In our personal and professional life goal setting is easy. We find it easy to imagine the life we want to lead. A life where we’re happier, fitter, richer and more successful. Achieving goals is much harder. Unsurprisingly, New Year’s Resolutions usually end in failure. Goals help us grow, but we can get so much better at setting and achieving them.
Here’s what I’ve learned.
1 Don’t Set Too Many
One reason we fail is that in our enthusiasm to improve we add more and more. As a result our limited energy and time gets stretched too widely and we end up missing them. Be selective. No more than 3. Even better, focus on one key goal at a time. Then move onto the next one.
2 Focus on the System
Once you’re set your goal create a system that makes it easy to achieve. This is what James Clear calls Atomic Habits. These are regular, consistent micro behaviours that become fully engrained into our daily lives. When you adopt these ‘good habits’ into your routine, achieving your goal becomes so much easier.
3 Measure Progress
Recording progress against your goal provides focus and motivation You can do this in lots of ways. Sir Mo Farah keeps a hand written diary of all his training sessions which he studies regularly. We have so much technology to help us. There’s all kinds of apps to help us track our health and fitness. In the world of business, keep a dashboard of your key performance indicators. Reflect on what you learn and adjust your actions accordingly.
3 Make Your Goals Achievable
In many of the strategy workshops I was involved in, it was fashionable to encourage teams to set themselves BHAGs. (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) The idea was that the more challenging the goal, the harder we would work to achieve it. The reality is, failure to achieve an over-ambitious goal is demotivating. Of course, you need to stretch yourself, but it’s much better to focus on a goal that you can achieve and then move on.
5 Frequency Beats Intensity
When we set off on a goal, we often attack it with enthusiasm and energy. Instead of walking 10 000 steps a day, we walk 15 000. Instead of training for 3 days a week, we train for 5 days a week. This risks burnout. Temper your enthusiasm. Instead, focus on consistency. Set a realistic schedule and stick to it. Little and often works best. Better to practice for 10 mins every day, rather than to save it all for one day a week.
6 Set Long Term Goals
I’ve often seen people sign up for a run, for example a half marathon, train like crazy for a few months and then stop running once they’ve completed it. Don’t just focus on a short term goal. Decide what person you want to become. For example, you may decide, I want to become a runner. Then create actions that help you achieve this.
7 Remove Obstacles in Your Way
Create an environment that makes it easy to achieve your goals. If you want to develop a healthy diet, remove junk food from your house. If you want to wean yourself off social media, remove the apps from your phone. If you want to exercise more, get your kit ready in advance. Don’t rely on willpower or motivation. Create an environment that helps and supports you.
8 Share Your Goals
A public declaration of your goals, to your friends, family or work colleagues, can do two things. Firstly, it makes you more committed. You won’t want to lose face or let people down by failing. Secondly, you get support. People may offer to coach or mentor you. They may even join in with you. For example, someone may offer to partner with you in learning a new language or getting fit.
9 Don’t Get Obsessed With Your Goal
Just focus on the practice, the routine, the system. If you to become a better writer, just focus on writing every day. If you want to become a better cook, spend more time in the kitchen. Don’t overthink it, just do it. Improvements may be imperceptible, but they’ll happen anyway.
10 Respond to Feedback
The data you get from your tracking (see point 3) will provide feedback. If it feels positive, just keep going. If not, respond accordingly. Equally don’t be afraid to ask for feedback. Listen to it, Reflect on it and adjust accordingly.
So to summarise
Goals are easy to set, but hard to achieve. It can take sacrifice, boredom, effort and pain to get there. Following these suggestions will make it easier. It will help you become the person you want to be.