Setting the wrong goals is kind of like deciding to bake a chocolate cake, then going to the supermarket and buying some bananas and cabbage.
Then throwing the bananas and cabbage in the oven and hoping a chocolate cake manifests.
No: this isn’t a new recipe for a banana-cabbage-cake (although now you mention it, that could…) NO!
This is a reminder, partly to myself, that there is such a thing as shitty goal setting.
I’m a goal setting addict, quite honestly. Sometimes I’m amazed what I can get done when I set a good goal.
Sometimes I’m baffled as to why I didn’t hit the goal.
It turns out – it’s not for lack of effort.
It’s that often, I’m setting the wrong goals.
Or, there’s something screwy in my approach to setting the goal.
So, after trial, error, reading and listening to all the goal-getting pro’s, I feel like I’m in a good place to share my ten tips for setting the RIGHT goals.
1. Make the goal specific
It’s tempting to set vague, blurry goals because they feel more attainable than going specific. For example ‘lose weight’ sounds easier than ‘lose 10 pounds’ because when we set the latter: we’ll know damn well if we’ve failed or not.
But when you set a vague goal, you end up with vague – or non-existent – results. Be brave: go specific.
2. Make them realistic
I’m all for dreaming big, but then there’s dreaming stupid. If we don’t believe we can achieve what we set out to do: it won’t happen.
Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t: you’re right.
~ Henry Ford
The hackneyed quotes are the best, aren’t they?
Challenge yourself, but make sure there’s a shred of hope in attaining your goal.
3. Set a hard deadline
I actually recommend setting a multitude of deadlines – but we’ll get to that.
Having a time scale is key to getting anything done. I’m great at checking things off a to-do list: but only when I’ve set a date to get them done by, or do them on.
You might recall my love of Trello for being my boss of to-do’s, and ultimate project manager. But I’ve noticed that when a task doesn’t have a due date/to-do date attached: it stays undone.
Set deadlines, and if you need to: set a load of reminders, whether it’s on your phone, on your calendar, on your wall…
4. Set mile markers
So those other deadlines are for mile markers. This is when you break a goal down into little, snackable chunks that can be achieved in stages as you work towards the outcome.
For example, if your big goal is being able to do a handstand, you could break it down into stages. One mile marker could be to hold an assisted handstand for 1 minute by the end of the month.
In the meantime, you could have daily mini-goals to spend a minute or two practising holding an assisted handstand against a wall.
Having mile markers keeps us motivated, and allows us to stay on track as well as reflect on how far we’ve come.
5. Make it measurable
This is another reason our goals need to be specific. When we have a way of measuring our progress, and the end goal, we can see clearly how close to the mark we are.
Goals like ‘get a better job’ might be tricky because we don’t have a measurement set. If the measurement unit is cash, then make it so. If it’s time flexibility, measure the hours.
Bonus tip: When you have your measurement unit, measure regularly! Set an interval if you can, so you are tracking your progress as you go.
6. Set mini-rewards
Other than the goal itself, which I suppose is the ultimate reward, it helps motivation to set mini-rewards.
I like to set my goals for the week on a Sunday night. I also like to do some online window-shopping on a Sunday night…
I tell myself that I’m 100% entitled to buy the thing I’m oggling IF I hit my goal for that week.
It’s amazingly effective – especially when it’s getting colder and you’ really like a new winter coat…
7. Make it risky
So if your rewards are the carrot, what’s the stick?
Naturally, our aversion to loss is a powerful driving force, and one we can take advantage every once in a while (Lawd knows it does the same to us often enough…)
So if you can, think of something you risk losing if you don’t achieve the goal.
8. Identify with it
This is a total brain-trip but it really works. The more we identify ourselves as the kind of person who does the thing we’re trying to do/be/have: the more we’re likely to follow through.
So, if your goal is to go to the gym 5 times a week, tell yourself repeatedly: “I am the type of person who goes to the gym 5 times a week”
It takes some time, but if you repeat this often enough (with emotion) then you’ll believe it and act accordingly.
9. Set some margin for error
Have you ever tried to do something daily, failed once, then given up entirely?
Er… if you haven’t WHO ARE YOU?!
I’m a sucker for this: I’m naturally an all-or-nothing type, so this goal setting adjustment has made all the difference for me and my perfectionistic tendencies.
For example, your goal might be to cut out all refined sugar from your diet.
If you tell yourself instead “My goal is to eat no refined sugar at least 6 days a week” you’ve built in margin for error.
If you hit 7 days, you rock! If you hit 6, you still rock! Heck, if you hit 2, you still rock: as long as you pick it up again when you’re done on the sugar binge.
Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat.
~ F. Scott Fitzgerald
I have a habit (well, it’s in my Trello with a due date every week) to set aside some time and reflect on the past week’s goals.
I ask myself whether I achieved them, sure. But more interesting to me is thinking of why I did or didn’t manage to.
This is the real point in any goal setting: we’re setting the goal in the first place to GROW. To improve some area of our life.
Even if we missed the mark by a mile, we can still learn from what happened, and where possible: course-correct.
That’s the real benefit from goal setting.
Otherwise I’d set goals like “make sure to drink coffee every day” – I know that isn’t hard and I know that I won’t exactly be growing from setting that goal.
Reflecting on your goals also motivates us to keep going, and push past failed attempts. Failure gives us a choice: stop learning and stop growing by giving up OR learn, try again and ultimately: succeed.
With that motivational mess, I bid you adieu.