How to Make Successful Goals
Goals can motivate you to action and be a wonderful source of change, positive self-esteem, and personal fulfillment. But beware! If they are not created carefully goals can become a source of pressure and anxiety, and end up hurting your feelings of self-worth instead of helping them. Follow these 7 guidelines to create goals that will set you up for success!
1) BE SPECIFIC & MEASURABLE
The first part of setting a goal is to answer the question: what do you want and how you will get there? And it is incredibly important that the answer to both parts of the question are specific and measurable. For example if you want to lose weight or get more fit you should set goals like “I want to lose 10 pounds by calorie counting and then reducing 200 calories a day” or “I want my muscle mass to be 38% by weight lifting at the gym two times a week for an hour”. See how specific these goals are? If you know what your goals are then you will know when you meet them! And when you do meet them you can chose to feel really good about it. If you set a goal that is not measurable you are in danger of creating goals centered around feelings or ideas such as "I want to feel good about the way I look" or "I want to be likable." In these examples no matter how fit you might get or how many friends you may have you may never FEEL like you've reached your goal because it is emotionally dependent. It is much better to build goals around something you can tangibly measure and then let the good feelings and confidence you will gain from reaching your goals follow.
Intangible Fitness Goals: I want to be thin and sexy. I want to feel good about the way I look and be confident when I am in public. I want to turn heads when I walk by.
Tangible Fitness Goals: I want to lose 5 pounds in two months. I want to stop drinking soda and limit sweets to 100 calories a day. I want to jog 4 miles per week.
I can relate to thinking the thoughts you see in the Intangible Fitness Goals example. But thin and sexy are ideas that are non-measurable, feeling good and confident are emotions that are not necessarily dependent on how you look, and you can't control whether or not other people check you out - so they do not make good goals. You need to develop goals that are only dependent on you and where you will know as soon as you reach them with no questions asked.
PRO TIP: Start every goal with the words 'I want'. Goals are not about what you should do or what you don't want - it is all about what you do want and what you are willing to do to get there.
2) START SMALL & BE REALISTIC
It is easy to dream big. To want to lose 50 pounds. To want to run a marathon. To want to make a million dollars in your new business. And I want you to dream big! Big dreams are amazing and fun and motivating. But when it comes to goal-setting I want you to think small. Small step-wise goals that you can build up from. Instead of starting with 50 pounds let's start with 2. Why not? You can always adjust your goal once you reach it and keep going until you get to 50. Why not train for a 5K first as you work towards a marathon? It will feel good each time you reach your smaller goals and help motivate you to keep going.
It is easy to put expectations on yourself that are well-meaning, but a little too lofty. It’s great to want to have a clean house everyday or exercise everyday or study everyday or eat healthy everyday, but everyday just isn’t realistic. Be cautious about setting "everyday" goals unless you are very committed to prioritizing that activity or it is not very time consuming.
PRO TIP: Before you settle on a goal do a little research to find out what healthy or average values are to use as a reference. For example you could find out what a healthy weight or daily caloric intake is for your age, gender, and height. If your goal is in an unhealthy range or set in the top 10% you might want to reconsider starting at a smaller or healthier goal.
FUN FACT: I did a little research and found out that on average people have three to five close personal relationships.
3) SET A GOAL & A STRETCH GOAL
Instead of creating everyday goals or lofty goals, set a goal that is a little bit lower than your average expectation (this is your GOAL) and a goal that is a little higher than your average expectation (this is your STRETCH GOAL). For example if you think you could go to the gym 3 times a week then 2 times is your Goal and 4 times is your Stretch Goal. Now you are likely to meet your goal and feel good! Or you could possibly meet your stretch goal and feel even better. Doesn’t that sound nice? You don't want it to be too easy to reach a goal or too hard. Having both types of goals is nice because the objective is to reach the goal (which you have now set pretty reasonably), and the stretch goal is an additional bonus and opportunity to feel extra good on top of your regular goal.
4) DEFINE YOUR COMPELLING REASON
This is the why behind your goal. If you chose a goal you should make sure that you have a compelling reason for the goal - something that really drives you and is important to you personally. This step is important because you will notice a lot of things you think you should be doing are things that you don't actually want to do. A lot of them are ideas put there by your family or friends or who knows where. Take a look at these motivational statements: "I want to lose weight because my family tells me I should" or "I want to lose weight because other people will like me better" or "I want to lose weight because it is important to me that I am able to fit comfortably in my clothes" or "I want to lose weight because I want to be able to play with my children without feeling tired." There is power in the words that we chose. Can you tell the difference a reason can make in wanting to reach your goal? The first two examples are external - goals that are actually focused on the wants of other people. These kinds of goals are not motivating because they are not your goals or your wants. Goals need to be something that you want, and something that you want badly enough to be willing to change your habits and put in the effort. Your reason will keep you going even when the going gets tough or you have setbacks. Write down your reason and keep it handy as a reminder.
5) KEEP TRACK DAILY
I recommend to have a planner or use an app on your phone to keep track of your progress. Maybe put a fun sticker on your planner when you complete an activity to make it fun! Another option is a Habit Tracker where you color in the square each time you complete an activity (this is a great visual motivator!). Try to keep your tracker updated daily or you will forget what you did, and might not give yourself credit for your work. Keep it in a location that is easy to see or in a location where you will have some down time to update it - maybe your desk or the kitchen table where you can update it after dinner. In short: put it somewhere easy to see and try to make it part of your evening routine.
Remember that it's normal to have times where your goals don't get accomplished or you fall short. Maybe you got sick or you got crazy busy with work or family and were too tired. That's okay - life happens! Just get back into it when you can and don't beat yourself up. If your goal is important to you and you are willing to pick up where you left off, then you can achieve it even with lapses in effort or setbacks. Just keep doing your best and don't be discouraged.
PRO TIP: Keep your planner updated every day even if you don't reach your goals or you have a bad day. If you only did half of what you normally do or you splurged on calories write it down. Keep the daily tracking habit consistent and you will be more likely to jump back in and have shorter breaks. If you are purposefully taking a break from your goal (let's say you are sick, or there is a special event, or you have a bigger priority take over) write down what kept you from reaching your goal in your daily update and when you plan to start again. Then when you look back at your monthly progress you won't see an unexplained week-long gap - you will see the extra hours you took on at work that prevented you from your goal.
REAL LIFE STORY: I used to bite my nails. It was a habit that I had ever since I could remember. I used to bite them so much that they would bleed and it hurt to wash my hands or handle acidic foods. I was ashamed about the way they looked, and how compulsive the habit was because I would do it without thinking. When I was about 23 (so let's say I had 15 years of constant nail biting under my belt) I decided that this was a habit I wanted to break. The reason why I bring this up is because it took me about 3 years to fully stop the habit. That is over a thousand days of trying! At first I could only go a couple of days, then a few more, then I would get stressed and have a major setback and bite them all. It was an uphill battle as a trained myself to notice when I was doing it, to try to handle my anxiety in other ways, and to decide that my compelling reason outweighed the enjoyment (maybe familiarity) that I got out of the habit. I progressively got better at it the more I tried, but man-oh-man did I have setbacks - probably on the order of hundreds of them. I never gave up. I got better over time. And now my lapses are so rare that I consider myself to have broken the habit for good!
6) PLAN YOUR REWARD & CELEBRATE
Sometimes when we are trying to motivate ourselves to do something we don't enjoy or when we are tired that compelling reason isn't enough. I recommend that in addition to your reason that you plan a reward for yourself. Just make sure that your reward doesn't set you back on the goal that you just accomplished. For those of you with weight loss goals I recommend to take or buy a nice outfit that is a little too small for you and keep it hung up on the door in your closet. Every time you look at the outfit you can think to yourself "When I fit into this comfortably I am going to take myself out to a place I like wearing this to celebrate." Whatever reward you choose make it a positive motivator to help propel you forward along with your compelling reason.
When you meet a goal don’t immediately forget about it and move on to the next goal and set the bar higher. ENJOY IT! Tell yourself you did a good job. Do something to celebrate. Enjoy that feeling of meeting your goal for a little bit. There is a lot of potential for positivity and self esteem that would be a shame to miss out on after all your hard work. Tell yourself "Wow, I worked hard for this, and I am really happy that my work paid off. I feel good about myself for sticking with it and I feel more confident that I can follow through on my promises to myself!" Once you are done celebrating you can decide if you are happy with where you are at, or if you would like to make a new goal to further your progress.
7) RE-EVALUATE MISSED GOALS
Do you keep missing a goal? Has your goal turned into a source of negativity? Does it make you feel shame that you haven’t met it yet? If so you need to re-evaluate. Are you sure you want this goal? Why do you want it? Are you willing to make changes in order to meet it? If the answer is no then maybe it’s time to let that goal go and find a new one that is more motivating! Goals should be something to look forward to, so don’t waste your energy on ones that you aren't motivated to fulfill. A big word to watch out for is SHOULD. That is a trigger word that you should (ha!) watch out for. Because it signals that you don't actually want to do it. "I should take out the trash" can be translated to "I don't want to take out the trash, but there are reasons for me to do it." Sometimes we do things that we don't want to do because we want to avoid the consequences (like a stinky house full of trash), but when it comes to goals I really think it should be about what you actually want. That way you can gain momentum in your life towards the things that bring you joy and excitement.
Need some help clarifying or working through your goals? Please reach out to me! You can Schedule a Free Consultation about coaching. I would love to talk with you.
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Happiness & Wellbeing Life Coach
813-435-9442 (text or call)