While most goals start and end with our failed New Year Resolutions, it’s never too late to set a new goal. Goal setting provides us purpose and focus to learn and challenge ourselves and our lifestyles. It can introduce a new healthy habit or skill that we want to master. Setting goals is a testament of our commitment to be better and do better. It’s a commitment to a state of ongoing progress, of never settling when there’s always opportunity to challenge ourselves to learn and grow.
Then why is setting goals easy, but achieving them is hard?
Why We Struggle to Stick to our Goals
Goal setting is a skill like any other that’s often overlooked. Instead of looking at how to set a goal, we focus on the goal itself. Along the way, we lose momentum, focus, or motivation, causing us to give up on seeing our goals through.
Our Goals are Too Broad and Undefined
If you were to sit down and reflect on which goals you’ve met and which you haven’t, what would you notice? You’d probably notice that the goals you didn’t meet were too broad or your intentions were undefined. We don’t always frame our goals in a specific and attainable way, which leaves many of our goals un-attained. Be specific when setting your intentions for your goals. What do you plan to achieve? Why? What’s the first step you can take towards that goal? For example, let’s say you’ve always wanted to learn Spanish but haven’t. The phrasing of that goal is lofty and broad while having an unspecified purpose. Why do you want to learn Spanish? Do you aim to be fluent or conversational? Instead of making your goal: I want to learn Spanish, your goal could be reframed to: I want to learn to be conversational in Spanish. When our goals are more defined and specific, we have a better chance of achieving that goal.
We Lack Adequate Planning
Another reason we fail to achieve our goals is that we don’t have a plan or make a plan to accomplish our goals. Without a plan, a goal is simply an idea. Without planning, our goals lack action. Start small and plan your first step toward accomplishing this goal and follow it up with another as if you were placing one cobblestone ahead of another on your path towards your goal. Although the steps may seem small, the smallest steps still carry us forward in a less daunting way.
We Lack Patience
So you’ve set a manageable and attainable goal and a plan to work towards achieving it. And yet, you still find that your goal is elusive. What happened? Goals not only require planning, but they require patience too. It takes time to develop mastery, muscle memory, or attempts to realize a goal. It’s not enough to plan how to achieve our goals, but we must have the patience to put in the work consistently.
How to Follow Through with Your Goals
If you’ve experienced any of the above throughout your history of goal setting, you’re not alone. We all struggle to remain accountable and self-regulated when working towards personal goals. Fortunately, there are strategies that can help you have better follow through.
Narrow Down Your Long List of Goals
While having lots of goals is a great thing, trying to accomplish all of them at the same time is not. If you have a long list of goals, it’s not feasible to work on all of them at the same time. That’s why narrowing down and prioritizing a shorter list of goals is important. Goals require undivided attention and action, and we can’t adequately dedicate those to our goals if we’ve spread ourselves too thin among too many goals. It’s up to you to decide how many goals you can take on at one given time.
Use the SMART Goal Model
The SMART Goal model is an acronym that gives criteria to guide a person through setting a goal. The acronym stands for: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Reliable, and Timely. The SMART goal model is a structure that provides a sense of direction and motivation while providing focus to increase our chances of achieving our goals. SMART goals allow a greater depth and clarity of our goals too. They also allow us to measure not only what our goal is, but how we can achieve it. Using the SMART Goal model is a great way to map out a detailed game plan for achieving our goals, so our goals are not just ideas but are put into action.
Stack Your Goals
Another way to ensure that you follow through with your goals is to stack them. Stacking your goals means to integrate your new goals within your daily habits. Many of our goals require behavioural or routine changes, so stacking these goals within our existing habits aligns your intention for change with action. For example, if you have a goal to practice more gratitude every day, then you can stack that goal within your existing habits. Instead of having dinner without prelude, you can make it a habit to say one thing you’re grateful for before dinner everyday.
One Goal at a Time
Like the goals we’re aiming to achieve, goal setting is a skill that takes time and practice. It’s unrealistic to expect yourself to achieve all of your goals, but effective goal setting will improve your ability to achieve more of them. The art of goal setting may not be glamorous work, for many of us it may even seem tedious, but it is necessary if we want to grow and evolve. When we know how to achieve our goals, we are limitless.
Written by Eleni Zaptses
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