It’s that time of year again when there’s a lot of talk going on about setting goals for yourself. Personal goals, professional goals, physical goals … goals, goals, goals! But there is good reason for all this talk as setting goals can help us to focus and take steps towards self-improvement.
Goals basically take us forward in life, they are the first steps on every journey, whichever direction you choose to go in and whatever path you choose to take. It is paramount to any kind of personal or professional development to recognise the importance of goal-setting and apply this knowledge to all areas of your life.
So, why are goals important?
- Goals give us focus
- Goals make us accountable to ourselves and a task at hand
- Goals provide motivation and help us to overcome procrastination
- Goals help us to measure progress.
By setting yourself a goal or a series of goals you give yourself an end point to aim for and focus on. A goal gives you something to put effort into and having such focus will help you to develop motivation.
However, it’s important to remember that goals are not set in stone and can be changed as your priorities change. New ones can be added, and others dropped.
It’s also important to set realistic and achievable goals, otherwise the outcome will be a negative rather than a positive one.
Goal setting: how to set achievable ones
In order to achieve your goals following certain strategies can help. By all means, dream big, but set realistic goals that you’ll actually follow to achieve a positive outcome.
In his article Goal Setting: A Scientific Guide to Setting and Achieving Goals James Clear – author and speaker focused on habits, decision-making, and continuous improvement – talks about three strategies you can use to set goals that you’ll follow.
First up, he talks about ‘goal competition’. A concept well-known amongst psychologists as being one of the greatest barriers to achieving your goals. It basically means that if you have too many goals they will compete with one another for your time and attention.
The way to combat this is to be ruthless and eliminate goals that are less important to you. Focus on one or two goals rather than lots of goals at the same time. Set your priorities and stick to them. This way the things that are most important to you will receive the most attention and will see the best results.
Sometimes, when we don’t reach our goals we think we have failed and blame our approach or think we simply picked an unachievable goal. But this isn’t necessarily the case. It’s often not a problem of goal setting but goal selection and what we need is not a different goal but just better focus on one we have chosen.
The second strategy James Clear talks about to help you achieve your goals is ‘implementation intentions’ or simply put, making specific plans. Research has shown that you are more likely to stick to your goal if you make a specific plan to implement it.
If your goal is to exercise more, you are more likely to do so if you state when, where and how you intend to do this. For example, by writing down a sentence such as “This week I will do at least two 60 minute personal training sessions at 10am on Monday and Wednesday at The Performance Project.” you are more likely to turn up.
Researchers found that people who completed a sentence like this were 2x to 3x more likely to actually exercise compared to a control group who did not make plans for their future behavior. This finding has been repeated across many studies and has been found to increase the odds that people will achieve the goals they set.
Setting an upper boundary
The third strategy involves setting an upper boundary, or in other words being realistic. When we set goals we tend to focus on the lower boundary, or the minimum threshold of what we want to achieve. For example, you might set a goal to lose at least 5lbs this month, but the implicit assumption is that 5lbs is the minimum weight loss you want to achieve and if you can lose more you should go for it.
However, by setting an upper limit, such as losing at least 5lbs but not more than 10lbs a month, makes it easier to sustain progress and therefore stay motivated. It will help you to work hard enough to make progress but not so hard that is unsustainable, which is particularly important in the beginning.
When you set a new goal, the most important thing is showing up, or getting started. Showing up is more important than succeeding because it starts to build a habit, which in the long run will help you to achieve your goals.
If you are planning on setting goals for yourself for the year ahead now is the perfect time to get started but make sure you set achievable goals and understand how to follow them through.