There are goals everywhere. Big goals, little goals, realistic goals and extremely unrealistic goals — everyone has them.
Maybe you want to stop drinking. Maybe you want a six-pack by the end of the year (unless you’ve already got a two- or four-pack, good luck with that one). Maybe you want to buy a new car.
No matter the goal, there’s a way you can achieve it — within reason, of course. Making it your personal goal to levitate from your bed to your shower could prove a bit challenging.
If there’s a part of yourself you would like to improve, the only thing stopping you from making a major life change is YOU. Commitment levels can’t always be counted on, so there are some additional measures you can take to ensure you’ll get to your desired destination.
Set Actionable S.M.A.R.T. Steps
No matter what goal you’re trying to accomplish, it’s important to remember to establish realistic expectations. Saying to yourself, “I’m going to quit smoking by the end of this month” isn’t going to enact any real change.
This “goal” is not just unrealistic — it’s also intangible. How are you going to stop yourself from buying cigarettes? What will happen if all of your coworkers around you start to smoke? Without an anchor to hold you to your desired life change, your willpower will become surprisingly powerless.
Instead of trying to achieve one massive goal, break it down into smaller steps. Make your goals specific, measurable, achievable, reasonable and time-sensitive. Doing so will help you concentrate your energies and provide sensible benchmarks for progress. Rome wasn’t built in a day, after all.
And don’t just stop with S.M.A.R.T. — also make sure you’re evaluating your progress toward each individual goal along the way.
Use An “If/When-Then” Plan
Studies have found that the human brain works more like a computer than you might realize. For example, your brain responds to certain cues the same way a computer responds to a keystroke.
With this in mind, try practicing an “if/when-then” plan. This is a strategy that will help you develop good habits to reach actionable goals by giving your brain cues.
The cue can be anything — a specific time, a place or even person. From there, choose a desirable action to link to the cue.
For example, if you want to stop smoking, say to yourself: “If/when my coworkers take a smoke break, I’ll go to the vending machine and get a drink.”
Your brain will notice the positive connection, then begin to associate that cue with a healthy habit. Before you know it, those healthy habits will become second-nature.
Develop Keystone Habits
In trying to accomplish an over-arching goal with a bunch of tiny goals that all require their own individual routines, it’s easy to lose yourself in all of the various motivations for each routine. That’s where keystone habits become very important.
A keystone habit acts as a supporting habit — one that brings together multiple habits and facilitates the development of other related habits as you need them. Keystone habits can remind you of the big goal and keep you grounded in the reasons why you’re reaching toward these smaller goals.
For example, if you’re trying to lose weight, drink a glass of water first thing in the morning. That way, no matter what your various workout routines could look like down the road, you’ll have developed a habit of staying hydrated that will survive any changeup in your daily routines.
Schedule a Deadline
All motivated behavior seems to occur in proximity to a deadline, right? Nothing arouses productivity like the fear of being late — especially in the hearts of serial procrastinators, or people with difficult goals to meet.
The best example to use is the marathon. If your goal is to run a marathon, nothing will motivate you more than signing up for and paying to run in the marathon.
Be sure to do so before you start doing any preparatory workouts, buy new running shoes or start cutting out soda. If you commit yourself to a specific date and time to complete your goal, you won’t have a hard time finding that motivation to work toward achieving it.
And there’s just something special about a financial commitment that’s more binding than other commitments. There are only so many things you’re willing to spend 50 dollars on, right?
Know the Difference Between Goals and Systems
Surprisingly, the biggest stumbling block to your goal achievement could be in the very word itself: goal. You may not realize it, but the word “goal” likely sparks some negative feelings in your brain.
Thinking about your goals and the fact that you likely didn’t achieve them can weigh heavily on your mind and discourage you from attempting any life improvements in the future.
So instead of fixating on goals, which carry the connotation of being chores, focus on a system. A system is the method through which you ultimately achieve goals. For example: your goal is to lose weight, but your system is to go on a run every morning.
Even when you reach your weight goal, you will continue running in the morning. This system will outlast any goals you might set, subsequently forming a great habit.
In the interest of focusing on systems rather than goals, there are three reasons why goals can prevent you from achieving success: goals reduce your happiness, goals weirdly conflict with long-term progress and goals tell you that you can control things that are very much out of your control.
Commit to a process, rather than focusing on a goal. Develop good behaviors, and sooner than you realize, you’ve become a better version of yourself. Instead of trying to stay motivated with a long-term goal, try accepting that your goal most likely won’t be achieved quickly. And, as usual, stay committed to your system.
And finally, instead of trying to control the uncontrollable, build yourself a feedback system. As you’re progressing through your goals, make sure you can see actionable results. This will provide more than sufficient motivation, as well as give suggestions for necessary adjustments.