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It’s simple to set goals. In fact, you've probably been setting goals for a lot longer than you may remember.
Maybe you thought, “Ok, THIS summer I'll build the confidence to jump off the high dive.” Or, “I'm going to join a sports team next year.”
I'll tell you one goal I would set for myself every August– that I would read every page of every text book or literature book that I was assigned. As far as I believe, I don't think I ever met that goal. All the way from elementary school through graduate school.
But, if I had some specific strategies put into place to help me meet this goal, I bet I would have been more motivated to follow through with it.
In this article, we are going to review 10 specific strategies that you should use to help you achieve your important goals.
Let's take a look.
10 Strategies to Use to Achieve Your Goals
1. Write it Down
You’ve probably heard that writing down your goals has a significant impact on whether or not you will achieve them (you’re 42% more likely, to be exact). But you may not know why this is the case.
It comes down to the science of your brain. When you think about your goals, you’re using the right hemisphere of your brain, which is the side associated with creativity and imagination. So, in essence, all you’re doing is creating a scenario in your head. However, when you write something down, you’re using the left side of your brain. This is associated with logic, reasoning, and analyzing. This act ignites a new level of consciousness, objectives, and productivity in your subconscious mind.
The neural fibers that connect the two hemispheres of your brain (which are called the corpus callosum) allow each side to communicate with the other through electrical signals. These signals discharge into your brain fluid and throughout your spinal cord, therefore communicating with every fiber and cell in your body, including your consciousness that brings your thoughts to fruition. So, if you merely think about a goal, you’re using just the right side of your brain and essentially only imagining it. By tapping into your logic-based hemisphere, you’re signaling to your mind and body that you’re serious about getting what you want and you achieve a new level of clarity that transforms your imagination into logic thinking.
Writing down your goals, whether personal or spiritual, also allows your subconscious to uncover opportunities that won’t be noticed if you’re tied up with just imagining your goals. With written goals, your mind shifts its focus throughout the day from casually thinking about something you want, to becoming aware of and alert to opportunities that may be right in front of you.
And, there are even more benefits to writing down your goals, including:
Which leads me to one more thing…
2. What’s Your Why?
In addition to writing your goals down, write a paragraph about why you want to achieve your goal and how it will feel to make it to that point. Imagining that you‘ve already achieved your goal will help get you moving on the path from the starting line to taking the necessary steps to achieve your goal. Additionally, it will give you a boost of confidence about being successful, which will further increase your motivation to work hard.
But, you need to have a clear understanding of what your motivation is; otherwise, it’s hard to find the determination or grit that is needed to succeed. Interrogate your goal. Interrogate yourself. Why do you want to achieve it? What doors will it open up for you? Why is now the time to do this? Why is it essential to your happiness? You can also look at it from another angle: what will happen if you don’t work toward this goal?
Keep in mind, we will always put more effort toward achieving a goal that holds some sort of deep-seeded meaning to us than a goal that's superficial.
Once you know what your goal is, you should start to brainstorm ideas of how you can make it into a reality. Brainstorming will help you get creative in identifying the steps you will have to take to reach your goal. As you’re brainstorming, note the ideas that come up that seem to be especially critical and should therefore be prioritized. Also take note of any time-sensitive tasks that have to be achieved either by a certain date or in a particular order.
Brainstorming will help you begin determining what needs to happen and when it needs to happen, which will help you narrow a broad-focused goal down into something a bit more specific.
There are several brainstorming activities you can do, such as mind mapping, which will help you focus your ideas and make connections between concepts. Studies have shown that when it comes to individual brainstorming, making random connections is the most beneficial method of coming up with new ideas. (Check out this article on idea generation.)
When you’re brainstorming, don't worry about your spelling or grammar. Just do a brain dump until you’re out of ideas. Then go back and organize and make connections between your ideas. Doing this will help you come up with effective actions and daily habits that will be important in the achievement of your goal.
4. Break Big Goals Down into Smaller Objectives
Goals can seem far-fetched–and that’s the way they should be. Run a marathon. Land your dream job. Earn a doctorate degree. These aren’t things that happen overnight. However, because they may seem so distant to obtain, it’s easy to lose momentum when you’re working toward them.
While your end goal should be large, the milestones in between should be small. This way, you will feel a sense of achievement along the way and you can appreciate your accomplishments.
Power and drive build upon themselves, so as soon as you hit your first milestone, you will feel the momentum to keep going. By taking the first action step related to everything you’ve written down, you’ll feel a sense of progress right away. Let’s look at an example.
Goal: Apply for an MBA
- Take the GMAT
- Create a study schedule
- Take an online GMAT course
- Find a GMAT tutor
- Practice pacing/time management
- Take practice tests
- Research Schools
- Create a set of criteria (location, price, school’s reputation, etc.)
- Narrow your list down to 3-4 options
- Secure Recommendations
- Reach out to people you’ve worked with in the past to see if they would be willing to write a recommendation for you
- Consider a wide range of acquaintances, from personal to professional to academic
- Write your CV/Essays
- Decide on the general topics you want to cover
- Note any areas where you may be lacking necessary experience and address them (For example, you may have three years of work experience, but no significant activities outside work. Find some relevant extracurricular activities to get involved in to improve your application.)
- Get someone to proofread your work who has already earned an MBA
- Prepare For an Interview
- Do some self-reflection on your accomplishments
- Practice mock interviews with helpful friends
- Prepare questions for your interviewers
Change will only happen as a result of the small steps you take, so don’t look at your goal as being one giant, intimidating step. Once you start working, make sure to celebrate your small wins and track your progress.
5. Develop an Action Plan
One common obstacle to reaching goals is that the deadline is so far away that it’s easy to procrastinate until the point that it’s too late to even follow through. This means you have to analyze the amount of time you have and develop an action plan that will keep you on track by telling you the what, where, and how regarding your tasks at hand.
Developing an action plan will help you create a sensible order for your tasks and help you make sure that you have not missed out on any important steps.
Action plans are helpful because they provide you with a framework for figuring out how you'll efficiently finish a project. They help you create a sensible order for your tasks, and they help you make sure that you’re not leaving out any important steps. And, because you will be able to see your tasks laid out, you can easily determine any tasks that can be delegated, outsourced, or eliminated. (If you need a good planning and organizing tool, Evernote is a great option).
When developing an action plan, ask yourself:
As you’re determining what needs to happen to reach your goal, get specific about the required tasks and be realistic about how long they will take to complete. Then figure out the actions associated with each of those tasks.
For example, let’s say you’re selling a product and you have a high sales goal to reach by the end of the year. This likely requires meeting new people through networking, so part of your action plan would be to look for and attend networking events.
Increasing sales also requires maintaining a good product and customer retention so you can get referrals to increase your customer base. To act on this, part of your action plan may be to ensure your customers’ satisfaction by following up with them on a regular basis to make sure that you’re providing a valuable product or service.
To help you anticipate and overcome obstacles when planning, learn more about the WOOP goal setting strategy.
6. Review Your Goals Every Day
When you review your goals every day, not only does it help you maintain the necessary daily commitment in order to achieve your goals, it also helps you adjust them as needed. Making sure that your behaviors, daily habits, and mindset are in line with your goals is a continuous task, as it’s easy to start to veer away from the small things that you need to do each day to make a difference and fall back into old habits. Small and consistent changes will lead to big results in the long run, so it’s important to keep yourself reminded of your end goal and the actions you have to take each day to become closer to achieving it.
By reviewing your goals every day, you strengthen your commitment and ensure that you don’t lose focus. Many people don’t reach their goals because they become distracted, jumping from one idea to the next. Keeping your main goals in the front of your mind by reviewing them daily will help you spend your time and energy wisely, and make it easier to decline other activities that could thwart your focus.
7. Track Your Habits Related to Your Goals
When you track your habits, you quickly become cognizant of the reality of the situation. For example, have you ever tracked everything you were eating because you were trying to lose weight? If so, you may have experienced a bit of a shock when you added up the calories of the little snacks you had throughout the day in addition to your meals. However, this exercise gives you an idea of where you stand.
Tracking your daily habits related to your goals is an effective way to see your current reality and where you need to make adjustments. It also helps keep you accountable for staying on track and motivated to keep up the good work. Here are a few tracking tools that you can use to help you with this:
8. Get Specific
SMART goal setting goes back a few decades, but has really increased in popularity more recently. There are some variations out there for what this acronym stands for, but the main concept of setting SMART goals is to be intentional in your goal-setting instead of coming up with some vague ambitions. Make your goals matter and make sure they’re clear. Monitor your progress along the way until you’ve attained success.
Be specific when you write down your goal so you will know exactly when it has been achieved.
Let’s take a look at the SMART criteria:
Specific – You want to be as specific as possible when you write down your goal so you will know exactly when it has been achieved. This is the difference between, “I want to save money” and “I will save $1,000 in the next 90 days”. With a specific goal, you either do or do not achieve it. There isn’t really a middle ground.
Measurable – Measurable goals allow you to see a clear progression from start to finish:
Instead of: “I’m going to learn how to speak French.”
Try: “I’m going to enroll in a French class at my local community college for next semester and I will earn a B+ or better.”
Achievable – Meeting your goals shouldn’t be especially easy, but you’re probably not going to climb Mount Everest tomorrow.
Instead of: “I will lose 20 pounds this week.”
Try: “I will replace take-out meals with wholesome foods that I prepare at home and start an exercise regimen to lose 1-2 pounds every week for the next 12 weeks.”
Relevant – This goes back to asking yourself what your “why” is. Make sure your goal is in line with your values and the bigger picture of your life. Achieving goals requires work. When things start to get tough, you will probably ask yourself if the goal really matters to you. If you’ve set a goal simply because it sounded good in theory, you will lack the sense of commitment and motivation to keep working, and you’ll most likely fail.
Timely – This doesn’t mean you have to rush to achieve your goal, but you do need to have a finish line so you know if your goal has been achieved.
Instead of: “I’ll be rich one day.”
Try: “I will create a financial plan that will clear my debt within 5 years.”
The timeliness of your goals also helps you set a schedule. Consider this: Let’s say you want to lose 50 pounds by this time next year, so you have 12 months until your deadline. You can easily break this down into monthly goals of losing 4.16 pounds per month. So, for each week, you're really only looking at losing about 1.04 pounds, which sounds extremely manageable. Break your timeline down even further to a daily basis, and you'll see how achievable your goal has seemed to become. The key here is to pace yourself and not leave everything to the last minute.
9. Evaluate and Re-Evaluate
By evaluating and re-evaluating on a regular basis, you will be able to recognize if you've started to take a sharp turn that could cause you to move away from the results that you’re looking for. When you evaluate your stance, you can adjust your approach if necessary to correct your path. Without re-evaluating your progress on a regular basis, you may not notice that your approach isn’t working.
Are your daily activities moving you toward success? If not, why not? What do you need to change to make better progress?
What is working well? Can you do more of that?
You may need to make adjustments to your approach or even to your ultimate goal. Times change and some of the things that may have worked yesterday might not work tomorrow.
10. Keep It Up
Setting goals is a fluid activity, in that you may have to work to adjust them throughout the process and you will definitely learn as you go. You can’t stop at simply setting a goal–that’s only the beginning. Create reminders for yourself to make sure you stay on track, and schedule regular times to review your goals, just as you would set any other appointment.
Your final destination could stay the same over the long term, but your means of getting there may change significantly along the way from your original plan. To keep your motivation going, make sure the value and necessity of completing your goal both remain high.
Final Thoughts for Goal Setting Activities to Help You Succeed
By using goal setting activities, you'll see a huge increase in the effectiveness of your efforts, in addition to better results. You'll save time (and possibly money, depending on your goal) because you will be able to focus on what works rather than wasting your time on tasks that don't get you anywhere.
While these goal setting activities teach you what to do when setting goals, you also have to know what not to do. Learn the pitfalls that you should avoid when setting goals in this post.
If you have a goal in mind, use some of these activities to help you achieve it with more certainty. Remember, a goal without a plan is just a wish, and using productive planning techniques such as these will help you achieve whatever you want.
Finally, if you want to take your goal-setting efforts to the next level, check out this FREE printable worksheet and a step-by-step process that will help you set effective SMART goals.
Connie Mathers is a professional editor and freelance writer. She holds a Bachelor's Degree in Marketing and a Master’s Degree in Social Work. When she is not writing, Connie is either spending time with her daughter and two dogs, running, or working at her full-time job as a social worker in Richmond, VA.