How to set goals and actually achieve them
If you only read one thing, make it this:
“Don’t rely on motivation alone to get you there – it’s transient, so think ahead.”
Albert Einstein said the definition of insanity is doing things the same way and expecting different results. Fair point, but how can you be sure that doing things differently will definitely get you the results you want? After all, if you’re going to the effort of setting a goal, you want to make sure there’s a reasonably high likelihood of achieving it, right?
Regardless of whether your goal is weight loss, to complete a fun run or save for a home deposit, integrative psychologist Leanne Hall has identified two main reasons people might fail to achieve their goals.
“Either the goal is unrealistic – often, too big – or it’s too vague, in other words, not measurable,” she says. “Big goals need to be broken down into smaller chunks, and they need to be specific so that you know when you have achieved them!”
So, let’s say you want to complete an upcoming fun run, but you’re not a runner. From the starting blocks, the goal might seem insurmountable – and after your first attempt at a full lap around the park, you’re huffing, puffing and feeling like you’ve failed already. “It’s too hard, I can’t do this, I’ll never get there.” Sound familiar?
Try breaking the goal down. Perhaps at the end of week one your goal is to walk a minute, run a minute for 20 minutes. By the end of week two, that goal is to run for 90 seconds and walk for 30 seconds. You might continue these bite-sized goals until you’ve reached the point where you can run for 20 minutes non-stop and complete your fun run. Tick!
Positive psychologist Dr Tim Sharp, aka Dr Happy, says the biggest obstacles people face in achieving goals are often internal.
“Among other things, these include negative and self-defeating thoughts, unrealistic expectations, lack of clarity around what it actually is they want to achieve – such as, what would a great life look like? – the belief they have to do it all on their own and associated with this, a reluctance to reach out and ask for help,” he says.
Overthinking can also derail your progress. Research shows that putting too much time into thinking about your goal may hold you back from taking the necessary action steps. Don’t get too caught up in your thoughts about how much you want to succeed – just keep taking action steps towards the goal. Easier said than done? That’s where motivation comes into play.
To help you stay on track, follow these tips.
- Be flexible. “Create regular opportunities to reflect on your goals, and make changes if necessary,” Hall says.
- Don’t rely on motivation alone to get you to your goal. “It’s transient, so think ahead,” Hall warns. “How can you stay committed when motivation has gone? For example, you could enlist the help of a friend, give yourself more regular rewards and break down goals into even smaller chunks.”
- Recognise and reward yourself for your progress along the way, Sharp suggests. And, focus on what you’re doing and achieving, “rather than what’s still to come.”
- If you go off track, go easy on yourself. “It doesn’t mean you’ve failed – it means you’re human,” Hall says. “See it as an opportunity to reassess. Maybe you need to shift your goals a little or ask for support. That’s totally OK!”
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