A New Year is like a new chapter in your life story. It's a great opportunity to stop and think which direction you want your story to go in the year ahead. Why not think of goal setting as similar to sketching out your plot line, the better the plot line, the better the story! Here are a few tips on how to set goals you care about and how to make them achievable.
WHERE TO START?
Defining what we want by setting goals can sometimes feel overwhelming as we may not know what we want or where to start. It might sound odd given we are thinking about our future, but one great place to start is to look back and reflect on the previous year. What were your highlights? When were you at your saddest? What do you think went well, what didn’t? It’s also helpful to think why that might have been, and what would you want to change. Another idea is to think of different areas of your life, e.g. health, relationships, career, travel etc. Have a think how happy you are in each of these areas and what you might want to improve.
Still stumped? Well if a genie, turned up tomorrow and granted you three wishes, what would they be? Then have a think what you could do yourself to make that happen or at least make a step in that direction. How awesome would it be if you could be your own genie? The first step is setting your goals which you can see as actionable wishes and putting the steps in place to realise them. Sure it will take much longer for us to achieve our wishes ourselves than being granted them by a genie, but this way you’re not dependent on waiting for a genie who may never ever come, or being restricted to just three wishes. As the saying goes, “nothing great ever came that easy”.
How you define your goals can have an impact on how likely you are to achieve them. A really useful and simple framework to help define goals that you are more likely to achieve in called "SMART":
Specific: Outline exactly what you want to achieve.
- Bad: Write a book
- Good: Write a book about different types of shoes
Measurable: Unless you make it measurable how will you know you will have achieved it?
- Bad: Go to the gym more
- Good: Go the thy gym two times a week
Actionable: Starting goals with a verb make them more action orientated
- Bad: Be in better shape
- Good: Lose 2kg
Realistic: Make your goals stretching and slightly scary as the magic happens when you are outside of our comfort zone, but be realistic. Unless you’re already a professional athlete, breaking a world record is unlikely to be realistic.
- Bad: Break the 10K world record
- Good: Reduce my 10K time by 10mins
Time-bound: Don’t forget to say when you will do things by or else they will likely fall victim to tomorrow, and tomorrow never comes. You may also want to define your goal with different time frames, e.g. next 5 days, next month, next year.
- Bad: Learn to swim
- Good: Learn to swim 100m by 31st July 2016
You may wonder how many goals is enough or too many? Well I don’t think there is a hard and fast rule. To work out the right number for you, you may want to write down “why” you have chosen each goal. The goals with the clearest and strongest “why” will likely be the ones you stick to and achieve so you may want to rationalise them that way. If you have written the word “should” for any of them, I suggest you might want to think why you really want to achieve it, and if there isn’t a clear reason I’d suggest crossing it out as you may only grow to resent it and will be less likely to achieve it.
PUTTING IT INTO ACTION
Being a strategist by background I can appreciate that planning is the easier bit, but putting it into action is where it gets tough and what really counts. For each goal you might want to think what you can do in the next 5 days to increase your chance of success. For example, if your goal is to watch 6 plays by the end of the year, why not book your tickets for all 6 this week? I bet it will make a big different to how likely you will be to go. Research suggests that building habits is also a brilliant way to make things happen. If your goal is go to the gym 2 times a week, decide when you will go e.g. Mondays, and define what you will do e.g. a spinning class at 7pm and do the same thing every week. The more weeks you stick to it, the easier it will become and require no conscious effort, just like brushing your teeth.
Tricks for keeping yourself on course during the year include setting yourself reminders in your phone along with the “why” you have chosen that goal. For a more high-tech solution you can download an app called Persistence that allows you to input and track your goals on a daily basis. Last but not least, a more fun and sociable way to help keep you on track is finding an accountability buddy who you meet on a regular. You could even introduce forfeits for that added motivation and extra entertainment!