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Published on August 10, 2020

5 Strategies to Keep Track of Goals and Habits Effectively

5 Strategies to Keep Track of Goals and Habits Effectively

I had always considered myself an active person, able to keep track of goals and stick to them.

Then, I had a wake-up call at my yearly check-up. My doctor asked how much I exercised in a week, and I realized how much time I spent sitting down at a desk. If I wanted to stay healthy, I would need to step it up—literally.

I’ve always been the type to keep track of goals, so I decided to create a simple system to boost my exercise. 70,000 steps a week seemed like a lofty goal—until I began tracking my daily activity with a digital step counter.

I couldn’t believe how drastically my activity levels increased. Understanding how active I’ve been is as simple as a quick glimpse at my wrist. If I lag behind, I receive an hourly notification reminding me how many steps I need to complete to stay on track.

Goal-tracking not only increased my activity levels, but also my energy levels and overall well-being. Now, I keep track of goals in other areas, like work, finances, and hobbies.

I like to think of goal-tracking as creating mile-markers. You’ll be more motivated to complete the journey when you know how much you’re already accomplishing. Plus, big goals seem less overwhelming when you break it down into smaller steps.

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Want to keep track of your goals? Here are 5 strategies to do it effectively.

1. Visualize the “Chain”

Comedian Jerry Seinfeld popularized a goal-tracking concept called “don’t break the chain” (Develop Good Habits: Don’t Break the Chain: Jerry Seinfeld’s Advice on Sticking to a Habit)).

The idea is that every day you stay on track and work toward your goal, you mark the calendar (or your journal or whiteboard), and then you keep going until your goal is met. Your only job, according to Seinfeld, is not to break the chain.

Remember: One day’s success might not seem all that important. But people meet goals little by little, one small success at a time. By keeping your progress visible, you’ll gain motivation and build momentum toward the finish line.

It’s rumored Seinfeld used this system to meet his goal of practicing writing jokes every day, marking a large calendar with a big, red “X.” But you can use whatever system that makes sense for you.

Some people use graph-style journals to create their own goal-trackers. If you’re artsy, you can create a fancy bullet journal spread for your progress chain. To keep it simple, just grab a poster board and use Post-It notes, stickers, or a colorful marker to reflect your progress. Then, keep the progress chart somewhere motivating.

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If your goal is to eat more nutritiously, hang a calendar in your kitchen. If you want to hone your graphic design skills, keep track in your workspace. If you’re not an analog person, then enlist the help of a dedicated app. There are plenty of goal-tracking apps on the market.

The only detail that matters is visibility. Without visible wins as your “mile markers,” you may start to feel lost on the journey, making you more likely to give up altogether.

2. Celebrate Your Wins

What’s the point of tracking your progress if you don’t even notice it? Once you start building your chain, don’t neglect to reflect on, and celebrate, each step towards your vision. Noting how far you’ve come (and, in turn, how little you have to go!) can be a major motivator toward whatever you’re aiming to accomplish as you learn how to keep track of goals.

When Harvard Business professor Teresa Amabile studied the daily habits of workers, she discovered making progress in meaningful work to be the most important component of motivation during the workday. According to her research, the more you experience a sense of progress, the more productive you’ll be on a long-term basis[1]

Most of us don’t count “small wins.” We save the celebration when the end goal gets checked off the list. According to author Jocelyn Glei, that’s a problem: “Most of us make advances small and large every single day, but we fail to notice them because we lack a method for acknowledging our progress. This is a huge loss,” she writes[2]

To feel more productive, and therefore be more productive, take time every day to celebrate how far you’ve made it. When you realize you’re a step closer than you were yesterday, you’ll be filled with fresh motivation for the rest of the process.

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3. Create a Reward System

My fitness tracker sets me up for success with a simple, built-in feature. Every time I reach my goal for the day, the watch face explodes into a miniature celebration, complete with a disco ball.

It may sound silly, but this reward keeps me going. If I would have checked my fitness app to see I’d reached my daily step goal, I may have felt a sense of accomplishment. But a more tangible—and honestly, fun—incentive reminds me how good it feels to stay on track, and makes me want to get up and do it again tomorrow.

For some people, the rush of crossing something off the list (or in this case, marking the calendar with a nice, big “X”) is enough motivation to keep going. However, if building in your own rewards to your goal process will boost your inclination to keep going, then find a way to put a little “bait” in your line of sight.

Maybe you buy yourself something you’ve been eyeing if you stay on track for a month. Maybe after a week of daily walks, you order takeout from your favorite restaurant. Either way, the premise is to incentivize your progress. When you have something to look forward to besides the goal itself, you’ll be more likely to attain the goal.

4. Find an Accountability Buddy

Sometimes, self-motivation can only go so far—and you have to invite someone else into the process if you want to keep track of goals you’ve set.

By sharing your goals with someone else, you’re essentially making a commitment. You’ll be less likely to make excuses that derail you when you know someone is going to check in with your progress. That’s because having no progress to share feels like letting that person down, and it never feels good to disappoint someone. Plus, when you’re expecting someone to check in with you on a regular basis, you’ll have all the more reason to keep track of your goals.

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Choose someone you trust, ideally someone who has similar goals or a shared perspective on success and growth, and invite them to check in with you on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. You may be surprised how much you achieve.

5. Start Every Day at Zero

You probably already know that breaking up your goals into smaller chunks—say, shrinking your monthly sales goal into daily metrics—makes them less intimidating and therefore less attainable. But there’s another psychological component involved.

When you start each day at “zero” instead of building on another number, you’ll more easily see where you started and where you are headed. The so-called “middle zone” of a large goal can feel nebulous and difficult to measure, which can result in wasted time and lost progress. Plus, feeling like you have 80% of the work ahead of you makes your daily contribution feel less important[3].

Starting at zero also boosts motivation through a phenomenon called the “fresh start effect.” You know how you’re so motivated to do new things at the start of a new year? The same principle applies when your FitBit resets at midnight or when you create a fresh to-do list in your notebook.

The brain registers “new days” as temporal landmarks, which are known to increase aspirational behavior by disrupting one’s daily routine[4]

The good news is, you don’t have to wait for a new year or even a new week to start meeting (and tracking) your goals. Getting the motivation you need to move forward could be as easy as downloading a new app or buying a new journal. All you have to do is decide that today’s the day to start.

The Bottom Line

Learning how to keep track of goals can be a tricky process, but it can be made easier by incorporating a few simple tools and strategies. Find which one works best for you and your goals, and see where it takes you. You may find that your goals start taking care of themselves!

More Tips on Keeping Track of Goals

Featured photo credit: Sarah Shaffer via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Aytekin Tank

Founder and CEO of JotForm, sharing entrepreneurship and productivity tips at Lifehack.

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Last Updated on October 13, 2020

A Complete Guide to Goal Setting for Personal Success

A Complete Guide to Goal Setting for Personal Success

If there was a rule book of life, there would be one particular page that was highlighted, underlined, and titled as most important. It would be the one which told you that you need to master effective goal setting and have an aim in mind before you get on with the process. Luckily, this goal setting guide is here to help.

Yes, goal setting is important. In fact, it’s more important than achieving the goal itself. This is because it is the sense of direction that is needed for you to fulfill any task in life.

You don’t have to feel overwhelmed if this sounds new to you because all the following information has you covered.

Today you’ll find out all about the importance of goal setting, types of goals, and tips to define realistic goals for yourself!

What Are Goals?

To kick off our goal setting guide, you need to first recognize what goals are and how they are different from objectives, dreams, and expectations.

A goal is basically your aim for the relatively long-term future. It is the bigger umbrella, the main focus.

Objectives, on the other hand, fall under the umbrella of goals. They are the stepping stones that help you achieve your goals[1].

Objects vs goals for goal setting

    Let’s say you want to learn a new foreign language. Your goal is to be fluent in the new language. Everything you do to achieve this goal, such as the daily tasks and learning aims, are the objectives.

    Similarly, your expectations, visions, and dreams are not your goals. If you wish to learn a new language someday, that is your dream. If you see yourself fluently speaking multiple foreign languages, that is your vision. If you think you’re capable of learning a new language, that is your expectation.

    However, if you aim to fulfill these visions, dreams, and expectations practically, that is your goal.

    Why Is Goal Setting Important?

    Why should you bother with goal setting at all? Wouldn’t it be more convenient to just get on with your daily objectives, follow a dream or vision, and let life take you wherever?

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    Well, if that’s what you want to do in your life, go ahead, but if you actually want to tick off things from your list of goals to achieve, goal setting is necessary.

    Being committed to a goal puts your brain to work in one specific direction. Believe it or not, by having a defined goal, your brain does its magic unconsciously, 24/7, with full efficiency, to achieve the desired results[2].

    Goal setting is important to shift your focus, boost your motivation, and give you a sense of direction. Without formally defining a particular aim that you want to reach, you won’t be able to keep your objectives in line.

    Hence, this one tiny step can end up saving you a lot of hassle and time while also encouraging your productivity in the right regard.

    Types of Goals

    Before we move onto the technique of setting effective goals, we need to first take a look at all types of goals in this goal setting guide.

    These categories will not just help you brainstorm new one for yourself, but it will also guide you to list them down in the right way.

    Time-Based

    One of the two broad categories of goals is based on time. These goals define how far in the future you want to achieve them.

    Daily

    There are certain smaller goals that you can easily achieve in a day or two. In fact, some of these daily goals can be recurring, too. For example, you may want to run for an hour every morning.

    Now, these daily goals can also serve as objectives for a long-term goal. You may be running every day because, in the long-term, you want to increase your stamina.

    Daily goals are highly effective for people who want to improve their mental wellbeing, time management skills, and stress management.

    Short-Term

    Next in line are short-term goals. As you would have already guessed, these are aimed for the near future.

    The great thing about these is that they are generally easier to achieve. This is because short-term goals are set for the foreseeable future. You are aware of the circumstances and have an idea of how much the situation can change. That is unless, of course, something extremely unpredictable happens, the chances of which are quite slim.

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    Just like daily goals, short-term goals may also serve as objectives for a long-term goal. Your short-term goal may be to lose 5 pounds in one month. That could be a goal in itself, or maybe it is just one objective to fulfill your goal to adopt a healthy lifestyle in the next two years.

    Another example of a short-term goal is to fulfill the checklist for promotion within the next 6 months. Or, you may want to reduce your screen time within the coming week.

    Long-Term

    Lastly, we have long-term goals that are meant to be completed over a stretched period.

    Whatever you want to achieve in a later stage of life is a long-term goal. An insurance plan, for example, is a long-term goal.

    Some long-term goals don’t have any time frame at all. They are goals that you want to accomplish at some point in your life. So, something like traveling the whole world is a lifelong goal with no specific time constraint at all.

    There’s one thing about long-term goals that isn’t great.

    They are the hardest to keep up with since you’re not seeing any huge achievements regularly. This may take a toll on your motivation. To tackle this problem, it is best to divide a long-term goal into various short-term and daily objectives so that you’re always tracking the progress you’re making.

    Life-Based

    Moving forward, you can also start goal setting based on the results you want to achieve instead of the time period.

    Career

    Like all humans, you will always want to succeed and excel in your career. No one wants to stay where they are forever.

    Anything that has to do with this intention, regardless of the time frame, is a career goal.

    You can learn more about how to set successful career goals here.

    Personal

    The past few years have all been about emphasizing your personal health. So, when it comes to goals, how can we forget the ones that have to do with our personal gains?

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    From health to finances to relationships, everything that brings you happiness and composure as a person is a personal goal.

    Whether you want to get rid of your debt, quit smoking, start a side hustle, get married, or have children, all these goals are personal and very important to have on your list.

    How to Set Goals

    The best way to guarantee the fulfillment of goals is to set them the right way.

    SMART Goals

    Every goal you define has to be smart[3]. No, we don’t mean the adjective. We’re referring to the acronym here.

    SMART stands for:

    • Specific
    • Measurable
    • Attainable
    • Relevant
    • Time-Bound

    In summary, your specific goals should be very well defined. They shouldn’t be generic or broad, and every detail should be clarified. 

    If you want to start running, how often do you want to do it? How long will each session be? For how long will you continue this habit?

    There has to be a connection between your goals and beliefs or you’ll never be able to achieve the results you want. Most importantly, do not be unrealistic. You cannot learn to fly, and forcing yourself to try is only going to demotivate and stress you out.

    Some Rules

    Whenever you’re working your way through this goal setting guide, keep a few things in mind.

    First and foremost, prioritize your goals. Things that you want to achieve the quickest should be worked on first.

    Don’t act in a way that is self-centered. There are people around you who will be affected by the things you do. Keep them in mind when defining goals.

    Lastly, do not let yourself forget the bigger picture. Whether it is the long-term result or the connection of the goal with your desire, keep it in mind to keep yourself from getting distracted.

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    I also recommend you to watch this video to learn 7 strategies to set goals effectively:

    How to Reach Your Goals

    You can ensure your progress by following some foolproof tactics. The use of relevant helpful tools can also keep you on the right track.

    Tactics

    One rookie mistake that most people make is that they work on too many goals simultaneously. Create an action plan and focus on one thing at a time.

    Divide your goal into smaller, easily achievable tasks. Taking it one step at a time makes it way easier. However, do not break them down too much. For example, for long-term goals, you should go for weekly checkpoints instead of daily ones.

    Also, keep track of your progress. This will keep you motivated to work harder.

    Tools

    With so many categories of goals and so many aims, it is almost impossible to remember, let alone work, on all of them.

    Luckily, numerous goal tracker apps will help you keep track of your goals, as well as your plan to achieve every single one. Have at least one installed in your smartphone so that your plan is always within reach.

    Bottom Line

    In conclusion, using a goal setting guide is not rocket science. All that it takes is strong will power along with all the knowledge that you’ve learned so far.

    Try out the tactics and tips mentioned above to be able to set successful goals so that you can achieve the life that you want!

    More Tips on Achieving Success

    Featured photo credit: Danielle MacInnes via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Smart Insights: The difference between marketing objectives and marketing goals?
    [2] Confluence: Goal Setting Theory
    [3] University of California: SMART Goals: A How-To Guide

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