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Last Updated on November 27, 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 April 14, 2021

What Are SMART Goals (and How to Use Them to Be Successful)

What Are SMART Goals (and How to Use Them to Be Successful)

As a track and field runner in school, every year I would sit down with my coach and set a series of goals for the season. Once we had set my goals for the year, we would create a training plan so I could achieve those targets. This helped me answer the main question here: “What are SMART goals?”

Before I got a coach, I used to run aimlessly with no plan, no target races. More often than not, I would end up injured and find my season ending after achieving very little.

Once I got a coach, though, I started winning races that mattered and began enjoying my sport. This annual process taught me from a very early age that goals are important if I want to achieve the things that are important to me.

So what exactly are SMART goals? This article will talk about why goals matter, how to use SMART goals effectively with your time and resources, and how these goals give you a clear, specific plan that works time and time again.

Why Do People Fail to Reach Their Goals?

Setting SMART goals and achieving them

is not easy, and many people fail. A study by Scranton University found that only 8% of those who set New Year goals actually achieve them, meaning 92% who set new year goals fail[1].

The problem is that many people see goals, such as New Year resolutions, as hopes and wishes. They hope they will lose some weight, they wish to start their own business, or they hope to get a better job. The problem with “hoping” and “wishing” for something is that there is no plan, no purpose, and no time frame set for achieving the goals.

Once these hopes and wishes come face-to-face with the realities of daily life, they soon dissolve into lost hopes and wishful thinking.

Therefore, in order to really achieve something, you need a concrete goal: a SMART goal.

What Are SMART Goals?

The foundation of all successfully accomplished goals is the SMART goal.

Originally conceived by George T. Doran in a 1981 paper[2], this formula has been used in various forms ever since.

SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based. It has been used by corporations and individuals to achieve their goals and objectives and is a formula that, on the whole, works well.

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Use SMART goals to help you achieve more.

    The strength of SMART goals is that they set a clear path to achieving goals, and they have a clear time frame in which to achieve them. Let’s look at the SMART criteria in a little more detail:

    Specific

    For a goal to be achievable, it needs to have a very clear outcome. What you are asking is, “What exactly do I want to achieve?” The clearer the goal, the more likely it is you will achieve it.

    For example, if you just say “I want to lose weight,” then technically you could achieve your goal just by not eating dinner for one day—you would lose weight that way, even if it were temporary.

    You need to have a more specific goal: “I want to lose twenty-pounds by the end of July this year.”

    Measurable

    To achieve anything, it’s important to have measurable goals. T

    ake the example above: “I want to lose twenty-pounds by the end of July this year.”

    It’s measurable, as all you need do is weigh yourself on 1 January, then deduct twenty-pounds from that and set that weight as the target for 31 July. Then, each week you weigh yourself to measure progress.

    Attainable

    Being attainable means that SMART goals are realistic and that you have what you need in order to achieve them.

    In our example of losing weight, 20 pounds in six months is certainly doable. Your resources could include a gym membership, some at-home weights, or simply motivation to get outside and run everyday.

    If motivation is an area where you struggle, you can check out Lifehack’s Ultimate Worksheet for Instant Motivation Boost.

    Relevant

    For any goal to be achieved, you need to set relevant goals for your unique life.

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    If losing weight is doable with the lifestyle you have, and if you believe it will lead to a happier, healthier life, then it is certainly relevant to you. It’s even more relevant if your doctor has pointed out that you need to lose weight to prevent health issues.

    Time-based

    Finally, you need a timeline. All your goals need to have an end date because it creates a sense of urgency and gives you a deadline.

    In our example of losing twenty-pounds, a timeline of six months would be specific, measurable, relevant, and would have a timeline. Furthermore, as you have what you need to achieve that goal, it is attainable—all elements of the formula for SMART goals are included.

    How to Reach a SMART Goal

    The problem I have always found with the SMART goal formula is it does not take into account the human factor. We need motivation and a reason for achieving these goals.

    If you decide to lose twenty-pounds, for example, you are going to spend many months feeling hungry, and unless you possess superhuman mental strength, you are going to give in to the food temptations.

    All SMART goals can be distilled down to three words:

    • What do you want to achieve?
    • Why do you want to achieve it?
    • How are you going to achieve it?

    When you simplify your goal in this way, achieving it becomes much easier.

    1. Visualize What You Want

    One way to make your goals achievable is to visualize the end result. When you write out your mission statement, you should be imagining what it will be like once you have achieved the goal.

    In our weight loss example, you would close your eyes and imagine walking down from your hotel room in Ibiza in July with your towel, sunscreen, sunglasses, and swimwear on. You would imagine walking past all the other sunbathers and the feeling you have, the pride in the way you look and feel.

    Try to invoke as many of the five senses as you possibly can[3].

    2. Identify Your “Why”

    If you take losing twenty-pounds as an example, once you have made the decision that you want to do this, the next question to ask yourself is, “Why?” The more personal your why, the better.

    Your why could be, “Because I want to look and feel fantastic by the pool in Ibiza this summer.” That is a strong why.

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    If your why is, “Because my doctor told me to lose some weight,” that is not a good why because it’s your doctor’s, not yours.

    One way to identify your “why” is to write your mission statement.

    To help with setting achievable SMART goals, when working with my clients, I always ask them to complete the following mission statement:

    I will [STATE GOAL CLEARLY] by [DATE YOU WANT TO COMPLETE THE GOAL] because [YOUR WHY].

    If you want to write a SMART goal for the weight loss example, your mission statement would be written: “I will lose twenty-pounds by the end of July this year because I want to look and feel fantastic by the pool in Ibiza.”

    Never write a mission statement that is full of vague words. The words you use should be simple, direct, and clear.

    3. Figure out Your “How”

    Before you can begin achieving your goal, you need to create a list of steps you can take to make it happen.

    Write down everything you can think of that will help achieve your goal. It doesn’t matter what order you write these tasks down; what matters is that you write down as many action steps you can think of.

    I always aim for around one hundred small steps. This makes it much easier to assign tasks for each day that not only moves you forward on your goal, but also keeps you focused every day on achieving it.

    Once you have your list, you can create a to-do list for the goal and allocate the steps to different days so you create momentum towards a successful outcome.

    You can learn more about how to use SMART goals to achieve success and lasting change in this video:

    Bonus: Make a PACT

    There is one more part needed to really make sure you achieve the SMART goals you set for yourself, and that is something I call PACT. PACT is another acronym meaning Patience, Action, Consistency, and Time. You need all four of these to achieve goals.

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    Patience

    Without patience, you will give up. To achieve anything worthwhile requires patience. Success does not happen overnight. Be patient and enjoy the process of stepping a little closer towards achieving your goal each day.

    Action

    If you do not take action on any goal, then even SMART goals won’t be achieved. You need to make sure you remind yourself of your goal and why you want to achieve it each day. Read your mission statement, make an action plan, and then take the necessary action to make sure you move a step closer each day.

    Consistency

    The action you take each day towards achieving your goal needs to be consistent. You can’t follow your diet program for a week and then have three weeks off. Jim Rohn said it perfectly when he said:

    “Success is a few simple disciplines practised every day.”

    Time

    Of course, you need to allow enough time between where you are today and where you want to be in the future. Be realistic about time, and don’t get disheartened if you miss your deadline. Readjust your timeline if necessary.

    The Bottom Line

    The key to success is to put everything together. When you connect all of these elements, you create an environment where achieving SMART goals becomes much more attainable.

    Whether it’s personal or business goals, when you have a strong personal “why” for your goal, your motivation to keep going stays strong.

    Start with your “why,” and then get started on the action steps that will take you all the way to the end.

    More Tips on Reaching Your Goals

    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

    Reference

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