Three Proven Ways to Stick to Your Goals

November 28, 2017

Support Systems

If you are anything like me, you’re already thinking about the year ahead. How will it be different than the one we just finished? What might be possible? What do I want to accomplish?

Now is a great time to start goal setting for 2018!  Goals can be relatively easy to set and difficult to stick with and actually achieve.  The latter is why New Year’s resolutions get a bad rap. You may have found that to be the case with your own past – or even current – goals.  This article is here to provide you with proven steps to meet your goals, so you can actually realize your opportunities.

Before you read further, have a pen and paper handy as we will do some reflection, then identify one or more specific goals for you and begin to put further structure in place to help you achieve them.

First, do this reflection:

What could your future hold?  Spend some time to think about extraordinary possibilities and dream big dreams.  You must think big to explore your full potential, for your own sake and for the world’s.

Next, it’s time to craft your goals.  We adopt goals for one purpose and one purpose only: to change our lives. Without goals, you are unlikely to achieve the life you wish to have. You may never get to experience the full level of satisfaction in progressing your health, career and personal life.  It sounds important, and it is.

Perhaps your goal relates to career, and you would like to set a goal of finding a more meaningful and better-paying job.  Here is how to accomplish that and more.

Top 3 Progressive Strategies to Help You Achieve Any Goal

In the countdown that follows, the first two strategies relate to how to set goals, and the last one is how to stick with your goals.

# 3:  Set a realistic goal.  Realistic goals are those you know you can achieve.  Now that I’ve encouraged you to hone in what you’d like your life to be like, let’s get real:  Is this something you know you can achieve?  Do you want the altered way of life that comes with your quest?

Do you want the tedious and not-so-pretty process that comes before the enticing and way-better outcome?  It’s often critical to do a gut-check on whether you are willing to accept the tradeoffs that come with your goals.  Can you actually see yourself achieving your goal?  If you say “yes” to all of these questions, then it’s realistic.  Go ahead and write it down.

Then take a moment and visualize how wonderful it will feel when you accomplish this goal.

#2:  Break it down into subgoals.  A realistic goal is crucial, but it is not enough to get you there.  Most people never even think about what they actually need to do in order to reach their goals. To accomplish your long-term goal, you need to break it into intermediate term and short-term goals.

Say the life goal you have written down is, “get a more rewarding, better-paying job in 2018.” Achieving that may take 6 or more months.  First break it down by setting an intermediate goal that is a big chunk of your life goal that can be accomplished in 3 months.  Your intermediate goal for that desired new job may sound like this:  Identify up to 3 fields of interest, and progress to conducting informational interviews with one person employed in each field to determine best fit.

The next step is to identify what to actually do in the short-term.  In this case, short-term goals are actionable items you can do in 1 – 2 weeks.  To get there, write down 20 to 30 tasks you need to do to reach your major goal—as they say, reverse-engineer it.  One example to advance you toward your intermediate term goal might be, “Take a standardized interest or personality assessment to get closer to identifying my career-related interests.”

When you accomplish the short-term goal, just cross it off and insert a new one from your list of 20-30 tasks.

Tracking your goal progression is simple.  You don’t need the latest app or even a spreadsheet: on a sheet of paper, write down three things: your 1-year goal, your intermediate-term goal, and your short-term goal.

#1.  It takes a system to get you to the goal line.  We should be at the point in the goals process where you simply get going on it, right?  By now you have a realistic goal, and have broken it down into actionable steps.

That’s all essential for setting the stage, but the way to ensure you’ll actually do the work entailed is to have a system for doing it.  A system is an organized series of behaviors you adopt that will get you to your goal.  If your goal is to write a book, the system may be that every day in the morning you write 500 words.

A system gives you structure. It gets you moving. When you put your system into action, you’ll be more likely to reach your goal, because you have a map to get there.

Without a system, you are more likely to be over-focused on goal attainment, which can cause you to feel like you are continually less-than or failing to get there.  You put off happiness until you achieve your goal.  You know, “Once I get a new, better-paying job, then I’ll be happy.” Being overly-focused on outcome can be a downer and goal killer

Instead, take a page from what Geoff Colvin writes about, “what really separates world-class performers from everybody else…. The best performers set goals that are not about the outcome but rather about the process of reaching the outcome.” 

Let’s get back to that goal of finding a more meaningful, better-paying job. The system you put in place might look like this:

  • Research potential employers and career websites every day.
  • Have a networking coffee with someone new every week.
  • Allocate an hour per morning to extend yourself to new people via email or phone.
  • Consistently polish your LinkedIn profile and resume.

Are you beginning to see how a system gives you a sustainable process to reach your goal?

One final point:  to optimize your system, take advantage of recent research from Columbia University which shows that deciding in advance when and where you will take specific actions to reach your goal can double or triple your chances for success.

To make your goal-directed behavior very specific, explicitly state your intention to do it in the next week, take out whatever calendar you use and write it in now.  In this way, your calendar becomes one of your most important system tools.

As you can see, goals are good for planning, while systems are good for actually making progress.

Final thoughts on sticking with goals.  Research shows that prepping your goals in line with these three strategies will effectively bring about change.  And, don’t feel like you have to work your process solo.  Very few goals are accomplished by you and you alone. Find a mentor or supporter.

New information may lead you in a different direction, and that’s okay. In the long run, it’s not about where you end up, it’s about the life you live on the way. Your life is too precious to settle for less than extraordinary.

See also: Four Steps Toward Making This Year Your Best Ever

Dave Gallison, MS, LPC
Dave specializes in a short term, action-oriented approach to providing career management solutions to clients seeking to choose, change or advance their careers and reach their professional and personal potential. His unique strength as a career counselor is preparing you for informational interviews and directly assisting you in gaining access to employed contacts within desired organizations.

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