Trying to achieve something without setting goals is like trying to find a friends house by driving down every street in their suburb. You might find it eventually through dumb luck or persistence, but there are much easier ways.
Self improvement is like this. Set a goal, and then plot the best route to get you there. Without that planning, you’ll be always wondering if you’re going in the right direction, and you’ll definitely be wasting time doing the wrong things.
Setting goals gives you something to aim for, and a way to measure how close you are to it. Plus, once you get there it’s a great reason to celebrate.
Setting goals might seem intimidating at first, but here are a few guidelines to help you along the way:
1) MAKE IT SOMETHING YOU WANT, NOT SOMETHING YOU THINK YOU SHOULD WANT
I’m sure plenty of people want to be professional athletes, entertainers or astronauts, but not many of us are willing to make the necessary sacrifices of having our life revolve around a sport.
Likewise, a lot of us set goals based on the expectations of others. Now, I’m not saying you should drop out of a medical degree that your parents convinced you to do because you think your passion is really based on being a puppeteer, but if your major goals are ones that someone else made for you, you’ll never pursue them as hard as the ones you made for yourself. You can still be a Doctor AND a puppeteer after all.
Pick something specific that you really want, something that you know you’d be willing to make a high priority in your life, not something you just wish would happen.
2) MAKE SURE YOU’VE SET YOURSELF A GOAL, NOT A DREAM
Goals are things that you can make happen through hard work, drive and maybe a little bit of luck. Dreams are things that happen with very little effort, and a lot of luck. Dreams are great, but not very likely to come true.
Your goal must be achievable. If it’s to be a rockstar, that’s fine, but are you practicing every day? Are you spending every spare moment trying to be a better musician? Practically no one has long-term success without effort, and those that do manage to succeed purely out of luck rarely last.
Even those pop stars that you might think are no-talent hacks spend time practicing before every performance.
3) BE POSITIVE WITH YOUR GOALS
When you define your goal, focus on what you want to achieve, not on what you have to sacrifice.
If your goal is to get healthy, don’t think of it as missing out on pizza, think of it as a chance to hit the beach with confidence in summer! Keep reinforcing how good that will feel to enjoy the sun, sand and surf without feeling like you should be covering up!
Focusing on the positive will train your subconscious to associate the goal with positive feelings, which will encourage you to achieve it.
Having your goal in the back of your mind, and getting a little encouraged every time you think about it will keep you motivated to go out and get it!
4) BE SPECIFIC
“Do good in school” is not only poor grammar, it’s fairly generic. How do you define good? What sort of marks do you want to get, what classes do you want to improve on, how well can you do in the classes you are already good at?
Set yourself a specific, measurable goal. This will also allow you to track your progress towards it along the way. It may be to lose a certain amount of weight by a particular date. If so, you need to be moving towards that goal every week, not just waiting until the last moment to drop all the kilograms you can, and finding the only way it’s possible is if you sever a limb.
5) SET A TIMELINE
Following on from being specific, set yourself a timeline to achieve your goal. Doing this lets you break down what stages you want to be at along the way.
If you want to achieve your goal in five years, by two years in you should be making some progress. By three years in you should have a fairly good plan for finishing it, after four years you should have the momentum you need to finally make it a reality.
You simply cannot expect to achieve your goal at the last moment. If you could do that, you should have set yourself a shorter timeline.
6) BE PREPARED TO BE STUBBORN
Whoever said “Failure is not an option” was wrong. It’s always an option, an easy, seductive option. It’s laying down on the couch when you could be working. It’s agreeing with people who say why you can’t do something. Failure is always an option that part of your mind is telling you to take.
Pushing past the frustration, despair and confusion is part of achieving any goal. If you’re not pushing through these feelings, you probably haven’t set your goal high enough. Be daring and aim for something bigger.
7) SET YOUR MAJOR GOAL, THEN SET SMALLER ONES THAT WILL HELP YOU ACHIEVE IT
Success isn’t an on or off switch. You’ll build towards it until you get it. As you’re building, set yourself smaller goals to gauge how close you are to your major one.
If your goal is to finish a triathlon within two years, have minor goals to be able to finish the swimming leg, then the cycling leg, then the running leg, then maybe do a quarter distance triathlon, then build up each leg until you feel confident enough to compete.
8) WRITE YOUR GOALS DOWN
Be detailed about it, and keep it somewhere that you’ll be reminded of it. You don’t have to tattoo it on your forehead, you can write it on your bathroom mirror, on a piece of paper that you keep in your wallet or purse or any number of other places where you’ll see it often. Keep reminding yourself about it. The written word has power because it does not change. Once you write it down, it’s there forever. You’ve set yourself a task and that task will be there, unchanging, every time you look at it.
9) BE PREPARED FOR SETBACKS
There will be times when you want to give up. Things will fall apart, and you’ll doubt yourself. You see your Protein already about to run out but you still don’t see any changes to your body, and you will feel down. Things will change that make achieving your goal harder. It may be as simple as having health problems, or as complex as having workplace issues.
It may be something that you could not have foreseen. This is when you must re-evaluate your timeline, but don’t throw the goal away just yet. If you still want it, you can find a way to make it happen eventually.
10) CELEBRATE WHEN YOU ACHIEVE YOUR GOAL
You do deserve it. There is nothing in the world quite like setting yourself a goal that other people scoff at, then going out and doing it. The doubts other people had turn to admiration, you walk a little taller, smile a little easier, and you’ve passed a test that you set for yourself. You know you have the skills, attitude and ability to achieve what you want.
Setting a goal is a challenge to yourself. You are pushing yourself, making yourself more than you are now. Any time you do this, you are taking one more step on the road to becoming the person you’ve always wanted to be. It’s not an easy road, but it’s the only one worth travelling.