Simple Tips for Achieving Goals
Achieving Goals: Harder AND Easier Than You Think!
By Elizabeth Scott, MS
Achieving goals can often be more difficult than people realize. We may have a burning desire to see changes in our lives–less stress, a healthier lifestyle, more money in the bank account–but actually implementing those changes involves much more than merely motivation (though that’s necessary as well)! If you already have motivation, this information on achieving goals can help you bridge the gap between where you are and where you want to be.
Visualize What You Want
Books like The Secret and concepts like The Law of Attraction have caught on in a major way lately because they give voice to what most of us intuitively understand: visualizing what you want in life is an essential step toward achieving it. A major part of achieving goals is actually knowing what those goals are. Many people start with big concepts like, ‘I want to have more money’, ‘I want to live a healthier lifestyle’, or ‘I want to be happier’. What they don’t realize is that these goals are vague and sweeping enough that it’s very difficult to know what steps to take, when you’ve done enough, or when you’re close but need to make a few changes in direction.
As you work on achieving goals, remember that setting goals is an important first step. Try to:
Imagine where you want to be. How does it look? What, specifically, is different? (For example, is something that’s currently bothering you now missing, or has something been added to your current situation?)
Research the benefits of your proposed change. This can help you to stay motivated, and be fully aware of how your life would change after achieving your goals.
Ask yourself, ‘How will I know when I’ve met my goal? How will I know when I’m off-track?’ and write down your answers in a journal.
Experiment with Law of Attraction principles of visualizing what you want. Whether you believe in ‘the law’ or not, these techniques can really add to motivation, and help clarify goals as well.
Create a vision board to remind yourself of your main goals and keep them in the forefront of your mind in a pleasant way. (See these techniques for how to create a vision board.)
Break It Down
How can you reach your major goals and most ambitious dreams without burning out and losing motivation in the process? How can you get where you want to be when it’s difficult to maintain a new habit for more than a week or two? The secret lies in breaking large goals into smaller ones! This keeps each step do-able and allows you to reward your progress along the way. This is also the secret to reaching several goals at once; you have enough energy to meet several small goals in the same time frame and work toward achieving large goals in multiple areas of your life. When breaking down goals, consider the following:
First, find the large goals that you want to meet. Then, look at each step it would take to get there, each rung in the ladder up. Try to identify steps that build on the completion of the ones before.
Next, break those steps down, if possible. Keep dividing the steps until you create small goals that can be achieved in a month or so–or even a week. (Some people like to have a goal for each day!)
Work on maintaining the right difficulty level. If the goals are too small and easy, you won’t feel challenged and may lose motivation; feel free to increase their difficulty. If you find that your goals are too difficult, give yourself permission to set easier goals before you lose confidence, burn out and give up. Setting the right pace is an important part of the process.
Write it down! This page on goal setting allows you to reflect upon and clarify your goals and see what others are doing to work toward theirs. There’s strength in numbers!
It’s often difficult to work on achieving goals in a vacuum–having people to offer support and help you keep your motivation up while you’re working toward your goals is key. Enlisting support from those close to you, from those in your community, and others can make the difference between you feeling that you’re swimming against the stream, and feeling you’re being carried along toward your goal.
Here are some ways in which you can use the support of others to push you along toward achieving goals:
Get support from friends and family. If you tell everyone in your close circle what your plans are, you’re more likely to follow through. Why? Some people are afraid to let people down, or to look ‘flakey’; others enjoy the support and ‘high fives’ that they get from family and friends. Simply having someone ask, ‘How’s it coming with that goal?’ provides an opportunity to revel in successes or gain support in getting back on track.
Find a partner in striving. If you have a buddy who has a goal similar to yours (or perhaps even an unrelated goal, if you use your imagination), the two of you can be coaches, cheerleaders, and celebration partners for one another. You’ll be even more reluctant to let your partner down because you’ll know that they’re depending on you to an extent for their success as well; likewise, your victories will be even sweeter because you’ll both be excited by them! This can help you both stay on track better than if each of you worked on your goals separately.
Find a group. There are many groups out there of others striving for every goal imaginable. Want to write a novel? Join forces with thousands of others with NaNoWriMo. Want to become a more disciplined runner? Start training for a marathon, and you’ll find many motivated groups to join. Want to lose weight? There’s Weight Watchers, there’s a yahoo group, online support community, or schedule of in-person meetings for just about any endeavor you may want to try. (And if there isn’t, you can create your own!)
Hire help. There are personal coaches, trainers, and other professionals who make it their business to help others succeed. These people are trained in the skills of helping people set the right goals, maintain motivation until the goals are reached, and keep the success going after achieving goals. The investment is generally worth it if the goal is something you truly desire, something that will truly help you in your long-term pursuits and overall life plan.
What happens if you hit a wall? You’re going along, and suddenly you feel you can’t take another step? You may need to be flexible when working on achieving goals. Perhaps the goal isn’t the right one for you, and you are realizing it on a subconscious level. Maybe the plan you’ve chosen to meet your goal isn’t one that’s viable with your lifestyle, personality, and available resources. Or possibly you just need to use different rewards for yourself or approach things with a new attitude. It’s important to explore the root of what has you stalled, and make changes as needed. Rather than seeing it as a failure on your part or a breakdown in discipline, see if some minor adjustments and course corrections can get you back on track where you’d like to be. You may not need a complete overhaul of your plan; you may just need a few tweaks before things are perfect. But remember, this whole experience is a path you’re forging as you go–if you need to take a few new turns as you learn the terrain, that’s fine; just keep moving ahead!
The best part of setting small goals as subsets of your big ones–and a great self-motivational tool–is the ability to reward yourself when you make progress. Stopping and patting yourself on the back as you meet the milestones along the way in achieving your goals is a way to gain momentum and keep from becoming overwhelmed and discouraged as you ‘climb your mountain’.
Rewards can take many forms, but should ideally be something that’s tied to your goal, something that’s not too difficult to give yourself, and something you personally enjoy. For example, when I maintain regular workouts, I reward myself with workout clothes (usually every 10th workout or so). This is a great motivational tool for me because I really love workout clothes, and getting something new makes me feel more excited to do my workouts. Also, each new outfit is a little more fun to buy as I become more toned.
Likewise, when my goal is to de-clutter my home, I tend to buy little things for the home as I complete each section of the house: a clean living room deserves fresh flowers or a nice houseplant; a de-cluttered bathroom can now house some new bubble bath. By using rewards that work better with my newly-met goals (once the room is clean, the flowers are more showcased and the bubble bath is more easily savored), I motivate myself with the thought of having them and reward myself with them after achieving goals I’m working on.