How To Set Goals — And Actually Stick To Them

We’ve all know what it’s like to go through the motions. When we’re stuck on autopilot, we go through the day without energy or excitement — and it doesn't feel good.

As we get older, many of us abandon our dreams and passions to follow a career path that will bring us security. Sadly, we spend years going after “mature” and “realistic” goals, with the hope it will bring us happiness. But oftentimes, even after we check everything off the list, we’re left feeling unfulfilled.

The problem? We aren’t setting the right goals. And when we don’t set the right goals, we're basically setting ourselves up to fail. Luckily, there's a lot that can be done about this particular problem. Here's a six-step guide to effective goal-setting:

1. Ask yourself, “what are my core values?”

Many people go after money instead of what they're passionate about. They choose the job that pays a million dollars, even if it’s a job they don’t like.

To start setting goals that lead to happiness and fulfillment, you’ll need to reframe your perspective. Using the job example, the first step is to think about what you would do if money wasn’t an issue. What excites and energizes you? What are you passionate about? What do you enjoy doing?

These questions will provide valuable insight into your strengths, what drives you on a deep level and what will give you a sense of purpose.

2. Get clear on your why

Why do you want to accomplish this goal? How will it enrich your life? How will it fulfill you? Challenges are inevitable, which is why you need a strong enough “why” when you set goals; it will keep you motivated during the tough times.

Also, when you have a powerful reason for doing something, you won’t let fear win. You will use it to propel you forward. This is also why it's important to have specific goals and long-term goals that tie into your values.

3. Set an intention

The reason most people can't follow through on their New Year's resolutions is because they should be setting an intention, not a resolution. An intention helps you set realistic goals.

Think about the big picture and imagine who you want to be. What habits will you need to change to make that happen? Setting an intention is a vital part of goal-setting because it lays the groundwork.

If you say to yourself “I can’t get a promotion,” “I’m not talented” or “I’m not good enough,” then your brain will find ways to reinforce that negative belief.

Reframe the narrative, instead saying, “I will get the promotion,” “I am good enough” and “I have what it takes to make a difference in this role.” The intention and types of goals you set are important. 

Therapist Tasha Seiter suggests writing down each domain of your life for which you would like to set personal goals. She uses the following domains with her clients: 

  1. Romantic relationship (or marriage) 
  2. Family relationships 
  3. Friendships/ social life 
  4. Professional life 
  5. Mental Health 
  6. Physical Health 
  7. Intellectual 
  8. Spiritual life 

Identify the value that you hold most dearly in each domain. What do you think is most important in these areas of your life? For example, you might cherish meaningful contribution in your professional life, adventure with your friends, and compassion in your spiritual life, Seiter explains.

4. Make a list of small, measurable goals

In order to accomplish your next goal, you’ll need momentum. And the only way to build momentum is through progress on a daily basis. When you set small, smart goals in the short-term and check them off the list, this will increase your self-esteem and confidence. And after achieving the smaller goals, the bigger goals won't feel so far out of reach.

After identifying your top value in each area of your life, write down three attainable goals that can help you more fully embody that value. “For example, if you most highly value connection in your marriage, think of three actions you can take to foster more connection in your marriage,” says Seiter. These might be: 

  • I will work to be more clear about my needs in this relationship so that my partner can more fully connect with me and meet my needs. 
  • I will work to put myself in my partner’s shoes before I respond so that we can understand each other more fully. 
  • I will bring my partner coffee at work once a week to show them how much I love and appreciate them.

5. Take action now

Now that you've set an intention and achievable goals, you can come up with an action plan. 

Many people don’t realize why change is difficult. It’s because when we think about a goal, we experience analysis paralysis. In other words, we get too inside our heads and jump far into the future. When we start analyzing the time frame and all the steps it will take to reach our goal, we quickly get stressed and anxious. This leads to giving up and thinking, “this is too hard.”

Did you know our brains are wired to magnify risk? This is to protect us from danger or a perceived threat. The second you hesitate, your body releases stress hormones that screams, “danger!” (even if you’re not in harm’s way).

So, take action now! There’s a common misconception that you have to feel motivated in order to change. But the opposite is true. It is only when you take action that you’ll become motivated.

6. Focus on your progress, not the goal

You will face challenges along the way. This is why having a strong enough “why” and an intention is important. It keeps you grounded and focused when you experience a setback. It's the smaller steps that can make the biggest difference.

Remember, the goal-setting process should be fun!  Don’t wait to celebrate all your hard work. Over time, you'll make each new habit part of your regular routine. Celebrate your progress and each step you take along your self-improvement journey. And before you know it, you'll be living your best life.

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