I’ve been writing and reaching goals for decades. I’ve worked different methods, some more successful than others, I’ve tried the set-it-and-forget-it method (doesn’t work), and I’ve found some practices that work eerily well. I’ve worked with life coaches, shamanic practitioners, hypnotherapists, behavioral therapists, personal trainers, and a few business coaches. Phew. As we are in the annual prime time for goal setting I thought I’d share some of the best ways to set and achieve your goals, be they for the coming year or for the years to come.
Most people overestimate what they can do in a year and underestimate what they can do in ten years. -Bill Gates
A decade from now may feel eons away (especially after this year of 1,000 months of April), but the days are long and the years are short, so don’t shy away from longer term goals -- plus those tend to be when you let yourself dream bigger.
Crafting Purposeful Goals
Give yourself something you can feel
The absolute most important element to a meaningful goal is to infuse it with purpose. I’m not talking about “I want to lose 10 pounds so I can buy that outfit” purpose. What happens if that outfit goes out of style before you reach your goal? When you think about what you want to achieve, dig deep into the details of why. What will reaching your goal do for your life? Project your vision out to when you have achieved your goal. What does that version of you look like? How do you feel -- accomplished? Energized? Excited? Relaxed? Grounded? How has reaching your goal affected your life? How about your relationships with friends? Family? Colleagues? What if your goal was to lose 10 pounds to be healthier so you can live longer and enjoy more time with your family, or that in losing weight you give yourself a healthier lifestyle filled with more energy and a better ability to handle stress? Crafting deeply meaningful goals will mean that when your motivation wanes, they will still prod you forward because the inspiration behind them will remain.
Once you get your sights locked on your purposeful goal, you’re going to write out a description that’s so vivid it’s visceral. Write it out in as much detail as you can. Be specific and intentional with what you include in your vision. There’s no room for fears or doubts. Paint the picture of the person you are and what your life looks like once you’ve reached your goal. If you want to really get a jump start you can write a story from your perspective after achieving it. Describe how you got where you are and all the steps you took to get there. Don’t forget to include the people who helped you and the challenges you overcame. When you think about your goal you should be able to see and feel who you are when you reach it, make the image vivid and the feelings strong and positive.
Apply a little pressure
For a goal to be converted from a dream it needs a deadline. A time frame creates a framework within which you can break down the steps to get there on time. Consider the difference between an athlete saying they want to compete in the Olympics versus they want to compete in the 2024 Olympics in Paris. Open ended dreaming is just a fantasy. Give your dreams some teeth with a deadline to reach them.
Break out the yardstick
If you look at where you are now and where you need to go to reach your goal, what are the ways you can measure your progress? If you aren’t tracking your work, how will you know what’s working? Let’s go back to the athlete with their eye on the Olympics. If they aren’t tracking their progress, what’s the point? How will they know if they have a shot at the Olympic team? How will they know what strategies worked better than others to improve their performance? You must be able to measure your progress as you work toward your goal.
In order to track and measure your progress, you have to be able to break your big goal down into smaller pieces. Not only will this help you track your progress, it allows you to eat the elephant one bite at a time. The athlete is going to always keep their eye on the ultimate goal, but when they go to practice each day they will be focused on a specific smaller component to improve. Break down your goals into steps that will take you all the way to the finish line.
Working Toward Your Goals
Now that you have actionable steps to take each year/quarter/month/week/day toward your goal, you will need to actually take those steps. This is the golden hour for goals -- everything looks gorgeous and glittery, exciting and enticing, attainable and achievable. The golden hour is fleeting. Motivation is fleeting. You need to understand that your current engagement with your goals will wane and that’s totally natural. Don’t beat yourself up over it. Instead, set up safeguards to help you maintain your inspiration and renew your motivation regularly.
The big ass scary and exciting goal you set for sometime way out in the future needs to stay front of mind. You need to remember not just the image of the house you want to buy in five years, but the purpose of buying it -- how will you feel then? What will your life look like living there? If you’re a visual person you can create a vision board -- it can be IRL or digital. You can make a slideshow of images as your screensavers (computer, phone, tv, tablet -- so many screens!). If this is what works for you, the pictures you include need to resonate with you and the true purpose of your goal. Don’t buy into the bullshit, pretty pictures alone won’t do anything for your goals, the magic is in the purpose.
If you’re less visual or you’re just not about a vision board or screensaver you can write out the succinct version of your goal (with purpose!) and plaster it where you’ll see it daily, AND read it daily. Here’s the caveat: You’ll stop seeing it. So pay attention to when you stop reading them or when you no longer see them on your bathroom mirror or your office whiteboard and either move them to a new location or rewrite them bigger and bolder (literally -- make them colorful, make them eye catching).
You need to do more than read or look at your goals. You need to work those action steps you broke your goal down into. Calendar them! Seriously. Put each achievable step on your calendar as a due date. This means you must also be engaged with your calendar more than just looking at what appointments you have that afternoon. You know the saying: failing to plan is planning to fail. This is the planning step. You should not step into your day without a plan of how that day will go. You need to know what absolutely must be done, what should be done, and what can be fit in. This is the same when you look at the coming month or week. Want to build a business? What’s your annual marketing plan? What will you do each quarter? What do you need to do each month to hit the quarter target? And how do your daily activities add up to help you hit the weekly/monthly/quarterly targets that will help you build a business so you can stop feeling your soul sucked dry in a hermetically sealed office building? This step requires some habit building (that’s another post, but you can read Atomic Habits to get a jump). Just remember habits take less and less time as you work on them.
Tony Robbins has a fantastic project/goal planning system which I’ll go over in the next post. It wraps up your goal (or a project) with the purpose behind it, helps you break it all down, figure out how much time it will take, and how you can get help so you’re not doing it all on your own. It’s pretty amazing and a great way to eat the elephant one bite at a time.
Engaging Your Subconscious is The Pro Tip
Your goals will create cognitive dissonance and your subconscious will naturally work to bridge the gap from where you are to where you are going and it will begin to highlight opportunities in daily life to help you on your way. But you’ve got to give your subconscious something to work with.
You’ll need to re-craft your goals as if you’ve already achieved them: I enjoy living a healthy lifestyle full of excellent nutrition, daily exercise, and replenishing rest. It’s no longer about the ten pounds, but the purpose behind the weight loss goal. Once you have your goal re-crafted you’re going write them out -- they need to be in your handwriting -- and then you're going to read it at least three times in a row (more is better) either as you drift off to sleep or in the groggy state when you just wake up before you get out of bed (Superstar Upgrade: handwrite your goals in a journal every morning or night, and then read them over a few times). You want your frontal cortex to be as out of the mix as possible so it can’t filter or add doubts or objections.
If you have a meditation practice you can utilize that skill. Get into a meditative/trance state and envision yourself having achieved your goal -- get the whole life picture here and stay focused on your vision (and feeling!) for as long as you can. Make it a daily practice.
You are creating a new neural pathway in your brain, a new belief, which your subconscious will kinda freak out about because it’s an open loop and our minds like closure; but that’s when your subconscious begins to help you see and hear things that will help you close the loop. It’s close to magic, but it’s not because you still have to do your conscious part and take the action to make it all happen. Still, it will seem magically easier, faster, and smoother when you get your subconscious working with you.