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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 January 15, 2021

6 Ways to Finish Strong (When Your Momentum Is Low)

6 Ways to Finish Strong (When Your Momentum Is Low)

There are times in your life when you will have to define a path to achieve your goals. These are moments to decide how you will push through to finish strong.

Will you give up or give it all that it takes? Will you bring all your energy and skills to bear or provide an excuse? The only person that possesses the power to choose your response is you.

It may sound impossible anytime you hear the phrase “finish strong.” This is because your natural tendency would be to settle for the status quo or accept fate, and when you are facing life’s biggest challenges, you may face the temptation to quit or compromise your standards.

The story of Tyrone Muggsy Bogues will inspire you. He lived in abject poverty while his father languished in prison. He was hit by a stray bullet at age five and grew up to be 1.6m tall[1].

All these challenges did not deter him from becoming the shortest player in the history of the National Basketball Association. Tyrone had 6858 points, 1369 steals, and 6726 assists all through his NBA. career. Just like Tyrone, you should not allow life challenges to stop you down from finishing strong.

Here are some fun facts to buttress why you need to push through the end:

  • Most of the points scored in football occur a few minutes before the game ends.
  • The last seconds in a race determines who wins as every runner wants to give the most effort.
  • You work harder when there are deadlines to meet.

Here’s more proof of why the finish is highly significant. People rate the quality of life higher when it ends better, not minding if it was short. This is often called the James Dean Effect[2].

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These five proven steps will enable you to finish strong if you already have goals you want to accomplish.

1. Write Your Goals Down

A study revealed that people who write their goals down have an eighty percent chance of finishing strong[3]. You can create a Goal Journal or adopt the S.M.A.R.T goal technique.

Don’t forget, your goals have to be:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Time-bound

While it might look like an additional task to write down your goals instead of storing them in your memory, there are more sides to it.

Two things happen when you write something down:

You are documenting the goals on paper, which makes it easier to assess and audit in the future. Neurologists believe you will recollect visual cues more compared to non-visual cues.

Furthermore, you are encoding those goals as they travel to your brain’s hippocampus, where analysis takes place. From that point, sorting happens. Some goals are stored in your long-term memory while others are discarded. Writing facilitates the encoding process, so write down those goals!

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2. Break Your Goals Into Milestones

Breaking down goals into small bites will help you celebrate your small victories. You need that momentum to finish strong.

For instance, if you are writing a book, you can:

  • Write the book concept or blurb
  • Conduct keyword and content research
  • Create an outline
  • Write the content
  • Edit and proofread
  • Format and publish
  • Market the book

Establishing milestones provides you a clear format that will help you not burn out when working on your goals. Moreover, milestones are those actions you need to take to finish strong.

A study conducted by Gail Matthews shows that those who write their goals have a 33% chance of actualizing them compared to those who only have their goals in their brain[4].

3. Build Momentum

As I stated earlier, you need momentum to finish strong. You can gain momentum when you meet each of the milestones. In his book, Darren Hardy recommends consistency as a sure way to generate all the momentum[5].

How do you build momentum by being consistent? Hardy recommends five actionable steps:

Establish a Morning Regimen

According to Hardy, you may find it hard to take charge of your mid-day, but you can determine how you start the day and end it. Therefore, design your rise-and-shine routine. Do your Most-Important-Task (M.I.T.) in the morning.

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Morning routine to finish strong

    Create an Evening Schedule

    Hardy defines this period as when you cash out on your day. It is a moment to assess if you have accomplished all you wanted to that day. You can ask yourself these questions:

    • Which items do I need to carry over to the next day’s M.I.T. list?
    • What item on my to-do list is still relevant?
    • Which of the tasks do I need to cancel?

    Restructure Your Routine

    It can be boring doing the same thing over a long period. Therefore, inject some excitement into your plan. Visit the park, prepare new food, or take a short, online course. Shaking up your routine will naturally assist you in building momentum.

    Keep a Log of New Habits

    Track new behaviors and log the number of times you perform them. That way, you can compare your goals with the outcome.

    Avoid Negative Self-Talk

    What you say affects how you finish your goals. Positive self-talk is a time-tested method to set goals and follow through. Any time you doubt your ability to finish strong, respond with positive affirmations.

    Do not bow to negative pressure to give up. Control your thoughts, and do not permit external forces, such as fears and doubts, to control them. Here are ten positive affirmations to help you finish strong.

    5. Find a Mentor or an Accountability Partner

    You need all the support you can find to stay the course. A lot of successful individuals attribute their success to the influence of a mentor or an accountability partner.

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    The right mentor will offer you insight, advice, and connections to help you finish strong. A mentor’s role is to guide you on self-reflection and help you ask self-discovery questions.

    Here are ways to maximize mentorship:

    • Be curious: Ask questions that provoke deeper thoughts.
    • Be honest: Feel free to share your challenges and be open to feedback.
    • Be punctual: Be timely and stick to appointments.
    • Be specific: Establish what you want from the relationship.
    • Be respectful: Respect should be mutual. You should respect the boundaries set by your mentor, and your mentor should do the same.

    You can read more on How To Get The Best Out Of Mentorship.

    Bonus Tip: Engage the Self-Awareness Technique (S.A.T.) to Finish Strong

    It is not enough to be an enthusiastic starter; you must also be an optimistic finisher. What is self-awareness? Self-awareness is getting in touch with how you feel and think. It could also mean connecting to your core values and beliefs to live a life that aligns with them.

    Self-awareness can help you figure out your strengths so you can focus on them. It also helps you discover your weaknesses. The moment you accept what you can’t achieve, you will bring together all of your strengths to achieve what you can.

    An HBR report confirmed that when you have a clear picture of yourself, you can be more confident and unleash your creativity. You will also build long-lasting relationships and communicate better[6].

    Final Thoughts

    As you assess the aspects of your life, you need to finish strong, take time to study your past achievements, and apply the lessons to the last phase of your present pursuit.

    Always remember, you have all it takes to finish what you started.

    More Tips on Completing Your Goals

    Featured photo credit: Ethan Hoover via unsplash.com

    Reference

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