It's a common experience that happens to the best of us: armed with the most noblest of intentions, you set goals that are sure to transform you into the best version of yourself. And things go swimmingly — in the beginning. But then an inevitable slump occurs, those lofty goals start to feel completely out of reach, and, in the end, fall by the wayside. But there are ways to set and achieve your goals, according to experts, and it all starts with how you set yourself up for success.
“There are three components to a goal that research shows will make it more likely to be accomplished," Dr. Melissa Gratias, productivity expert and author of Set Goals…even if you’re not convinced you’ll achieve them, tells Woman's Day. "A: the goal is specific, as opposed to a ‘try your best’ goal. B, the goal is challenging, but not impossible. And C, the goal is one to which you feel committed, particularly if it is shared with others."
Having the best of intentions is wonderful, but if you learn how to set goals and avoid obstacles along the way, you'll be able to achieve your goals and continue to work towards becoming the best version of yourself.
Identify the biggest gaps in your life.
A "gap," in this instance, is the distance between where you currently are and where you want to be. “To determine what goals to set, examine which aspects of your life have the largest gaps. You’ll feel the most motivated to work on those areas,” Gratias says.
Rank the following areas on a scale of 1-5, with 1 equaling no gap (as in, you’re happy where you are) and 5 equaling a large gap:
- Health and recreation
- Family and friends
Once you've recognized the area of your life you need to improve the most, you can begin to set a specific goal tailored to closing that gap.
Identify your goal.
You’ve identified the area in your life with the largest gap between where you are and where you want to be. Now, how do you set a goal for closing that gap? For starters, make sure that your goal is achievable, so that taking the necessary first steps towards making it happen feels attainable.
“When choosing targets for improvement, start with goals that feel easy, but that you aren’t currently working toward. Use the ‘small wins’ to make gradual progress. If a goal sounds too far out of your reach, you are more likely to procrastinate and get discouraged,” Maura Thomas, productivity expert and author of three books on the subject, tells Woman's Day. For example, making a goal to run the Boston Marathon when you aren’t currently a runner isn’t likely to motivate you. Instead, Thomas says, “start with a goal to run one mile without stopping.”
Turn your goal into a project.
A goal and a project are not the same. You can think of a goal as a desired outcome, and a project as a detailed plan of actionable steps that will help you reach that goal. By breaking your goal down into a project (or many small projects, if necessary), you’ll build yourself a roadmap to achieve your goal, instead of simply relying on a vague vision.
“You need to be clear about the exact steps that will get you to your goal, and the specifics of how you’ll know once it’s been achieved," Thomas says. "For example, ‘get healthy’ is more of a goal than a project. How will you know the best way to take action? How will you be able to measure ‘healthy’?”
If your goal is to run more frequently, for example, than projects toward accomplishing that goal could include "contact local running groups" or "buy running shoes."
Watch out for speed bumps.
Once you’ve transformed your goal into a project, make sure you work to eliminate any potential speed bumps that could hinder your progress.
“We are motivated by achievement. Anytime we come to a step in our project that is vague or undefined, we slow down and lose our momentum, like we’ve hit a speed bump,” Thomas says. “You want to eliminate speed bumps by making sure the items on your list include not just action verbs, but actionable verbs.” For example, instead of having one of your projects be "find a healthy recipe," change it to "Google healthy vegetarian recipes." Thomas says that small tweaks like that make a big psychological difference in keeping us focused and driven.
Take time to track your progress.
Taking the time to track your progress not only lends itself to self-accountability, but can help you see how far you've come and how close you are to attaining your goal. Whether it’s an Excel spreadsheet or an app, create a tracking mechanism that you can refer to frequently. Then, have regular check-ins and don’t be afraid to ask for feedback.
“On the last workday of every month, try checking in and evaluating your progress. This will help you maintain your motivation and evaluate any gaps that might still exist,” Gratias says. “You should also get feedback from others, since this will give you an honest appraisal about your performance and help continue to increase your commitment to your goal.”
Have one central to-do list where all of your goals and projects can stay organized. Maintaining a paper planner, dry-erase board, online calendar, and also reminders in your head can get messy.
“When your to-do lists are scattered all over the place, it makes it very difficult for you to stay on top of everything that needs to get done. If you’re disorganized, it makes it much less likely that your goals will be accomplished,” Thomas says. Pick one way of tracking what needs to get done, and stick with it.
Don’t forget to celebrate!
Once you’ve reached your goal, make sure to take some time to enjoy your achievement. “It’s important to celebrate your success. Otherwise, the only reward you’ll get for achieving it is more work,” Gratias says. So uncork the champagne, treat yourself to a spa day, and bask in the glory of a job well done.
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