New Years Resolutions oftentimes do not stick because we do not know how to set goals the right way, and how to create the right kind of action plan to actually follow through. Here are five steps to do exactly that:
Step #1: This is How You Narrow Down Your Goals
You can’t do it all. It’s great to have multiple goals but what oftentimes happens is lack of focus and as a result- lack of achievement. The more focused you are on what you are looking to accomplish, the more likely you are to accomplish it. Three goals are better than five. One is better than three. Oprah calls that kind of focus- laser focus. This is where you become extremely focus on a change that you are looking to create, an aspect of your life in which you are going to completely step up your game.
The first thing you need to do is determine what matters to you the most. This will help you prioritize your goals and stay centered around what you consider to be the most important things in your life, rather than the things that the people around you identify with. Not your spouse, not your parents, not your friends or your peers – YOU, and you only.
Take a piece of paper and write down a list of everything that you want in life. It is OK to write as little as 5 or as much as 20. Stop at 20. Look at your list and next to every item, write a number from 0 to 10 to represent how much each goal matters to you, 0 being the least and 10 being the most.
It could look something like this:
Double my income – 10
Become more fit – 6
Spend more time with my kids – 10
Juice every day – 7
Buy a home within the next two years – 10
Someone else’s list could look completely different from yours, in terms of what items matter the most and what items matter the least, or they may have entirely unique goals. That is completely OK.
Next, take your top 2 or 3 goals, mark them and write them on a blank piece of paper. From now on, these are your primary goals. The rest can wait. These are the things that you are going to focus all your attention on. These are the things that matter to you the most. The rule of thumb is to select up to 5 goals, but less is better in this case, simply because more focus on a smaller number of goals is more likely to produce greater success.
Step # 2: This is How You Set Concrete Goals
There is a tremendous difference between aspirations and goals. Understanding that difference is the first step in turning a dream into a goal, and eventually into a reality.
Here is the difference:
An aspiration: The hope or the ambition to accomplish something.
A goal: An objective, measurable and tangible target that you shoot for.
Here are some common career aspirations:
• Enhance your professional skills to advance in your organization.
• Find stable job security.
• Become an expert in a field.
• Gain more autonomy at work.
• Improve your work-life balance.
• Network more on a professional level.
• Become better motivated to complete your job.
• Educate yourself more.
Here are some of those career aspirations turned into goals:
Take at least three management-level trainings in the next 12 months.
Complete a master’s degree within the next four years.
Read one book a week.
Join a networking group within the next 30 days.
Attend at least three motivational seminars by the end of this year.
Get a promotion within the next 12 months.
Now let’s see how it works on a more personal level.
Here are some personal aspirations:
Become more successful.
Make more money.
Lead a healthier lifestyle.
Become more fit.
Here are some of those personal aspirations turned into goals:
Double my income within 18 months.
Run/walk three miles, three times a week.
Visit my mom every weekend.
Have a night out with my spouse once a week.
Eat five colors of veggies every day.
Notice the shift from aspiration to goal; it is something that goes from being a general hope to an objective, measurable and tangible target.
In a fascinating experiment that was published by the British Journal of Health Psychology, participants aspired to work out more and vowed to do their very best to go to the gym more often. They were divided into three groups. One group was left with their pledge to do their very best to go to the gym more often. In comparison with their number of gym visits prior to the start of the experiment, only 38% of them increased their number of visits. The second group was shown motivational clips in addition to their pledge to do their very best to go to the gym more often. This did not help much, as only 35% of them increased their gym visits. The third group was told to write down a concrete and specific plan for HOW they intended to increase their number of visits to the gym. This included what days they would go, at what time of day, and for how long. A staggering 91% of this group’s members were able to increase their gym visits and stick to their plan.
Conclusion: high hopes and aspirations are great, but they are no more than the initial step. Without concrete and measurable goals and a plan, your dreams remain only that. Dreams.
Step #3: This is Why You MUST Set a Timeline
When you are creating your plan to accomplish a goal, it is of high importance that you set a specific timeline. A timeline that is both reasonable but challenging. Our brains are bombarded with information to process, and our lives are loaded with tasks, big and small. Because of that, setting a tangible timeline to accomplish our goals pushes us to overcome our daily obstacles, such as being too tired, having a hard time focusing, difficulty challenging ourselves, or getting out of our comfort zone. We are all guilty of finding excuses to delay and avoid the steps required to accomplish the goals we create for ourselves. Setting a concrete plan with a timeline pushes us toward our goal because we can see the finish line and it is well-defined. Would you run at your best in a race if you had no clue where the finish line was? Wouldn’t that be incredibly discouraging? Would you be able to effectively complete a project at work without a deadline?
In our personal lives, we tend to neglect to set deadlines for ourselves and what ultimately happens is that life takes over and our goals get pushed to the sideline. No more! When you write down your 2-3 main goals, immediately write a realistic timeline next to them.
Do not say: ‘Become a millionaire within the next three months’. It would be unfair to yourself because that is unrealistic, and you would be setting yourself up for failure. It is OK to have big dreams, but it is not OK to expect to accomplish them overnight. The rule of thumb is to look at what is realistic and then push it up a notch, just to challenge yourself.
It is more reasonable to say, ‘lose 2 pounds a week’ or, ‘become debt free within six months’ or, ‘save X money within 12 months’. These deadlines will serve as a constant reminder that you must use every day to advance yourself forward, and they will keep you focused and goal-oriented.
Step #4: This is How You Shift from a GOAL to a PLAN
Now that you have a concrete and measurable goal and a deadline to accomplish it, you must define the HOW. You cannot decide to figure out the HOW as you go. It would be unfair to you. Bear in mind just how busy you are, how bombarded your brain is with tasks and information. The HOW must be defined ahead of time, so that all that is left to do is to follow the plan. The best way to create a HOW plan is to make it simple to follow and easy to remember.
Here is a little Focus Pocus sheet to create a goal, a deadline and a HOW.
My Goal: _______________________________________________________________
How much do I really want it?
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
When do I want to accomplish it by?
Three things that I need to do to make it happen:
Three things to accomplish this week:
Step 5: This is How You Manage Each Day- Rather than Be Managed By It
Every day is an opportunity to move one step closer to turning your goals into your new reality. With this in mind, there are many tasks that need to be taken care of. If you make the choice to start every day by going over your Focus Pocus sheet and subsequently creating a daily task list (things to do, things to tackle, things not to avoid, things to check off), you will have better control over the day rather than the day having control over you. Just like how you make a grocery list so that you do not drive home only to discover that you forgot milk, you do not want to end your day realizing that you have designated major time to minor things.
Remember, people have literally transformed their lives, their careers, their finances, by turning their dreams into goals and their goals into actionable plans, just by taking ten minutes a day of focused planning. You can and will transform your life and career, too.