Stay Positive
Both the most basic and the hardest part of achieving your goals. Looking on the bright side and celebrating small wins is an essential part of finding success. So when you miss a deadline or accidentally go over your budget goals, don’t beat yourself up. The negative emotions you associate with the failure will only keep you back from starting again.
This aversion can be hard to overcome, but staying positive and reconnecting with your driving purpose can help. There’s a mental trick that Mel Robbins suggests: The 5-second rule. When you feel an impulse to take action towards your goal, but don’t want to, count to five, then act. Past that five-second window, your brain will kill the impulse, and you’ll procrastinate.
Ultimately, achieving what you want to, and becoming the ideal version of yourself doesn’t take a superhuman level of self-control or expert knowledge. All it takes is consistency, a solid understanding of how your mind works, and some useful tools. Here are some goal-setting techniques to make achieving your dreams that much easier.
If you’ve dipped your toes into the world of goal-setting before, you’ve probably heard of SMART goals. These stand for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Taking this goal-setting technique a step further, and they’re even SMARTER:
Specific: Say exactly what you want to achieve.
Measurable: Decide on numbers or another metric that marks success.
Achievable: Ensure your goal is realistic.
Relevant: Connect this goal to your overall vision.
Time-bound: Set a deadline.
Evaluate: Determine when you will check in on your goals.
Readjust: Stay flexible if goals need to change.
Smarter goal example: I will learn how to code a single webpage in HTML within a year, checking my progress each month with online tests, and readjusting if necessary.
SMARTER goals allow you to overcome hurdles, learn new challenges, and tackle them with greater ease. This makes SMARTER Goals perfect for a goal-setting beginner working on one task that you want to achieve mostly alone.
Woop is a newer method that utilizes what’s known as mental contrasting. WOOP balances the inspiring power of positive thinking with a realistic understanding of potential obstacles. By visualizing both the positive outcomes and possible setbacks, you are more prepared to take action towards your goal. WOOP stands for:
Wish: Figure out an exciting yet realistic dream.
Outcome: Picture the best outcome of your goal, and how it would make you feel.
Obstacle: Anticipate obstacles that may hold you back.
Plan: Make an If/Then plan to overcome the obstacles if they occur.
WOOP goal example: I want to lose 20 pounds, which will make me feel proud. Yet I tend to overeat when I’m stressed, so if my schedule gets hectic, I will focus on eating reasonable portions.
The WOOP method is great for a goal-setter who struggles with falling off the bandwagon or loses motivation easily. For this reason, it’s especially helpful when you are trying to make or break a habit.
HARD goals are just that: difficult. If you’re up for a challenge and want to ensure you’re pushing yourself, HARD goals make it possible.
Heartfelt: Invest emotionally in your goal.
Animated: See yourself achieving the goal.
Required: Find concrete reasons that you absolutely need to complete your goal.
Difficult: CHeck that your goal is difficult.
HARD goal example: I must pay off my student loans in order to start saving for a house.
Since HARD goals are difficult by design, they may not be best for the beginner goal-setter. Reserve HARD goals for things you have a strong motivation to complete.
Not every goal can be realized alone, which is where CLEAR goals come in. This technique ensures everyone has what they need to participate. Clear stands for:
Collaborative: Ensure everyone is involved.
Limited: Set limits in time, money and scope.
Emotional: Tap into everyone’s passion
Appreciable: Break large goals into measurable steps.
Refinable: Give yourself permission to refine the goal.
Whether at work or in a school project, CLEAR goals are best for ensuring everyone is contributing to their fullest potential.
Ready to get started on achieving your goals? Check out our infographic for a quick summary of everything you need to know: