Maybe 2017 is the year you promise yourself to pay off your debts or visit a new country. Whatever goal you set for the new year, by articulating them, you’ve taken the first step toward accomplishing them. But that’s the easy part.
Identifying our goals is key to reaching fulfillment. It helps us stay focused and gives us a sense of direction. With the new year around the corner, it’s a good time to take a step back and reflect on resolutions that need to be made. But it’s one thing to have a goal and another to make the effort to achieve it. It’s even more important to have a plan for making it all happen.
It’s not uncommon for people to set the same resolutions each year. That’s because they don’t really develop a true sense of commitment. They quickly forget about them after the first few days when all the hype is gone. And I get it, it’s hard. Staying motivated is the biggest obstacle. You usually feel this intrinsic energy at the beginning, but it tends to dwindle as the months go by. There is more to it than sustaining motivation though.
The Problem With How We Set Goals
When it comes to goal setting, we tend to focus on the changes we want to see in our lives, but not on the steps that will lead to them. We aim for things like losing 10 pounds by summer, but we don’t look at what we can change in our diet or commit to going to the gym at least once a week. Or we say things like, “I want to read one book a week” without making time each day to read a few pages.
As James Clear argues in How to Achieve Your Goals Easily, “the problem is this: we set a deadline, but not a schedule.” In other words, we focus on the outcome, but not on the process. As a result, we tend to set goals that don’t take our reality into account and pressure ourselves to achieve them by the arbitrary deadline. We only look at the end goal instead of the building blocks that will allow us to get there. And when it doesn’t happen, we feel like a failure.
How to Set Your Goals
Think about where you are in life. Is there anything you’d like to change? How have your actions in 2016 contributed to your long-term vision? Do you feel closer to where you wanna be? Try to objectively answer these questions.
Did you only work hard for a raise, yet promise yourself you’d diversify your income? Be honest with yourself. We all struggle to create the changes we want to see in our lives, but it’s only by acknowledging them that we can make progress. If your current situation fulfills you, congratulations! I wanna be like you when I grow up!
When setting goals, you’re essentially trying to bridge the gap between your dreams and reality. If you don’t take your current situation into account, you risk falling into delusion.
Take Jamie for example. She has 3 kids and is the only breadwinner in the family because her husband is a stay-at-home dad. She makes about $70K a year working as a communications director at a non-profit and that’s her only source of income. If Jamie makes the resolution to become a millionaire by the end of 2017 without changing anything about her situation, she’s not being realistic. It’s not like she can magically get that kind of promotion at her job. Instead, if she decides to increase her income by $36K, that’s a more approachable goal – and one that can eventually lead to her dream of becoming a millionaire. Breaking it down, she’d need to make an extra $3,000 a month and she can do that if she gets a raise and makes time to freelance on the side. And again, she’d have to take an objective look at her life and figure out these pockets of time.
I’m not saying you should lower your expectations, but rather, stay away from arbitrary deadlines for these lofty goals. Think about what you can do now to create a different outcome and focus on that.
How to Accomplish Your Goals
Now that we’ve established how to set goals, let’s talk about ways in which you can actually accomplish them.
In the past year, I have set many many goals. Some I was able to achieve and others I’m still working on. I am slowly figuring out the strategies that guarantee results and have come up with a few solid ones:
Antoine de Saint-Exupery once said, “A goal without a plan is just a wish”. Wishes are nice, but they don’t pay the bills or make us happy. It’s easier to do that with some goals than with others, but you can create a plan for everything. Let’s look at some scenarios:
Example 1: Shaun wants to become a Forbes contributor. Where does he go from there? These are all things he can do to maximize his chances:
a. Develop his expertise
- Identify his area of expertise
- Learn as much as he can on the topic (from blogs, interviews, podcasts etc.)
b. Build his portfolio
- Share his thoughts by launching a blog, podcast or YouTube channel
- Produce as much content as he can (2-3x a week)
- Get publicity from smaller publications (Cold pitch editors)
c. Research his publication of interest (in this case, Forbes)
- Familiarize himself with their voice and try to implement that in his own writing style
- Look for what they’re missing in terms of content
- Determine how he can use your expertise to bring value to them
d. Connect with already existing contributors and get their insights
- Research the content in his specific niche and collect the writers’ information
- Cold email 2-3 of these people every day and see who responds
- Invite them out for coffee and ask as many questions as possible
- Build relationships with these insiders and express his interest in contributing
Shaun can easily just set the vague goal of becoming an influencer. But he knows that’s not specific enough, so he figures out exactly how he wants to do that. Once he establishes that he wants to do it through having a Forbes column, he chooses to be proactive and commit to small, daily goals. With much consistency, he will eventually be able to reach his goal.
Example 2: Cynthia plans to enroll in grad school next year, but before that, she wants to save as much money as she can. A vague goal would be, “I want to make more money so I can save more.” A better goal setting approach would be, “I want to save $12,000 before grad school next year.” For her to make that much, she knows she first needs to make more money at her job or find other ways to make money. Here are steps Cynthia can take:
a. Get a raise
b. Monetize her other skills (i.e. finding bargain deals, travel planning, coupon collecting)
c. Sell a product (i.e. start an Etsy store or resell thrift deals on Ebay or Amazon)
Sometimes, our goals are so grand that they can overwhelm us. Work backwards. From the big vision, determine the small, measurable steps. And by that I mean, outline the entire process. You will not only have a sense of direction, but you’ll be able to celebrate small victories. Create a system and stick to it.
Set visual reminders
On your walls, on your desk, on your fridge, on your lock screen or on your car wheel – set visual reminders everywhere. If you can picture it, you can do it. Visual boards work wonders. You can even host a “visual board” party with your friends where you add pictures or other pieces of content that remind you of your goals. Want to learn photography? Cut out a pic of a camera (okay, this may be too literal, but you get the idea). Seeing your goals is more powerful than writing it down.
With that said, having a checklist is just as fine. To-do lists work wonders for me. They help structure my thoughts and get things done one by one. But if you’re a visual learner, find ways to include post-its in places where you’re more likely to see them.
You can even treat your social media platforms like an extension of your visual boards. Fill your Twitter feed with inspirational quotes or the updates of the people you admire. If you want to become a jewelry designer, crowd your Pinterest boards with techniques and images. Save your favorite motivational TED talks or YouTube videos. You can design your environment in such way that it becomes your visual reminder.
Track your performance
Every 1st of the month is like a new year for me. I take it as an opportunity to review the previous month, see where I stand with my goals and determine what to do next. Whether you do that monthly or quarterly, be sure to set some time to track your progress. This will keep you connected with your goals and ensure you’re going in the right direction.
As some saying goes, it’s only when you look back that you can see how far you’ve come. Be sure to check in every now and then and stay in touch with yourself.
When you have people to hold you accountable for your goals, you tend to feel more motivated to reach them. This probably has to do with our ego – which often wants to “prove something” to others and ourselves. A great way to do that is to tell people.
Sure, it’s embarrassing to share your shortcomings, but you’d be surprised by how much support you get once you tell people what you’re working on. Join mastermind groups or document your goals via public blog posts. It will help you stay in track and you might find out that you’re not alone in your journey.
As I once read, “One year from now, you’ll wish you had started today. It’s that simple. Just start.” It may seem like nothing is changing day by day, but when you look back, you will realize all the progress you’ll have made.
Don’t let your goals drown in your daily routine. Change your routine so that you can reach your goals. Most importantly, make some new resolutions each year.