How many times have you set a New Year’s resolution? Or what about starting that new goal on Monday? If you’re like most people, you might associate a new year or a new week with a new start. But if you’re also like most people, your resolve wears down quickly, and the goal you set for yourself becomes a distant memory after just a few weeks.
Learning how to set and achieve goals is paramount for your self-esteem. It can also increase your productivity and overall happiness. Here are the best tips for ensuring you set yourself up for success.
Define Your Values First
What are your main priorities in life? What gives you joy, pleasure, and fulfillment? What makes you tick?
Defining goals may start with defining your values. For example, let’s say you want to save money. Now think about why that matters.
In other words, what specific values impact this goal? For example, do you value financial freedom? Do you value the prospects of earning and saving to provide a good living for your family? Do you value the independence that comes with purchasing a car or owning a home? There are no right-or-wrong answers, but knowing your answers can set the framework for following your goal.
If you need help recognizing your values, consider:
- Making a bucket list of things you want to experience or achieve.
- Creating a vision board using magazine cutouts.
- Taking a values inventory or assessment.
- Meeting with a mental health professional to discuss core values.
Remember that values can change over time, but it’s important to identify what they are right now. Happy people tend to live their lives in accordance with their values- once you can align yourself, setting and establishing goals often feels easier.
Consider What’s Stopped You Before
Let’s say you have always wanted to save money. Perhaps you’ve saved here and there, but you’ve always struggled, and you worry that the next emergency could decimate you financially.
Spend some time thinking about the obstacles that have affected your process.
- Do you have a low-paying job that doesn’t leave you enough income to save after paying the bills?
- Are you currently in debt and feel like you can’t get caught up?
- Do you end up spending money the moment you receive it?
Consider writing down all the barriers that come to mind. Then, on a scale from 1-10, rank how intensely each one impacted your progress. Do you notice any patterns with how these barriers affect different goals in your life? For example, if your low-paying job has caused financial stress, does this issue present itself in other areas?
Having this insight is important for recognizing triggers. It’s also helpful for identifying how you can then manage these triggers when they inevitably surface.
Start Your Mental Health Education.
Get instant access to free videos, and be the first to know about live classes and events.
Write Your Goals Down
Many successful people attribute writing down their goals to helping them stay persistent and improve performance. While research on whether this theory is true is somewhat mixed, there don’t appear to be any downsides to engaging in such writing exercises.
List What You Want To Achieve In 365 Days
Set a five-minute timer and jot down what you hope to accomplish within the next year. Don’t overthink this activity, but simply write down what comes to mind.
Highlight the Most Important Goals
Read over your answers. What stands out as most essential to focus on right now? Hopefully, there are 1-3 items that jump out at you. Highlight those.
Identify The Merit
What made you highlight those answers? Why are they so valuable to you at this moment? Write down any reflections that emerge. Consider how your life could change if you achieved those goals. Think about why that change is also important and write that down.
Choose One to Start
It’s reasonable to have many goals that you want to achieve. But starting with one plan helps you stay focused and disciplined. Decide one for right now. It doesn’t necessarily need to be the most important one, but it should be one that feels vital and time-sensitive.
Set Your SMART Goal
An unstructured, lofty goal might sound like, I want to save money. While you may have great intentions, setting this type of goal is rarely effective. For example, will you be happy saving just one dollar a month? Technically, you’ve achieved the goal, but will that give you the satisfaction you want? SMART goals, on the other hand, turn dreams into structured plans.
Ask yourself, what exactly do I want to accomplish?
Think about what you want to do and why you want to do it. Assess when you plan to start and who else may need to be involved. For instance, your specific, money-saving goal might be saving five hundred dollars in two months.
Ask yourself, how will I measure if I achieved my goal? What other tracking metrics will I use?
Identify where you will save this money and how you will track it. For example, maybe you will open a separate savings account. Perhaps you will use a specific budgeting app to determine how much you saved at the end of two months. You will check the app each week to assess your progress.
Ask yourself, how realistic is this goal?
It’s important to set goals that feel somewhat challenging without being incredibly overwhelming. A far-fetched goal may only stress you out or doom you from the beginning.
Think about exactly what may stop you from achieving this goal. What unforeseen expenses might get in your way? Where might you need to cut spending in other areas?
Ask yourself, why is this goal relevant or important to me right now?
Ideally, your answer should align with your values. For instance, you might value a sense of stability and safety- therefore, you want to pad your emergency fund should you need quick cash. Or, you may love travel and want to start saving for an upcoming trip.
Ask yourself, how long will I give myself to achieve this goal?
In this case, you may have set two months. Try to pick a time frame that feels reasonable and appropriate to the specific situation. It may be helpful to break down long-term goals into shorter chunks. For example, if you set a goal that will take a year to achieve, determine what you want to accomplish by the end of each quarter.
Anticipate How You Will Manage Obstacles
No matter how motivated you feel, that excited emotion will fluctuate and even wane. Certain triggers will make you question your resolve. At times, you might find yourself regressing into old habits or wanting to quit altogether.
Keep in mind that this is all normal. Humans tend to be creatures of habit, and change can be incredibly difficult to sustain.
Try to embrace a mindset of anticipating obstacles rather than hoping to avoid them altogether. Setbacks are inevitable- preparing yourself for them allows you to consider how you want to react before you feel overwhelmed.
Here are some steps for managing obstacles and staying on track during your journey:
Remember What’s In Your Control
When evaluating how you will respond to various obstacles, consider what is and what isn’t in your control. At first, this exercise may be challenging- you may be used to one extreme the other.
For instance, when it comes to saving money, some things that are in your control include:
- How much you spend on discretionary items.
- If you choose to give or lend money to others.
- What methods you use to make transactions (credit cards, checks, cash, etc.).
- How you emotionally reward yourself when you make positive financial decisions.
- The messages you tell yourself about spending and saving money.
Focusing on what is in your control can help you feel more confident when faced with barriers that are inherently beyond your control.
Tell Someone (But Not Everyone)
It can be helpful to share your goals with a trusted loved one. Ideally, you should choose people who support your growth and want to see you happy.
With that, avoid telling people who often pose judgment or seem to sabotage your success. They may question your motives or ridicule you for your goal.
Some people find it helpful to find support through online communities or forums. With this strategy, you can hold yourself accountable- without dealing with the opinions of your friends or family. This option may be beneficial if you’ve set the same goal several times and other people feel frustrated by it.
Consider Rewarding Yourself
Small incentives can help you stay on track when meeting your goals. Of course, feeling accomplished is a fantastic, standalone achievement, but we all appreciate the joys of external rewards.
Keep in mind that these rewards should not detract you from your main goals. For instance, buying yourself a new pair of shoes wouldn’t be productive if your main goal is saving money (unless you’ve identified you specifically want to save money for a new pair of shoes).
Affirm Yourself Often
Believing in yourself is important for visualizing your success and keeping yourself going strong. Self-affirmations can help you stay positive, even when things get tough.
Here are some affirmations you can consider using:
- I am growing and learning every day.
- I deserve to achieve my goals.
- I am competent.
- I am worthy of setting and achieving goals.
- I can do whatever I decide to set my mind to.
- I can cope with any obstacle that comes in my way.
You may want to write some of these affirmations down and stick them on your desk or mirror. Even if it feels cheesy, having those positive statements can remind you how capable you really are!
You will probably make mistakes during your process. It isn’t about those mistakes- it’s about how you react and learn from them.
Self-compassion refers to treating yourself with kindness and understanding. It’s reminding yourself that you are only human and that everyone experiences setbacks from time to time. Some emotional pain is inherently universal.
If you don’t meet your specific goal, don’t berate yourself. Instead, focus on the insight you acquired and the growth you made. Consider how you navigated new challenges and made progress in ways you might not have before.
You can always revisit old goals and modify your strategies for meeting them. People do that every single day!
Modify When Needed
As you work through your goal, it’s helpful to reflect on what is and isn’t working. You don’t need to be extremely rigid when pursuing what matters most to you. Successful people understand that some goals need to be modified over time.
For example, do some things feel much easier than you anticipated? Are other problems arising that you didn’t assume would happen? Be honest with yourself and reflect on what you can change as you move forward.
If you continue struggling to accomplish your goals, seeking professional support might help. Certain barriers may indicate deeper problems, and it can be challenging to address those problems on your own.
For instance, if you want to stop drinking alcohol but can’t, you may have a substance use disorder. Or, if you want to quit your job but find it challenging to look for other positions, you may be struggling with depression or an anxiety disorder.
Often, meeting goals isn’t about a lack of willpower or discipline, despite what people think. Instead, goals represent a multifaceted set of values, and your unique life circumstances can make honoring those values challenging.
Even if you don’t have a specific mental illness, therapy can still offer invaluable support and guidance. You and your therapist can discuss your goals and establish new strategies for meeting those goals.
Setting goals is one thing. Anyone can do that! But achieving your goals requires persistence, dedication, and effort. That said, with the right strategies in place, you can move from thinking about what you want to accomplish to actually doing it!