Goal setting is a great tool to help you accomplish many things in life. Unfortunately, few people set goals in a way that sets them up for success. Often times, when people decide on a goal, they envision the glory at the end, and think about how great it will feel to reach that goal, without planning exactly how they’re going to get there. This is a mistake that will set you up for failure. Strategic planning, setting "mini goals", and mapping out each of the steps you’re going to take to get to your BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) are of huge importance and shouldn't be underestimated. Unfortunately, these parts are often over-looked because, let's face it, it takes work. But, if you're willing to work so hard to reach your goal, you should be willing to put in the effort to strategize. Going forth towards a lofty goal without first designing your path is like trying to find your way through an unfamiliar house in the dark. Setting mini goals also increases increases your confidence each time you achieve one, making it more likely that you'll achieve your overall goal. Here are some of the critical elements to setting and (most importantly) achieving a goal
1) Define what you mean
It is incredibly important to define exactly what you mean and what you want to accomplish. A goal like "I want to be in shape" is vague and doesn't allow you to exactly pin down an end point. Determine how you will measure success, what will it look like and feel like? How will you know you've reached your goal? Set specific deadlines. "I want to be able to run a 10-minute mile by August 31st" gives you a concrete goal and end point.
2) List your reasons
This will be important when you’re not feeling motivated, and those days will come. Have a list of the reasons why you’re doing what you’re doing, so you can refer back to it in times of need. Don't just make the list in your head, but physically write them down, say them out loud and burn them into your mind. Make sure your reasons are true and come from you, not just reasons you think you should want to achieve this goal, or reasons other people want you to. If they're not your reasons, they're useless, and they won't motivate you.
3) Define your strategy
Think about and write down exactly what you’re going to do and, more importantly, how you’re going to do it. If your goal is to “lose 10 lbs”, how are you going to do that? What do you need to be successful? Will you join an online community for support, join a running group, hire a personal trainer or see a dietitian? What kinds of obstacles might stand in your way? What do you plan to do about these obstacles? If your plan is to ride your bike to work each day, what will you do if it rains, or you have a flat tire? Always have backup plans in place.
4) Break it up
As I mentioned, you want to break up your big goals into smaller ones. Essentially, all your small goals will piece together to achieve your larger goal. This allows you to have set times to re-evaluate the process, what’s working and what’s not? Did you achieve your mini goal? Why or why not? What do you need to do differently for the next mini goal?
Also, break your strategy down further, and again, really push yourself to BE SPECIFIC. It’s easy to say “I am going to exercise 5-6 times per week”, but how will you achieve that and what will it consist of? If you sign up for a yoga class 3 days a week, what will you do the other 2 or 3 days? Find activities you enjoy and plan your schedule around them.
5) Be realistic
It's great to have a BHAG, but keep it within reason. Setting unrealistic goals is one of the biggest reasons that goal-setting fails. This goes for your BHAG, as well as your mini goals and your strategy. If you haven't exercised in 10 years, it's not likely you're going to jump into a hard core workout program 5 days a week without paying some price, likely injury or burnout. Maybe your first mini goal is to workout twice a week, and work up to 5 times a week by the end.
5) Remind yourself
This is another important aspect of success, and ties in with your list of reasons you wrote out (above). Place reminders on your iPhone, computer, daytimer - anywhere you look often - so that your goal is always front and center, and any decisions you make will be with that goal in mind.
6) Reward yourself
Finally, don’t forget to include things to stop yourself from going crazy. Determine how you will reward yourself for achieving each of your mini goals and your final, bigger goal. It doesn't have to be anything big, but you should take a moment to pat yourself on the back.
Use these tips and you will reach your own goal in no time!