Goal setting is all around us. We set goals for our careers, our family, our health, and our lives in general. It seems we are constantly being driven to the next milestone. What you need to consider is how you accomplish your goals.
What is Goal Setting?
Experts define goal setting as the act of selecting a target or objective you wish to achieve. Goal setting is not only about choosing the rewards you want to enjoy, but also the costs you are willing to pay to get there. With success comes hard work for instance.
Your goals are like your life Sat Nav. They set the direction and determine where you go. If you commit to one route, then the sat nav gets you there the quickest route and you continue moving forward. If you flip-flop between goals, then the sat nav gets confused and it is easy to find yourself going round in circles.
Your goals then need a process for achieving it. So your sat nav is the goal and the car gets you there, making sure you achieve it.
This is the difference between systems and goals and is an important distinction that shows up everywhere in life.
- If you’re a writer, your goal is to write a book. Your system is the writing schedule that you follow each week.
- If you’re a runner, your goal is to run a marathon. Your system is your training schedule for the month.
- If you’re an entrepreneur, your goal is to build a million pound business. Your system is your sales and marketing process.
Goals are useful for setting the direction. Systems are great for actually making progress. In fact, the primary benefit of having a goal is that it tells you what sort of system you need to put in place. However, the system itself is what actually achieved the results.
Goals determine your direction. Systems determine your progress. You’ll never get anywhere just sitting in the car though you’ll actually have to drive it.
How to Set Goals You’ll Actually Follow
So how to set goals you’ll actually follow? There are three basic strategies to use when goal setting.
1. Streamline Your Goals
Have you ever heard of ‘goal competition’? Goal competition says that one of the greatest barriers to achieving your goals is the other goals you have. In other words, your goals are competing with one another for your time and attention. Whenever you chase a new goal, you have to pull focus and energy from your other pursuits. One of the fastest ways to make progress on your goals is to simply press pause on less important things and focus on one goal at a time.
Sometimes you just need to reorganise your priorities a little bit and suddenly progress comes much more quickly because you are now fully committed to a goal that was only getting moderate attention previously. Typically, when we fail to reach our goals, we think something was wrong with our goal or our approach.. What often looks like a problem of goal setting is actually a problem of goal selection.
What we really need is better focus. You need to choose one thing and ruthlessly reprioritise or get rid of everything else. It’s natural for new goals to come into our lives and to get excited about new opportunities. If we can muster the courage to cull a few of our goals, then we create the space we need for the remaining goals to fully grow.
2. Stack Your Goals
Apparently you are two to three times more likely to stick to your goals if you make a specific plan for when, where, and how you will perform the behaviour. For example, in one study scientists asked people to fill out this sentence: “During the next week, I will partake in at least 20 minutes of vigorous exercise on [DAY] at [TIME OF DAY] at/in [PLACE].”Researchers found that people who filled out this sentence were two to three times more likely to actually exercise compared to a control group who did not make plans for their future behaviour. These specific plans are known as “implementation intentions” because they state when, where, and how you intend to implement a particular behaviour.
James Clear suggests trying habit stacking; So just fill out this sentence:After/Before [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT].Here are some examples:
Meditation: After I brew my morning coffee, I will meditate for one minute.
Pushups: Before I take my morning shower, I will do 10 pushups.
Networking: After I return from my lunch break, I will send one email to someone I want to meet.
Habit stacking works well because you not only create a specific plan for when and where you will implement your goals, but also link your new goals to something you are already doing each day. You can read more on how to stack habits and set triggers for your goals in his amazing guide, Transform Your Habits.
James states this is a helpful way to bridge the gap between goals and systems. Our goals tell us what we want to achieve while our systems are the process we follow each day. Habit stacking and implementation intentions help us move from the goal in our heads to the specific process that will make it a reality.
3. Set Upper limits
We set goals, we almost always focus on the lower limits. That is, we think about the minimum we want to hit. The assumption is, “Hey, if you can do more than the minimum, go for it.” I often say, “I want to lose at least 5 pounds this month.”, whereas my daughter who wants to be a writer, might say, “I want to write at least 1000 words today.” My sons may say ‘I want to apply for at least 5 jobs today‘ what would happen though as well as the at least we have a no more than? So for me “I want to lose at least 5 pounds this month, but not more than 10.” (Although more than 10 would be fabulous right now lol) etc
Clear states ‘In many areas of life, there is a magical zone of long-term growth. You want to push hard enough to make progress, but not so much that it is unsustainable’. This is where setting an upper limit can be useful. Upper limits make it easier for you to sustain your progress and continue showing up.This is especially important in the beginning.
Creating habits of actually doing are also key. For instance I used to get up early go to the gym and then work, to improve my fitness and stop being so office bound. Because it became a habit I stuck at it. It was part of my routine. when you set a new goal and begin working toward it, the single most important thing is showing up, because if you don’t build the habit of showing up, then you’ll never have anything to improve in the future.
How to Achieve Your Goals Consistently
You need to align your environment with your Goals . Most of us have the freedom to make a wide range of choices at any given moment, we often make decisions based on our surroundings and people we are with.
Many of the decisions we make in our lives are shaped by the options that surround us. If you sleep with your phone next to your bed, then checking social media and email as soon as you wake up is likely to be the default decision. If you keep alcohol in your kitchen, then drinking consistently is more likely to be the default decision.
There can be positive as well. If you keep a water bottle with you throughout the day, then drinking water rather than fizzy drinks is more likely to be the default decision. The clever folk call this, ‘choice architecture’. This has an important impact when it comes to achieving goals. Whether or not you achieve your goals in the long-term has a lot to do with what types of influences surround you in the short-term.
It’s very hard to stick with positive habits in a negative environment. OYNB (one year no beer) identify this as a key trigger to overcome to be free of alcohol. Surround yourself with drinkers and there’s a pressure to drink.
A few tips to make better choices James Clear suggest include :
Simplicity. It is hard to focus on the signal when you’re constantly surrounded by noise. It is more difficult to eat healthy when your kitchen is filled with junk food. It is more difficult to focus on reading a blog post when you have 10 tabs open in your browser. It is more difficult to accomplish your most important task when you fall into the myth of multitasking. When in doubt, eliminate options.
Opt-Out vs. Opt-In. There is a famous organ donation study that revealed how multiple European countries skyrocketed their organ donation rates: they required citizens to opt-out of donating rather than opt-in to donating. You can do something similar in your life by opting your future self into better habits ahead of time. For example, you could schedule your yoga session for next week while you are feeling motivated today. When your workout rolls around, you have to justify opting-out rather than motivating yourself to opt-in.
How to Measure Your Goals
A key to making long-term progress on your goals is measurement. The human mind loves to receive feedback. One of the most motivating things we can experience is evidence of our progress. This is why measurement is so critical for effective goal setting. By measuring your results, you get insight on whether or not you are making progress.
The things we measure are the things we improve. It is only through numbers and clear tracking that we have any idea if we are getting better or worse.
Here are a couple of the measurable goals I’ve implemented:
When I planned my weeks food better I lost weight; when I exercised more frequently again my mood improved and my body started to tone again. I also measure my work with a 30 60 90 day plan and weekly review where I note my big wins , and how I’ve moved forwards. It’s motivating and keeps me moving towards the goal.
The trick is to realise that counting, measuring, and tracking is not about the result. Measure to discover, to find out, to understand. Measure to see if you are showing up. Measure to see if you’re actually spending time on the things that are important to you.
In Leading Ladies we spend quite some time on goal setting action plans. Each person has their own way, but the beauty is by sharing with each other we get to tweak and enhance our way, maybe even totally overhaul how we do our life.