Great goal setter? Sure! I set goals all the time.
So how’s your execution?
Read on for my 10 tips from psychological research that give you what you need to get going and stick with it until you hit goal success
Most of us have little trouble setting goals. We make grand plans for work and home, for our health and well being, for our finances and our families. Setting goals? Nailing it!
It's the execution that gets tricky. That’s when we start big and burn out, or procrastinate, or get distracted, or perhaps never get going at all.
Here are ten tips you should know about goals that will move you from setting to achieving.
1. Goals are pictures that need detail. They are images of where you want to be (psychologists call these internal representations of desired states). Painting the outline is vital but it’s not enough. You need to add the detail to make the goal more desirable, motivating and achievable.
Imagine this: What are you doing in your picture? Where are you? Who are you with? What's happening around you? How do you feel when you achieve your goal? Think it through and write it down. Now you’re ready to get started.
2. Know the difference: Is this a marathon? Or a sprint? Distal goals are long term goals - the big projects that we send out into the universe to inspire and motivate us. The steps or mini goals within a long term goal are called proximal goals. When you achieve your proximal goals (the baby steps to get where you're going) your brain gets a hit of the happy hormone, dopamine. This makes you feel good and when you feel good you tend to do more of what makes you feel that way. Notice the happy hits to keep up the sprint. Add your sprints over time and you’ve run that marathon.
3. Keep track of context. Humans are creatures of habit and sometimes we need prompts to resist slipping back into the unhelpful ones. An easy way to do this is to use the 'if...then...' rule. For example, 'if' I find myself switching the TV on when I know there's work that I should be doing, 'then' I will make a cup of tea (or some other ritual or treat) and sit down to do 20 minutes work. These are called implementation intentions and they’ve been shown to increase our likelihood of completing a task by 30 per cent!
4. The 20 minute rule for motivation. Try this. When you know there's something you should be doing (work, tidying, exercise) but you don't feel like it, tell yourself that you only have to do it for 20 minutes and then you're allowed to stop. Often the hardest part is starting. If you feel you have to immerse yourself in three hours of a task you don’t start. By allowing yourself the chance to opt out after 20 minutes it's easier to get started. And if you do opt out after 20 minutes? Well you've got 20 minutes' done!
5. Sharing is caring. Tell other people what you're planning to achieve. By making a commitment you increase your accountability and you're more likely to stick with it.
6. SMART goals can be dumb. You’ve heard the acronym SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attractive or Attainable, Realistic and Time Framed). Goal setting research tells us that you increase your likelihood of achieving a goal or plan if you make it SMART. However, it works better for some goals than others and you must be ready to take the kind of specific action that is involved.
If you want to improve your fitness and you're 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 works.
If your goal is less specific - maybe you’re dissatisfied with life and think it might be related to your physical or emotional wellbeing - and you're keen to do something but you don't know what, a SMART goal is probably not for you. When we’re in the early stages of goal setting and still thinking about making a change in life (what psychologists call the 'contemplation stage' ) then there's exploration to be done first. A SMART goal may be difficult to set at this stage and attempts to do so feel restrictive.
My tip? Go with what feels right. SMART goals work when you're ready for them. But if a SMART goal feels wrong, don't rush it. Look for other ways to explore and build your motivation.
7. Focus on getting better, not getting there. When we're working towards a goal we tend to focus on the end point; the moment of joy of 'making it' or 'getting there.' But 'there' can feel a long way off and it's difficult to maintain motivation to keep going day after day.
Try switching your attention to 'getting better' rather than 'getting there'.
Think less about how far you still have to go and more about the incremental progress that you make each day as you persevere. Focus on that progress. Celebrate that success - and keep going.
8. Get (moderately) excited Ever set yourself a goal or challenge, become wildly excited about it, gone hell for leather for a few days and then completely dropped the ball?
Maybe you've done this more than once?
Enthusiasm for a new goal is critical to success but we can become 'overmotivated.' Our system is flooded with enthusiasm hormones and this narrows our focus. We forget why we're doing it (vital for long term motivation) and we lose mental acuity - the ability to think clearly about the task.
If you tends to get super enthusiastic, that's great. It's an engaging quality and it leads to high productivity. But if you quickly hit overdrive and then fizzle out, try stepping back from your goal and think about why you’re pursuing your goals. Then set yourself small but sustainable mini-goals or challenges. Take it slower and you'll increase your chances of getting to success.
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 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 feedback is vital to motivation.