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Last Updated on January 28, 2019

How to Set Goals and Achieve Them Successfully

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.

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.

When Setting a Goal: Dream Big but Start Small

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

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.

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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

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.

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
  • In order 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.

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 2pm you will look at your spending. On Thursday at 7pm you will look at your sources of income. Work your way through the list, one step at a time.

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Scheduling each task is a great way to manage that giant list. When 2pm 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 one, 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 2 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.

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 in advance for what to do when things go wrong.

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.

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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.

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

  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 in order 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.

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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.

Learn about how to build or break a habit effectively from this guide:

How to Break a Habit and Hack the Habit Loop

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.

Featured photo credit: Estée Janssens via unsplash.com

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 The Most Effective Way to Measure Your Team’s Productivity How to Start a Small Business That Thrives (From the Ground Up) 10 Steps for How to Change Habits When You Feel Stuck in a Rut

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Published on April 16, 2019

How Self Care Can Help You Live Your Best Life

How Self Care Can Help You Live Your Best Life

When was the last time you did something for yourself?

Whether it was deciding to treat yourself with a little something or travel for some R&R, how often do you practice self-care?

Well, as good as above sounds, there’s a common misconception that many of us have about self-care: that it’s only about indulgence and enjoyment.

However, self-care goes far beyond indulgence. It’s actually about respecting your mind and body, understanding its limits, and being able to take care of every part of yourself, in a holistic way.

And, you really don’t have to go to extreme measures or do anything specific–like meditating or following a plant based diet–in order to practice self-care. You just have to make sure that what you’re doing is in your best interests.

So how can you make that happen?

Below are a few proven methods that will help you become a better version of you. Follow through with these regularly and you’ll be well on your way to living your very best life.

Listen to Yourself

The bulk of self-care is knowing yourself.

This means knowing your body’s limitations, and being in tune with your feelings, emotions and thoughts. So it’s important, then, to know who you are and what you want to do in life, in order to truly say that you know yourself. 

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What is your purpose?

Have you ever thought about this question?

Your purpose doesn’t have to remain the same throughout your life. What you found a purpose in at age 19 would likely be different at age 49.

In your current situation, think about the different roles that you have – as a working professional, a spouse, a partner, a parent, etc.

Do you feel like you are fulfilling your purpose through any of these roles?

All you have to do is ensure that what you’re chasing is meaningful to you; this will bring focus and motivation as you strive to achieve your goals.

If you have your purpose defined, then that’s awesome! You know what drives you and why.

But, if you don’t feel like you have a purpose nailed down, it’s good to start by asking why.

For example, why are you working in your particular job or industry? If the reason is vague or unclear, then your motivational energy will be the same. In which case, you may find yourself not having a direction for where you’re headed in life.

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If you’d like to learn more about finding your purpose, then I recommend you check out this article:

How to Get Motivated and Be Happy Every Day When You Wake Up

Seek Out Continuous Education

Now, this may seem less common when you think of self-care, but lifelong learning is incredibly useful and an important component of taking care of yourself.

It’s Super Practical

Lifelong learning is extremely practical these days and does not require as much effort as it may have in the past. Long gone are the days when you could only find information on something by visiting a library. In this day of the internet, anything you can imagine is at your fingertips.

You don’t need to physically go to a learning institution to learn. You can watch Youtube videos to learn new skills, take online courses to earn a degree, and scroll through an endless amount of articles, books and journals from reputable news and informative sites.

When you’re constantly pushing yourself to learn and take up new things, your mental health also improves. Research shows that an active and engaged mind is responsible for diminishing age-related memory loss and improves overall cognitive abilities.

Your Confidence Will Skyrocket

You’ll also have improved self worth as it teaches you to step outside of your comfort zone, which will undoubtedly improve your confidence.

You’ll also connect better with others by expanding your knowledge base. Learning exposes you to a multitude of new ideas and perspectives that you may have otherwise never considered. This also increases your adaptability. Whether it’s at work or just wanting to adapt to society, your peers, and loved ones, life long learning prepares you to take on new challenges.

You’ll Be More Desired in the Job Market

Another obvious reason for continuous education, is that your employability will also increase.

With the ever changing economy, and huge influences from technology, social media, science etc., job descriptions today are moving targets. Assignments and roles change so quickly in response to changing business demands, it becomes a Herculean task to keep a job description database current.

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In years past, stability was a characteristic of the world of work. Procedures, information, jobs, and organizations were established and provided continuity. Education was completed in the first 14 to 22 years of one’s life, followed by a long career occasionally punctuated by short-term job training.

Today, however, jobs, companies, and technology are disappearing and being created simultaneously. To remain current and maintain a competitive advantage in the human capital marketplace, an individual is challenged to continually learn.

People return to school at every age to enrich their skills and knowledge for their current positions. Some even prepare themselves for new jobs or career changes, moving them forward into new opportunities and technology.

We can be assured that we will be challenged to continue to learn new tasks and information throughout our lives. Successful careers belong to flexible, curious learners who are prepared for opportunities because they know themselves and where they make their best contribution. As Peter Drucker, the father of modern management stated,

“Knowledge is choice.”

Lifelong learning also increases social awareness and perspective. To genuinely understand and empathize with others, increase social awareness, and foster strong interpersonal relationships, it’s important to seek out new perspectives. Enhancing the skills that positively impact emotional intelligence can bring even greater happiness and success, both personally and at work; and, this is all part of self-care.

Improve Your Habits (Both at Work and at Home)

Now, the last piece of advice I want to introduce to your self-care regimen, is to improve your habits.

Habits define who you are, and are built up over time. You are what you eat is a great example of this. If you make it a habit to eat foods that nourish your body, rather than make your body feel bad, then you will be much healthier overall.

Good Habits Allow You to Reach Your Goals

Since habits dictate your days and nights, such as waking up every morning to get to work before a certain time, or brushing your teeth before bedtime every night, they play a major role in whether we do or do not reach our goals.

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When you form habits that allow you to progress towards your goals, you’re automatically living a purposeful day, everyday.

Habits Make Your Time a Priority

How do you spend your free time? Do you opt to lounge on the couch watching Netflix passively, or do you engage in activities that support your purpose in life?

It’s natural to waste a lot of time during the day, but fostering good habits will make you set a pattern for how you spend your time and give you the choice of what you choose to spend your time on. By improving your habits, you’ll find that you can be a LOT more productive. When you create good habits, you become more efficient with your time and a lot less is wasted.

This in essence creates an overall positive influence on your life, allowing you to treat your mind and body well, which is why improving your habits are so important to self-care.

Your Well Being Comes First

We live in such a fast-paced society, where we are often so caught up in our work, families, maintaining our social lives, our studies and everything in between. It’s an understatement to say that life can get a little overwhelming at times.

If you’ve ever watched the safety video onboard a plane, you’ll know that they always ask for a parent or adult to put on the safety mask first, before tending to the child. This may sound selfish, but the fact is that if you truly want to ensure the child’s safety, then your safety needs to come first so that you can protect and care for the child without complications from your end.

The same goes for self-care. We need to ensure that our well being is priority, so that we can be the best for the people around us.

Listening to yourself, practicing lifelong learning and improving your habits are steps that you can take to ensure you’re constantly in the best state of mind, alongside the indulgence and rest that you reward yourself with.

Featured photo credit: Photo by Raychan on Unsplash via unsplash.com

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