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Last Updated on May 13, 2021

How to Set Goals and Achieve Them Successfully

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How to Set Goals and Achieve Them Successfully

At the beginning of every year, many of us create New Year’s resolutions. We think about what we did or didn’t accomplish last year, and create new hopes and dreams for the coming year. Unfortunately, not everyone knows the difference between a resolution and a goal, and few people understand how to set goals and achieve them successfully.

According to the Statistic Brain Research Institute, only 9.2% of all people ever feel that they are successful in achieving their New Year’s resolution. And 42% give up after the first month.[1] But there is a way.

If you’re looking to save money this year or achieve some level of self-improvement, like so many of us are, we can turn those resolutions into goals and achieve them successfully. Here is how to set goals and achieve them successfully.

What Is a Goal (and What Isn’t)?

A goal can be a lot of different things. But what a goal is not is a dream or a hope. I dream of owning my own home. I hope to take better care of my health. Those are great and admirable dreams, but they are not goals.

A goal is specific. It’s measurable. Reframing those dreams into goals looks like this: I will save $40,000 in the next five years and have enough money for a down payment on a home. Or, I will lose 10 pounds in the next 3 months.

For something to truly be a goal, you need to know when you get there. When you reach it. Those are the kinds of goals that set you up for success.

Setting a Goal: Dream Big but Start Small

One of the best ways to set a goal is to pick a small, tangible milestone.

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If your dream is to save money for a home in the long term, then your first goal could be to save $1,000 in the next three months. If your dream is to feel healthier, decide what that means for you. Maybe it means eating 2 servings of vegetables every day for the next month or going on a walk 5 times per week.

Dream big, but start with a goal of reaching one realistic step that will take you closer. Setting an actual goal should be small and tangible. Once you hit the first one, you can set another goal that brings you further down the path to your dream.

How to Achieve Your Goals

Here are six tips on how to set your goals and how to achieve a goal successfully.

1. Tackle Your Scary Thoughts

Let’s get real for a minute. Your goal is scary. You doubt yourself. You don’t know if you can do it. You’ve tried before and failed. Also, what if it gets uncomfortable? What if you have to do things you’ve never done before?

Be realistic about what is going on in your mind. When you sit down to create your goal, also write down your scary thoughts. Take a look at them, and pick one, tiny, realistic thought that will help you reframe what that negative voice is telling you.

If the voice is telling you “I’m not good with money,” think about that sentence: Is it really true? What does a blanket statement like that mean? Maybe you haven’t always reached your goals in the past, but you’ve made some steps in your journey.

So instead, reframe that negative thought. You could try thinking: “Sometimes I have managed my money,” or, “It’s possible that I can learn to manage my money.” Because if your body is going in one direction and your mind is going in another, you’ll never get where you want to go.

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2. Break Down All the Steps to Get There

Let’s revisit the goal of saving $1,000 in the next three months. How will you do that? There are actually a lot of steps.

Let’s break down an example of how you could approach it:

  • Write down/figure out all the places that you spend money over the course of a month (or several months).
  • Write down exactly how much money you earn each month, after taxes.
  • To save $1,000 in three months, you will need to save $333 per month.
  • Look at all the places you spend money, and figure out where you can spend less.
  • If it’s possible, determine if there are ways that you could earn more money in the next few months.

The list might feel overwhelming, but remember, you don’t have to tackle every task at once. Learning how to focus is essential to achieving your goal.

3. Schedule the Time to Do All the Tasks

Once you have your full list, consult your calendar. Find some time, and schedule each task. On Tuesday at 2 pm, you will look at your spending. On Thursday at 7 pm, you will look at your sources of income. Work your way through the list, one step at a time.

Scheduling each task is a great way to manage that giant list. When 2 pm on Tuesday comes around, all you have to do is that one thing. You don’t have to worry about all the other steps. You’ve already planned when you will do each one.

Scheduling each step toward your goal is critical to achieving them successfully. And after all that analysis, the actual method of reaching your goal could come down to a small change in your habits.

You realize that every weekday, you run out of your office and get coffee from Starbucks. You usually do this twice a day, and sometimes buy a treat to go with it. When you add it up, it turns out you spend $15 every weekday buying two coffees and some treats at Starbucks. That’s $300 a month right there. If you made one change and brought coffee from home every morning, you could make substantial headway toward that goal.

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4. Ask Yourself: What Will You Do When Life Gets in the Way?

Dr. Peter Gollwitzer is a Psychology professor at NYU. He has done fascinating research on the power of planning for obstacles. He calls it creating “if-then plans.” He found that people are much more likely to reach a goal if they plan for what to do when things go wrong.[2] And the reality is, life is going to get in the way.

You committed to the new habit of bringing your coffee from home every morning. Then, one morning, your son spills your to-go cup all over the kitchen counter as you are scrambling to head out the door and drop him off on the way to work—no time to re-make your coffee. But coffee is what you desperately need, now more than ever. What will you do?

There are several options. You could figure out a coffee place with less expensive coffee that is also on your way to work, or you could wait it out and drink your first cup once you get to the office—there is a coffee maker in the break room.

But you are not going to want to think of these options in the heat of the moment, and you’ll be even less likely to actually do them. That’s why you need to make a plan for when life gets in the way—in advance.

Pick one option for times when you can’t bring your coffee with you. You know it will happen. So, why not plan for it? Then, in the heat of the moment, you don’t have to think. You don’t have to get frustrated and exasperated. You know the plan. You just have to follow it, and you will keep moving closer to your goal.

5. Reward Yourself for Your Efforts

You realized that the key to reaching your goal of saving $1,000 over three months is one, small habit change—a change in the place you get your coffee. But research shows that you are more likely to reach your goal if you reward yourself for that habit change along the way.[3]

Charles Duhigg, the author of The Power Of Habit, talks about what is called a habit loop. There are three steps to the loop:

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  1. The cue
  2. The routine
  3. The reward

In this instance, the cue is morning. The routine that you are trying to create is to bring your coffee from home. But to truly solidify the new routine, you need to make this new habit satisfying. You need to provide a reward.

Maybe your reward is to drink a special flavor of coffee from home or to use a travel mug that you really like. Maybe you top off that mug with a little more coffee than you’d drink if you got it from Starbucks. The choice is yours, but the research is clear. You’ll have more success reaching your larger goals if you find the right reward for the smaller steps. You just need to learn how to build or break a habit effectively.

6. Don’t Beat Yourself Up If You “Fall Off the Wagon” a Few Times

Habit changes are hard. It’s difficult to reach new goals. You’re asking yourself to stretch, to grow, to try new things.

Of course, there will be times when you take a step back—afternoons when you just want your favorite Starbucks coffee and nothing else will do. But if you are kind to yourself and realize that no one is perfect, you are more likely to keep moving forward and ultimately get where you want to go. Then, celebrate when you do!

Final Thoughts

“In the long run, men hit only what they aim at. Therefore, they had better aim at something high.”—Henry David Thoreau

Instead of simply drifting along reacting to what life brings you, take proactive steps to go out and create the future you want. While we can’t control everything that happens to us, we can control ourselves by setting goals to achieve our big dreams. Just follow this guide on how to set goals and you’ll be off to a good start.

More Tips on How to Set Goals

Featured photo credit: Estée Janssens via unsplash.com

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Reference

More by this author

Deb Knobelman, PhD

Neuroscientist and C-Suite business executive who writes about the intersection of mindset, productivity, entrepreneurship and how to reach goals.

How to Set Goals and Achieve Them Successfully How to Start a Small Business From the Ground Up That Thrives How to Change Habits When You Feel Stuck in a Rut How to Measure Your Team’s Productivity Effectively

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Published on September 16, 2021

What Are Process Goals? (With Examples)

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What Are Process Goals? (With Examples)

Ready. Set. Go. For years, this was my three-step mindset when it came to goals. I would reach for the moon and hope to land among the stars without feeling the pain of the fall. This approach was all or nothing, and as a result, I experienced loads of burnout and almost zero productivity. In short, my task list was filled with high-level intentions, but I hadn’t taken the time to create a map to reach the destinations. I was lost in the planning stages because I didn’t understand process goals or have any examples to follow.

Since then, I’ve learned how to embrace the journey and break my outcome goals into smaller and more manageable process goals. This approach has improved my focus and reduced frustration because I’m now working towards a surefire strategy that will take me where I want to go––I’m creating a plan of action with achievable daily targets (a process goal).

What Is a Process Goal?

A process goal is not a destination, it’s the path you plan on taking to get there. For example, if you want to become better at writing, your process goal would be to post one blog article per week and learn from the feedback you receive. The destination is a monthly goal of 12 articles.

This distinction is important because it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that these types of goals are not all or nothing. Think about it. You’ve heard it said: it’s not about working hard but working smart.

Well, a process goal is an actionable target with what we call SMART criteria:

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  • Specific – The more detailed your goal, the better. For example, instead of “I want to be fit,” you would say, “I want to lose five pounds.” Make sure your goal is crystal clear.
  • Measurable – You need a way to measure progress and success, so it needs to be quantifiable. This is where you decide what “fit” actually means for you (more on this later).
  • Achievable – If your goal isn’t challenging, then it’s not going to be motivating. On the other hand, there must be a steeper mountain to climb if you want substantial results.
  • Realistic – “I want to run a marathon” is not practical for most people. Ensure you have the time, energy, and resources (e.g., training program) required to achieve your goal.
  • Time-Bound – Your goal needs an assigned deadline or it’s just a pipe dream. There’s nothing wrong with dreaming, but what happens when the fantasy ends?

To summarize, these are the essential components of any process goal: specific, measurable, achievable within a certain time frame, and realistic.

What Is a Destination Goal?

A destination goal is a point in time when you plan to be at a particular destination. For example, if your goal is to get to represent your country at the 2025 Summer Olympics, you right need to focus on smaller increments to attain that success. On your way to that goal, you need to focus on smaller destinations. First, make the national team. Then, compete in a few events and so forth.

If you try to make it to the Olympics from the very start without any milestones along the way, it would be too daunting. On the other hand, if you focus on each milestone as a destination goal, it will all seem possible and achievable.

Process Goal Template

Let’s say you want to become a better cook. Here is one way of writing the process goal: “I will save $100 per week by cooking all my meals at home for 12 weeks.” This would be your destination (monthly), and the steps required to achieve this goal (weekly) would be:

  1. Spend one hour on Sunday planning my meals for the week.
  2. Shop for groceries after work on Monday and Tuesday nights.
  3. Cook all meals at home on Wednesdays through Sundays.
  4. Pack my lunch for work on Mondays and Tuesdays.
  5. Save $100 per week in cash by cooking at home.

This process goal will help you become a better cook by teaching you to save money through planning, shopping, cooking, packing your own lunch, and trying new recipes. It also includes a weekly reward (saving $100 in cash) that will help you stay motivated.

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Process goals encourage you to reach your ultimate goals. When you feel like you can accomplish smaller goals along the way, you gain sustainability and confidence to move forward.

In many ways, process goals are a lot like faith. Each accomplishment brings you closer to seeing the fullness of the life that you desire––it breaks through the fog and makes things clearer.

What Questions Helped Me Find My Process Goals?

After several years of setting lofty goals and becoming increasingly frustrated when I wasn’t getting the results I wanted, I decided to take a closer look at my approach.

Now, there are many ways you can do this, but here’s how I went about it. Last year, I asked myself the following questions:

  • What am I doing right now?
  • How can I get better at this?
  • Is this process goal leading me closer to my ultimate goals?

The choices I made from the answers to these questions became my process goals. They were the driving force that kept me motivated and moving forward when I wanted to give up and throw in the towel. Since then, I’ve been able to accomplish lifelong goals that I had given up on years ago. For example, I’ve been able to obtain a publishing contract, create more digital products for my business, and enjoy the moment.

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Before I broke down my goals into smaller ones, I was struggling to just get out of bed. The thought of my endless list kept me stagnant. Now, I look forward to each morning and taking on smaller projects to reach profitable outcomes.

What Are Some Process Goals You Can Try?

So, now that you understand the importance of process goals, let’s get you started with some examples that you can utilize this week:

  • Sign up for a new class.
  • Complete one portion of your project by Thursday.
  • Start walking around the block instead of running a mile.
  • Improve your writing by spending 30 minutes everyday journaling.
  • Practice your interview skills.
  • Read at least one book from the library this week.
  • Do ten push-ups each day before you leave for work.

You get the idea. These process goals don’t have to be complicated. If anything, you want to break down your plans to the point of them feeling easy or at least doable without needing a week’s vacation. By breaking your goals down into smaller pieces, you can accomplish a lot more in a shorter period. You’ll also feel more confident that you’re able to accomplish something within the moment.

It isn’t easy to continue towards your goal if achievement feels too far away. You need to celebrate the small things and embrace the process.

What Do You Need for Process Goals?

Think about how much time and money you’ve spent on new clothes, books, technology, etc. Many of us want to keep up with the latest trends and purchase the best gadgets from Apple or Microsoft. But all of these extra investments come at a steep price.

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To find your process goals, you may have to face some difficult emotions or situations bravely and confront them head-on. You might need to forgo the new outfit or the latest Mac book to meet your overall objectives.[1] Remember, process goals not only protect you from feeling overwhelmed, but they also keep you from being distracted.

Final Thoughts

You may feel overwhelmed at first when trying to set a process goal. Sometimes, just thinking about change triggers stress hormones, which only leads to more worries and anxious feelings. However, if you keep yourself focused and take small steps in the right direction, you’ll soon realize that goals don’t have to be complicated.

You can achieve your process goals one day at a time, and you can start today by breaking down your larger goal into smaller steps. It doesn’t matter if the process takes a week or six months, what matters most is that you’re moving forward and doing something to make yourself better.

Now, go on out there and achieve one of your process goals!

Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

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Reference

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