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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 Measure Your Team’s Productivity Effectively How to Set Goals and Achieve Them Successfully 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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Last Updated on December 2, 2019

How to Develop Mental Toughness And Stay Strong

How to Develop Mental Toughness And Stay Strong

Are you the kind of person who wants to achieve massive success in your life? Do you have the mental toughness to make that happen?

I think we can all agree that no matter your ambitions, achieving success can be difficult; and over time, the daily grind can take a toll on your physical, mental, and emotional energy.

Achievers and high performers from all walks of life face ups and downs along the path to success—they face failure, burnout, discouragement, fatigue, self-limiting beliefs, stress, and so much more.

How do some people continually strive towards their personal goals year after year while others give up on them? How do those people stay strong and persevere when there is so much stacked against them?

Studies now show that mental strength is a critical key to success. If you haven’t read Angela Duckworth’s book Grit, you should. In it, she shows that “the secret to outstanding achievement is not talent but a special blend of passion and persistence she calls ‘grit.’” In other words, mental toughness plays a significant role when it comes to achieving goals.

Sometimes, our goals wear us down and leave us feeling exhausted. Other times, our goals get difficult, and success seems impossible, so we lose hope, become discouraged, and want to quit.

At its core, mental toughness is simply the ability to stick to something when the going gets tough. People with high levels of mental toughness can push beyond these obstacles and forge a path towards success while those with lower levels of mental toughness may abandon their dreams.

Want to know the good news?

No matter who you are, what you’ve been told, or what you currently believe, you can develop the mental toughness you need to be successful.

All you need to do is learn to develop a positive mindset, focus on your why, and utilize the people around you for support.

1. Develop a Positive Mindset

If you’re going to increase your mental toughness, the first thing you have to do is focus on building a strong, positive mindset.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, the average person has 60,000 thoughts per day. Of those, 95% of those thoughts repeat each day and, on average, 80% of repeated ideas are negative.[1]

That’s roughly 45,600 negative thoughts per day!

Carrying around these negative thoughts is like going on a hike in the mountains with a backpack full of rocks. The hike is hard enough on its own, but having extra junk weighing you down is a recipe for failure.

Sometimes, building mental toughness isn’t as much about building new strength as it is about saving your strength for the right tasks. Wouldn’t it be easier to dump the rocks out of the backpack instead of trying to get strong enough to carry the extra weight?

Absolutely!

But how can we learn to spot those 45,600 negative thoughts and get rid of them? How can we empty our metaphorical backpack?

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Well, it gets a whole lot easier if you know what you’re looking for. Some of the most prominent types of negative thoughts are self-limiting beliefs, all-or-nothing thinking, and dwelling.

Let Go of Self-Limiting Beliefs

It’s pretty hard to be mentally tough when you’re constantly beating yourself up. Self-limiting beliefs are any beliefs that hold you back in some way. Here are some examples:

“I’m not smart enough to…”

“I don’t have enough experience to…”

“I’ve tried that before, and it didn’t go well, so I must just be bad at…”

When we allow these self-limiting beliefs to flood our minds, negative self-talk runs rampant, and we crowd out our ability to think positively. We’re effectively working against ourselves.

If you want to keep your mind strong on your path to success, you have to overcome the self-limiting beliefs that are holding you back by realizing one key truth: self-limiting beliefs are thoughts, not facts.

When you recognize a self-limiting belief cropping up in your mind, quickly silence it by telling yourself that it’s not true and then back that up with some positive affirmations:

  • “I am smart enough; I may just need to do some more research first.”
  • “I may not have as much experience as someone else, but that’s not going to stop me from trying. I have enough experience to get started. I’ll figure the rest out on the way.”
  • “Just because I failed at this last time doesn’t mean I’m going to fail this time. My past does not dictate my future.”

Get Rid of the All-or-Nothing Thinking

Another form of negative thinking that could be preventing you from building mental toughness is all-or-nothing thinking.

All-or-nothing thinking is the concept of thinking in extremes. You are either a success or a failure. Your performance was totally good or totally awful. If you’re not perfect, then you’re a failure.

But this isn’t true!

If you’re trying to lose 30 pounds and only lost 28, isn’t that still better than not losing any weight at all? I’d say so!

If you allow all-or-nothing thinking to rule your mind, you’ll be on cloud nine when you succeed, but you’ll beat yourself up when you “fail.” Acknowledging the shades of gray in between will allow you to see success more often and it will help you celebrate your smaller wins.

When you recognize an all-or-nothing thought, remember to look for the positive in the situation. What did you gain by trying? What would you have missed out on had you not tried? Could you do better if you were to try again?

Ditch the Dwelling

Self-Limiting Beliefs and All-or-Nothing Thinking can lead to a bad case of dwelling on the negative. If you want to build some mental toughness and keep your mind strong, you have to ditch the dwelling.

Every day, bad things happen to each of us, and while there’s nothing we can do to prevent that, we can control how we react to these situations.

When we dwell on our misfortunes, we waste massive amounts of energy that we could be using to achieve our goals. When this happens, we’re more likely to quit altogether.

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But that doesn’t mean you’re not mentally tough; it just means you’re misusing your energy.

The next time something bad happens, it’s important to allow yourself to feel the disappointment and frustration, but work on reducing the amount of time you dwell on the situation.

Easier said than done, right? Try these:

  1. Call a friend or mentor and talk it through with them. Get some outside perspective on your situation.
  2. Time block your dwelling by allowing yourself to dwell for no more than one hour.
  3. Then, tell yourself to move on, that you’re human, and you’re allowed to make mistakes or experience setbacks.
  4. If all else fails, find a good way to distract yourself until you can calm down and reexamine things with a clear mind.

The faster you can focus on the positives and move past the problem, the quicker you can get back to achieving success in your life.

Be Patient about the Process

No matter which negative thoughts tend to run around your mind, working to replace them with positive thoughts can take time.

Learning to spot self-limiting beliefs, all-or-nothing thinking, or dwelling is one thing, but learning to quiet those thoughts is another thing entirely.

If at first you don’t succeed, don’t fret. Instead, take a deep breath and try again. As you work towards improving your mindfulness and your mental toughness, remember that you’re going to get better with time.

To make things a little easier, it helps to connect with your purpose.

2. Connect with Your Purpose

One of the most critical elements to building mental toughness and keeping a strong and focused mind is having a strong ‘why’ for everything you want to do.

If you set out to achieve a huge goal that you don’t have a ‘why’ for, you’re going to find yourself distracted, discouraged, or disengaged as soon as you experience your first setback.

Think about the last time you were working on a goal or resolution and things weren’t going well, maybe you even wanted to quit. Perhaps you thought you didn’t have enough willpower. Maybe you told yourself that you didn’t have enough discipline.

Here’s the truth: you just didn’t have a strong enough why.

Simon Sinek has been spreading his message “Start with Why” across the globe.[2] In short, he says that:

“Your ‘why’ is the purpose, cause or belief that inspires you.”

One of the biggest drains on your mental energy is pursuing a goal or a task that you don’t have a ‘why’ for. This is when we tend to look for external motivation or question our willpower, but those aren’t the issues.

Often, we set goals because we like the idea of the goal, not the reality of the goal. Without connecting to our why, we can’t intrinsically motivate ourselves to achieve our most challenging goals.

Find Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation is our innate desire to do something and it comes when we work towards something that satisfies ourselves above all else—not our parents or our bosses or our teachers.

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Let’s say you think you want to quit smoking because you know it’s bad for you, but you really enjoy smoking. If you don’t truly want to quit smoking, it’s going to be nearly impossible, regardless of your willpower or mental toughness.

But if you want to quit smoking because you just had a baby, and you don’t want your baby growing up around smoke, then that ‘why’ is going to give you intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is far more powerful than sheer stubborn willpower, and it’s far easier to maintain over the long haul.

If you’re trying to develop mental toughness, connecting a why to everything you want to achieve will reduce the effort and energy it will take to achieve those things. Once you’ve found a strong why for all of your goals, you’ll find that you’ll have significantly more energy to pursue your more difficult challenges.

3. Find Strength in Unity

The final aspect of developing mental toughness is embracing the idea that you’re not in this alone. It’s a fact, anyone who’s ever achieved success in anything didn’t do so alone.

Bill Gates didn’t build Microsoft alone. Oprah didn’t build her network by herself. Steve Jobs didn’t invent the iPhone without a team. Michelle Obama didn’t implement the “Let’s Move” campaign on her own.

Behind all of these successful people were countless other people who were there offering support, mentorship, guidance, and encouragement.

If you want to develop unmatched mental toughness, you need to understand that you don’t have to go it alone. Even the toughest Navy Seals have a team backing them up.

If you want to stay strong in your endeavors, you need to build a team of supporters who will step in and back you up when it counts.

Find a Mentor or Committee of Mentors

The benefits of having a great mentor are far too many to list, but to boil it down to the basics, a mentor is someone who will help show you the path to success.

A good mentor will help you discover your greatest strengths, spot and overcome your blind spots, and work through your weaknesses.

If you’re struggling to deal with your internal negativity or with finding your purpose, talk it through with a mentor. Sometimes we lose the forest for the trees, and a mentor can help us take a step back and see the bigger picture.

Here’s how to find the right mentor for yourself: How to Find a Mentor That Will Help You Succeed

Recruit Some Cheerleaders

If you want to stay strong, it never hurts to have a group of personal cheerleaders. Unlike mentors who are going to jump in and help you address your problems, a group of cheerleaders will help keep your spirits up.

Even if you have a strong ‘why’ and a positive mindset, it’s nearly impossible to maintain a positive attitude 100% of the time. It doesn’t make you weak to need some help from time to time. Having a group of people cheering you on will make all the difference in the world.

As you work towards your goals, tell a few close friends about what you’re doing, and when things get tough, tell them about it. And when they give you the pep talk you need, don’t resist their positivity or counter it with your self-limiting beliefs or your all-or-nothing attitude.

Allow their optimism to refill your energy and use that energy to press on.

Form an Accountability Group

Cheerleaders are great, but sometimes we need someone to give us the kick we need to keep going. You might have a strong ‘why’ for running a marathon or losing 30 pounds, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy; and trying to force yourself to follow through is a sure way to tax your mental energy.

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Why not save some of your mental energy by forming an accountability group?

Find a person or a few people who have similar goals, or at the very least, the need for an accountability partner. Then, form an agreement within the group to push each other every day.

Even if your goals aren’t the same, accountability partners are great for giving us the push we need when we need it most.

Regardless of which relationships you choose, sometimes we have to be able to work through things on our own. Mentors, cheerleaders, and accountability partners are a great way for us to combat our naturally negative mindsets, but occasionally we have to be able to pick ourselves back up.

4. Learn to Pick Yourself Back Up After Setbacks

Building a strong mindset and developing mental toughness isn’t easy! Anyone who’s ever achieved massive success knows that obstacles, setbacks, and failure are inevitable, and you’re no different.

As you work on your goals, you’re going to face many ups and downs, but this doesn’t mean that you don’t have mental toughness, willpower, or discipline.

We all struggle. We all fail. It’s what we decide to do after we fail that truly counts.

When you find yourself in a low spot, ask yourself these questions:

  • “Am I being too hard on myself?”
  • “Are negative thoughts such as Self-Limiting Beliefs or All-or-Nothing Thinking distorting my view?”
  • “What’s the positive side of this setback/obstacle/failure?”
  • “Why was this goal important to me? What was my purpose?”
  • “Is this goal still important to me? Do I still have a ‘why’?”
  • “Who can I ask for help? Who can mentor me or cheer me on? Who can help hold me accountable?”

Asking yourself these questions is a great way to check in on your mindset. When we get lost in negative thinking or lose connection to our purpose, it’s far too easy to become discouraged. When we feel discouraged, we start feeling weak, maybe even a little hopeless.

Also, this article provides some useful tips to help you get back on track: How to Deal with Failure and Pick Yourself Back Up

Tying it All Together

Are you still with me? I know I’ve thrown a lot at you, from developing a positive mindset and combatting your internal voice to connecting with purpose and building a committee of mentors. It’s a lot to take it!

But here’s the bottom line:

A crucial part of developing mental toughness is learning to recognize these tendencies and taking action to correct them early on. Developing mental toughness is not about eliminating weakness, but learning how to deal with it and overcome it.

No one is perfect, but when we focus on the right things, we can develop a mental toughness worthy of life’s biggest challenges.

More About Mental Strength

Featured photo credit: Zulmaury Saavedra via unsplash.com

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