Over the weekend, I shared a link to an article that argued that we should set unrealistic goals for ourselves. The idea is that aiming higher will push us to do better. A Twitter follower responded that she struggles with goal setting. She didn’t want to set herself up for failure but didn’t want to play it safe either. I wanted to respond but quickly realized that there isn’t a snappy, 140 character response to such a large question.
So how do you set goals that challenge you, but that you can actually achieve? I suggest you take a hard look at your goals and ask yourself these questions.
1. Are your goals things you should do versus what you want to do?
Lots of people know they should lose weight, but do they really want to lose weight? Especially, when most people from this as a negative – cutting out foods they enjoy and doing exercises that they hate.
Instead, can you reframe this goal into something you want to do?
Okay, let’s stick to the example of losing weight. Maybe you have to lose weight because you doctor told you that you’re at risk of diabetes or heart disease. Can you shift the goal into something that is rewarding and that will motivate you to achieve it?
Instead of focusing on losing weight, perhaps focus on doing something that will enjoy that will help you achieve that goal. You could set a goal of completing a charity running race, climb a mountain or do an overnight hiking trip. These goals will require you to achieve the less pleasant goal of losing X number of pounds and improve your physical fitness. Giving yourself a pleasant goal will motivate you to achieve the less pleasant goal, especially when the going gets tough.
2. Is your goal truly meaningful to you?
In the previous section I suggested that running a charity race might motivate you to achieve the goal of losing weight. Running a race is a public goal and that kind of accountability might be just what you need to achieve your goal. However, your goal really only has to hold meaning for you.
So, instead of running a race, perhaps you want to run around with our kids without huffing and puffing. Instead of focusing on losing weight, you can focus on creating meaningful experiences and memories with your kids.
3. Make your goals measurable.
Stating your goal as “losing weight” won’t help you achieve it. Instead it should be lose X pounds in X months, run 5 km in X minutes by a set date, or be able to run around the backyard for an hour with the kids and not be completely exhausted. The last goal is a little harder to measure, but if you try to do it every day and eventually notice a difference in how you feel you will know you have achieved something.
4. Break big goals down into smaller goals.
I’m going to drop the weight lose example and explore writing a book as a goal. Writing a book is a huge goal and one that many people fail to achieve. But if you break it down into smaller goals, you will have a better chance of achieving all or most of the goal.
So, to write a book, you’ll need to write a first draft of say 100,000 words. If you write 1,000 words a day, you would have a first draft in 100 days, or just over three months. Now, can you commit to writing 1,000 words a day? Do you have the time to do that? Do you know how long it will take to write 1,000 words each day? Some days the words might come quickly and other days it might take longer. Are you prepared for that? Perhaps you’ll write 500 words each day from Monday to Friday and catch up on the weekends. Or write 500 words a day and take 200 days to complete a 100,000 first draft.
To complete a book, you’ll want to write a second or even a third draft, so you’ll want to repeat the time exercise to figure out how long it will really take to write a book. Some authors take a year to finish a book and some take much longer.
But if you break your goal down and then achieve only writing a first draft, you can celebrate that accomplishment instead of feeling like you failed because you didn’t finish the book.
5. Create conditions for success.
If you want to achieve big goals you need to set yourself up for success. If you want to work out or write every day, you’ll need to schedule it. You’ll also need to tell people about your goals and get them to support you. So, if you are married and have kids, you’ll want to enlist your partner’s help to keep the kids occupied while you write or workout. You’ll also want to be vigilant of activities or behaviors that could sabotage your efforts. For example, if you want to eat healthier, you’ll want your partner to not bring home a chocolate cake and cajole you into eating it.
6. Focus on how you want to feel.
Danielle LaPorte wrote the book The Desire Map to help people focus on core desired feelings. How do you most want to feel in your life and work? Do you want to feel content, powerful, etc.? Once you have decided how you want to feel, you can create goals that will help you feel the way you want.
Check out the Desire Map for a whole process to creating “goals with soul.”
* Would you like a free printable planner to help you record and track your goals, and schedule time to write? Sign up for my newsletter to get The Writer’s Planner free.