Self Improvement Thursday: 5 more things to know about goals

Hello!  Happy Self Improvement Thursday.  Today we have the second part of our two part post: 10 Things You Should Know About Goals.  

Judging the from the comments on Part 1 of this post, many of you reckon that you'd could stick with a new activity for at least 20 minutes in pursuit of your goals.  Telling someone else your plans - making yourself accountable - seems like a pretty good idea too.  This week I've got some more tips that come largely from psychological research into goals and motivation and will hopefully give you what you need to get going.

So let's go!

6. SMART goals can be dumb.  Most of us have heard the acronym SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attractive or Attainable, Realistic and Time Framed) in relation to goals. Common wisdom says that you can increase your chances of achieving a goal or plan if you make it SMART, and this is backed up by a lot of psychological research.  However,  it works best for certain types of goals and you have to be ready to take the kind of specific action that is involved.  

If you want to get fit, for example, and you're pretty keen and motivated, then making a specific plan to walk four kilometres on Mondays,  Wednesdays and Fridays with a friend during your lunch hour or after you've dropped the kids at school makes good sense. Taking a SMART approach should work.  

If you're just starting to feel dissatisfied with life and you think maybe it's got something to do with your physical and emotional wellbeing and you're keen to do something but you don't know what or how yet, then a SMART goal is probably not for you.  If you're still in the early thinking stages about  making a change in your life (what psychologists call the 'contemplation stage' ) then there's likely to be a fair bit of exploration to be done first and a SMART goal may be difficult to set and feel restrictive and pretty demotivating.  

My advice? Go with what feels right.  SMART goals work when you're ready for them, and they can make a real difference to your chance of success.  But if a SMART goal feels wrong, then don't rush it.  Look for other ways to explore and build your motivation.

7. Focus on getting better, not getting there. Sometimes when we're working towards a goal or result we can get terribly focused on the end point; the moment when we feel all the relief and the joy of 'making it' or 'getting there.' But often 'there' feels a long way off and it's hard to maintain the motivation to keep going day after day.  

Try switching your attention to 'getting better' rather than 'getting there'.  You might not have made it to your end point.  Indeed your desired end point may still be a long way off but if you've been dedicated to the change you want to make; if you've done a little bit day by day or week by week then I am very confident that you have got better.  You will have made some progress on yesterday, last week, last month. Focus on that progress. Celebrate that success - and keep going.

8. Get excited - but not too excited. Have you ever set yourself a new goal or challenge, become wildly excited about it, gone hell for leather for a few days and then completely dropped the ball and abandoned the whole exercise? Maybe you've done this more than once? Excitement and enthusiasm for a new goal or project is critical to your success but sometimes when we become 'overmotivated' our system is flooded with the hormones that come along with enthusiasm and excitement. This can narrow our focus, we forget why we're doing whatever it is we're doing and we lose mental acuity - the ability to think clearly about the task.  

If you're someone who tends to become very enthusiastic on a regular basis, that's great, it's a lovely and often a very productive thing.  But if you tend to head into overdrive and then fizzle out, try taking a step back from a new project or goal.  Get excited but temper it with some thought about what you're doing and why and set yourself small but sustainable challenges.  Take it slower and you're more likely to get there.

9. Make it challenging - but not too challenging. The experts who study goal setting and motivation know that our goals need to be challenging enough to inspire and excite us (we all love a challenge, don't we?) but not so challenging that we give up early or before we even start.  If you're planning a new project, challenge or goal make a quick assessment: Are you biting off more than you can chew? Do you need to scale things back a little to make sure you stick with it?

10. Monitor, review and celebrate! Don't forget to check your progress regularly. Review the goal and your progress against it - no matter how small.  This is all about giving yourself feedback on how you're going and feedback is vital to making any changes. How will you know what you need to do now if you don't review what you've done? Then high five yourself. Failure is not motivating but success is, so celebrate your successes.