Setting and achieving goals can be an intimidating process. When you start out on a new path, you probably have little to no experience in the field at all. It’s hard to imagine that you might one day consider yourself an expert in that area. Rather than getting overwhelmed with everything that comes with starting a new venture, take a step back, plan out your path, and take the first steps toward accomplishing your goal.
1. Start small
What saves a man is to take a step. Then another step. It is always the same step, but you have to take it. —Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Wind, Sand and Stars
Like I said, it’s easy to get intimidated when starting something new. When I started playing guitar, I was amazed at how incredible some of my friends already were. Of course, they’d been playing since they were 10 years old. I couldn’t just pick up my guitar and start shredding like they were able to; I had to learn how to tune it, how to hold it, and how to play open chords before I could move on to more advanced techniques like arpeggios and diminished 7th chords. Figure out how you’re going to learn the basics before you try to try to tackle something you’re not ready for. It might be boring to start slow, but building a solid foundation will ensure future success.
2. Attack one goal at a time
However, not all goals are created equal: Merely fantasizing about your goal is de-motivating-it actually tricks the brain into thinking you have already achieved it. — Vanessa Van Edwards
Starting with the basics can also be intimidating, as you’ll find there is a lot to learn. Don’t stretch yourself thin by trying to accomplish more than one task at a time. Using guitar as an example again, it would make no sense for me to learn how to play chords before I knew if my guitar was in tune. Training my ear to recognize the exact note each string should be tuned to was the absolute beginning of my path as a guitarist. If I learned how to play a chord before knowing exactly what that chord should sound like, I would have been doing myself a huge disservice. By setting your sights on one goal at a time, you’ll be able to carry the knowledge you learned with you onto the next step in your journey.
3. Understand your goals
The starting point of all achievement is desire. — Napoleon Hill
In high school, I (and I’m sure many of you) used to wonder “when am I ever gonna need this?” Because I couldn’t picture my adult self needing to know how to calculate the area of a triangle, I didn’t really care much for math, and, naturally, didn’t do too well in the subject, either. At the time, I didn’t understand the importance of learning the materials my teachers presented. The goal wasn’t to learn, but to pass the class. If I understood that learning the ins-and-outs of the periodic table in 10th grade would put me on the path toward curing diseases in my adult life, I might have paid a bit more attention in chemistry class. The point is, you should know beforehand why each step in your journey is important. Understand your goals by using this goal wheel. Knowing this will allow you to put your all into every step you take.
4. Truly want to succeed
Rather than dispensing goal setting as a benign, over-the-counter treatment for motivation, managers and scholars need to conceptualize goal setting as a prescription-strength medication that requires careful dosing, consideration of harmful side effects, and close supervision. — “Goals Gone Wild: The Systematic Effects of Over-Prescribing Goal Setting” Harvard Business School
I just mentioned how my goals in high school were simply to pass the test and move on. My grades allowed me to pass but they weren’t good. Any knowledge I gained for one test immediately left my brain after the test was over, since, to my teenage self, I had accomplished my goal and no longer needed to keep that information stored. If I had the drive to succeed that I do now, I would have taken my studies a bit more seriously, knowing that what I learned then would benefit me later in life. When trying something new, you have to be passionate about every step you take. Not everything you learn on your path will be interesting or fun. But the result of truly learning from each step will ultimately lead to success. One day, you’ll surprise yourself at how much you know about a subject you learned 10 years ago — because you took the time learning it the first time around!
5. Make your goals public
Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment. — Jim Rohn
When you set out to accomplish a new goal, don’t hide your efforts. Tell your family and friends about your new venture. Doing so will have more of an effect on your efforts than you realize. For one, you won’t want to embarrass yourself by petering out, and you’ll push yourself to succeed so others see how far you’ve come. Secondly, you won’t want to let others down. If you tell your wife you’re going to start exercising more, chances are she’ll be excited at the prospect of you having a little less of a gut and a little more in the bicep region. I’m not saying you should only want to improve for others, but I am saying there’s nothing wrong with getting motivation from external sources.
6. Get excited about improving
There’s a great satisfaction in knowing that we’ve made good use of our days, that we’ve lived up to our expectations of ourselves. — Gretchen Rubin, Better than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives
When learning a new skill, there’s an alternative to being intimidated by others who are currently better than you: getting inspired by them. Going back to my days as a novice guitarist, I was definitely intimidated by my friends who, to my beginner ears, were incredible musicians. But as I got better at playing guitar myself, I realized that I could reach their level of expertise with more and more practice. I went from thinking “There’s no way I’ll be able to play like that” to “I’m actually better than that!” in the span of a few short months. Not only that, but analyzing my progress helped me visualize my future progress as well. As you progress on your path to success, you’ll be better at setting realistic goals, and will start surpassing them with ease.
7. Anticipate success
Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on Earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude. — Thomas Jefferson
This goes along with the last section, in that once you start succeeding at smaller tasks, you’ll begin to see the big picture. You’ll stop thinking “Let’s see if I can do this,” and begin thinking “Once I complete this, I’ll be able to move on to this next step.” It won’t be a matter of “if”, but a matter of “when.” You’ll be better able to make a gameplan for success, since you’ll know where you’ll be the following day in terms of skills and abilities. Once you see where your progress is headed, you should make a checklist of what you want to accomplish, and what you’ll do next after you reach that goal. Soon enough a 5K will turn into a marathon!
8. Make visual representations of your path
Students who invest in their goals also demonstrate greater persistence, creativity, and risk taking in their achievement of those goals.– “Setting Goals: Who, Why, and How?” By: Harvard Initiative for Teaching and Learning
Don’t just think up a checklist or to-do list; physically write one out. Once you accomplish a small task, take the time to check it off your list. You’ll be surprised how motivating it can be to see a long list of tasks you need to do get smaller and smaller. Also, create a schedule. As I mentioned, you’ll eventually be able to anticipate what your future self will be able to accomplish. Setting a schedule which predicts future accomplishments will keep you on task to ensure you reach those goals on the day you thought you would. Writing your goals out makes them tangible, and you’ll be less likely to put work off, no matter how tired you may be.
Featured photo credit: Estée Janssens via unsplash.com