How to set Good Goals and Achieve them

New Year, New Me. In January gyms are filled with people eager to fulfill their New Year Resolutions of losing weight and getting fit. Others set goals like saving more money, drinking less alcohol, becoming more disciplined, and, in many other ways, being more awesome. Often, the resolutions end up being wishful thinking and after a few weeks it’s time to say goodbye to the “New Me”. So, how do you set good goals and actually achieve them?

Goals, Kevin Husell
You set it, go get it. You are the one who has to work to achieve your goals.

We like to set goals at New Year’s because it provides us with the idea of a new beginning, a fresh start. Sometimes that’s what we need. But, regardless of what time of the year it is, having goals are of high importance and we don’t have to wait for New Year to set them.

Goals create new behaviors, improve focus and performance, give us purpose, and motivate us.

Simply setting a goal seldom leads to a change in behavior. For some, it can be challenging to identify appropriate goals. For others, working toward the goal is a challenge.

If you have trouble with setting goals then this article is for you. We’ll go through how to set better goals and how to achieve them. We’ll visit topics such as:

  • How to start setting up goals
  • Goal characteristics
  • SMART goals 
  • Action plans — How to follow up on your goals

And if your goal is related to exercising or working out and you feel that you’d need more motivation, I highly recommend you to read my article Working out as a Keystone Habit and then come back to this topic.

How to start setting up goals

Many fail in achieving their goals because they do not put enough effort into writing them with good quality. And when thinking about what to achieve, it’s essential to think about Why it’s important for you and How to achieve it. 

Think about what could be your goals for the next 6–12 months. Do you have a greater vision? If so, make sure that these short-term goals are related to that vision. Once you have some ideas, its time to think about the Why.

Why is that goal important? What would need to change to make it happen, is there something that has been stopping you before? And if it still seems that you would be up for working toward these goals, what would be the next concrete steps to take?

And as you are thinking about what you could or would like to do, visualize what that actually means if you do it. Are you ready for the pain and work that achieving that goal will need? Are you ready to accept the sacrifices that achieving your goal requires? How confident do you feel? It’s better to have one goal that you are ready to work for, than ten that you’ll do nothing for. 

When it comes to goals, less is more. Make them count.

Once you have brainstormed a bit and have an idea about the goals you’d like to focus on, then its time to write them down in a proper way. To be able to do that we will next look at goal characteristics, what SMART goals are. Finally, we will look at how you can follow up on your progress towards your goals.

Goal characteristics

Many factors play a role when setting your goal. Are you setting an approach goal or an avoidance goal? Does it measure performance or mastery (learning)? Will it be easy or challenging to reach the goal? Let’s have a closer look at these characteristics.

Approach and avoidance goals

An approach goal moves you toward a desired outcome. With an avoidance goal, you are trying to avoid some specific behavior. 

Approaching something can be more motivating and encouraging than trying to avoid something. From a psychological perspective, there are more positives in approaching goals, as in more positive emotions and thoughts. 

I will not smoke” is an example of trying to avoid something. “I will start running on a weekly basis” is an approach goal. How do you feel when you think about these goals? Can you see the difference in emotions connected to them and how that could have an impact on the mindset? 

One thing with avoiding something is that you might be more conscious about it all the time. Someone trying to quit smoking probably sees smokers everywhere. That could be detrimental to achieving the goal. 

One possible thing to do, and wise especially for avoidance goals, is to combine one behavior with another. In that way, you also train yourself for a new habit. One example could be: “Instead of eating sweets when I get hungry during the evenings, I will drink some water and go for 10 min walk”.

Mastery and Performance goals

In a performance goal, one must evaluate their own ability. An example of a performance goal could be to “be able to run 10 Km in less than 1 hour by March 2023”. In March, you’ll be able to evaluate if are able to do it. If one fails a performance goal, it can be sometimes seen as a failure in one’s abilities. 

A mastery goal is about learning something new or improving existing abilities. An example could be to “learn a new language this year”. The good thing about mastery goals is that they encourage active engagement and problem-solving and failures can be part of them. 

Challenging and easy goals

Goals should also be challenging enough, as they produce better results than easy goals. But if the goal is way too hard to achieve, it can be demotivating. “Shooting for the moon and landing among the stars” can be a strategy that works for some, but if the goal is too hard to achieve it will have an impact on commitment. And without commitment, there will be no progress toward the goal.

Goals
Would this strategy work for you? 

The tricky part is to find the balance. How do you challenge yourself enough? One way to do it is to break the main goal down into smaller goals. The smaller goals should be more specific and time-bound than the greater goal. Achieving the smaller goals will encourage you to go all the way. 


There will be a difference in your mindset, depending on what kind of goal you set and what characteristics it has. The characteristics of a goal are definitely something to take into account. When you have refined your goals based on the different characteristics, it’s time to make them even better. Goals that are specific, challenging, used to evaluate performance or mastery, and linked to feedback on results can create a good sense of commitment

To create goals like these its good to remember the goal characteristics and to make them SMART. In the next segment we will have a look at what that means.

SMART Goals

When writing your goals, you can ensure good quality for them by using the SMART approach, which is an acronym for:

  • Specific: The goal should be clear and specific so that you know exactly what you are working towards.​
  • Measurable: The goal should be measurable so that you can track your progress. You should also be able to define when you have achieved it.​
  • Achievable: The goal should be realistic and achievable, given your resources and constraints.​ Remember that it should not be too easy.
  • Relevant: The goal should be relevant to your overall vision and values, and align with your long-term goals.​ Why have a goal that is not important to you?
  • Time-bound: The goal should have a specific timeline so that you have a sense of urgency and know when you need to take action.

If your goals lack some of the essential parts mentioned above, its time to sit down and refine the goals further. When your goals fill all the criteria mentioned above, then the next step is to start following a plan for achieving them.

Action plans — How to follow up on your goals

Your goal is the direction you want to go, but your action plan is how you will get there. And thats why this part is so important for achieving your goals.

When planning for achieving your goals you should specify where, when, and how you will do it. Sharing your goals with someone is also a good idea. It can make you feel more accountable and it creates commitment.

Example: If your goal is to “Be able to run 10 km in less than 1 hour by March 2023” you should think about things like:

  • How many times a week do you need to train to achieve the goal? 
  • For how long will you run? 
  • At what time and where will you run? 
  • Will you do it alone or with a friend? 
  • What if you get injured? 
  • How do you prepare for the days when you don’t feel like running?
  • How do you celebrate if you reach your goal? 
  • What could be the next goal? 

I also recommend having regular check-ups for progress, which is something I do with my coachees. Reflecting, adjusting, and creating new action points on a weekly or biweekly schedule ensures progress and enables a fast feedback loop. If you want to know more about coaching and its benefits, please have a look at An Agile Approach to Coaching.

Remember that it’s ok to still refine the goals as you go because you will get new insights during your journey. Maybe you even notice that it just doesn’t work for you, then its a good idea to reflect on why. Maybe you are not ready for it yet? Or maybe you are just making excuses and its time to look in the mirror. That can also be valuable learning to understand what needs to change. 

You set it, now go get it

Trying to achieve something new is better than just second-guessing and daydreaming about it. And maybe this is your year and you’ll reach the goals you set. Visualization is a powerful tool, make use of it when achieving your goals. Imagine how it feels when you have achieved your goals, and how your life will look at that point.

Finally, make sure that you also celebrate the small wins on your journey towards your goal and have some bigger rewards waiting for you at the end. Remember that writing good goals takes some effort, and you might have to rewrite them a few times. But having well-defined goals certainly pays off. 

Now you are prepared to write proper goals and action plans. I wish you all the best in your efforts and a Happy New Year.

-Kevin

References

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