Goal-Setting Skills for Life

According to intelligence studies, the tendency to set goals is the #1 determiner of success. Whether you want to run a mile or cure cancer, goals give you direction and a game plan for success. You’ve already set a goal to start living healthier. Still, you can increase your chance of reaching it (and your future goals) by using some smart goal-setting techniques.

1. Start with a long-term goal. Picture the effect it will have, how your life will be different, what you would be able to do differently. Think of the strategy you'll use and who can help you. This is your blueprint. Before you do anything else, write that goal down. Memory studies indicate that the brain forgets 80% of detail within 24 hours and 99% within two weeks. Writing it down keeps the goal fresh and clear in your mind.

2. Next, create a timeline. This begins with a target date, which you may or may not have already set. Now that you have Point A and Point B, what are the steps along the way that will take you from one to the other? Think of a series of medium-term milestones you can use to keep momentum high and the path straight. Maybe set weekly or monthly goals as you move closer to the ultimate prize.

3. Finally, plan out the short-term actions that will get you to your first milestones. These are your daily and weekly nutrition and fitness goals. Having a goal of eating 3 veggies/day is a good example of how doing just a little bit every day can help you reach even your biggest goal. By doing these actions, you stay on track and achieving your long-term goal is just a matter of time.

Overall, your goals should be:
  • Realistic: Start off with a goal that isn't too ambitious, so you can experience the thrills of success sooner. Build toward grander goals to keep your motivation high.
  • Specific: Make sure it can be measured and tracked.
  • Forgiving: Leave room for the "1 Step Back, 2 Steps Forward" principle to apply.
  • Crystal Clear: Find a photo depicting or symbolizing what you want. The clearer the point of the whole thing is, the easier it is to stay focused.
  • Valuable: Remind yourself why you want to succeed in the first place.
  • Challenging: What do you wish for? This is the goal that will hold your attention the most. There's no reason our wishes can't become our goals.
  • Rewarded: Every little bit of positive reinforcement helps.
  • Backed Up: Prepare for the unknown with contingency plans before problems come up. Have options waiting that will help you stay consistent in the face of the unexpected.
Sources of Motivation

You have a variety of motivation techniques to choose from. One very effective strategy is to find visual reminders of your ideal outcome. It can be a specific picture or object, or simply something that evokes the feelings you will experience when you reach your goal. Visual reminders help you stay on track and motivated. Seeing an end goal- in your mind or on paper- keeps you focused and consistent.

Another way visual cues can help keep your motivation high is through the power of positive association. Seeing a positive stimulus increases the production of serotonin, which is responsible for feelings of well-being and satisfaction. Seeing that same cue often enough builds a pattern of positive response that creates momentum. Soon, the positive feeling will transfer to your goals as well.

Many people set a goal and will not settle for anything less than perfection. They constantly nag and berate themselves, no matter how much progress is made. Tools of the trade are guilt, doubt, shame and self-flogging. Instead of celebrating the physical improvements they have made, they see how far they still have to go. Sound familiar? To people used to beating themselves up, it may seem like the best way to get motivated. But consider this: if you attempted to motivate an employee like that, how long do you think they’d stick around? How successful would they be?

Let’s do it differently this time. Try to approach your goal from a position of "possibilities" instead. Find ways to use regular rewards to pat yourself on the back and give a word of encouragement. Instead of focusing on what you do wrong, try paying more attention to what you do right. While straight talk and brutal honesty are often good for getting your butt moving, for sustained motivation, the positive approach will keep you from burning out.

Rewards create a feeling of doing something you want to do, not just what you’re forcing yourself to do. Even the smallest of rewards can work wonders as you travel from milestone to milestone. So take some time to think about what kind of rewards will motivate you. Some free time to yourself, a book you’ve been wanting to read, finding someone to do the laundry for you, etc. Be creative!

Everyone needs a boost now and then. To keep burnout or boredom from setting in, you can build your confidence and hang on to the high energy you started with!