Any time is a good time to set goals – I’m a firm supporter of that. But, I’d be lying if I said the crisp January air didn’t light a little fire in my belly. There’s something so refreshing about starting a new year, about the sight of a clean notebook and a fresh calendar. But, we all know how resolutions and goals typically go, so before diving in, you need to know not only how to set goals, but how to set achievable goals.
My love for all things goals has taught me some valuable lessons over the years. Through many-a-course of trial and error, taking learnings from years past, I’ve collected all my tips and tricks to help you build achievable goals and stick to them.
Let’s talk about:
“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” ― Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness
What should your goals be?
Before you jump into planning or doing – you’ll need to figure out exactly what your goals are. In order to do that, we’re going to need to ask some questions. This is the fun bit.
What does success look like to you?
When you imagine success, what does it look like?
This calls for a braindump. If you’re not familiar with the concept of braindumping, let me explain. A braindump is similar to a brainstorm, but if a brainstorm consists of brilliant, organised lightning strikes and beautiful clouds of ideas – a braindump is a messy pile of words and thoughts, dropped sporadically onto a page.
It’s not the prettiest image, but it’s an excellent technique to remove the distractions and pressures that come from trying to organise your feelings before they hit the page. We’re looking for your thoughts in their rawest form, and this will help you really dig into them, unfiltered.
To begin, ask yourself an open question. What does success look like? What do I enjoy? Start writing whatever comes to mind around the topic of goals. Don’t worry about structure, don’t even worry about punctuation – bless my poor writer’s heart.
Some examples of goals to set yourself:
Example of passtime goals:
- Start a new hobby (here are some ideas)
- Start a new sport/exercise
- Join a social group, club or team
- Learn a new…
Examples of career/study goals:
- Focus on your studies
- Start a new job
- Get promoted in your job
- Expand your network
- Attend more skill-based events
- Start a side hustle
Examples of personal goals:
- Kick bad habits
- Improve your diet
- Learn to be kinder to yourself/others
- Focus on self-care more
- Start an exercise regime
- Travel more
- Read more (check out my how to for reading more books!)
- Expand your friend group
Some tips to keep in mind…
Keep it short and sweet
Once you’ve completed your braindump, you should have an idea of what your goals could be. Even if they seem lofty and aren’t things you could achieve this year, you can still kick off the process, beginning to align yourself with them now. Just remember not to weigh yourself down by putting years worth of goals on your shoulders.
Knowing what you enjoy will help you to aim for goals that will be fulfilling and enjoyable for you to complete. That’s all we’re really here for, right?
Now, this isn’t to be a downer. But, if you’ve never even owned a pair of running shoes, don’t promise yourself you’ll complete a marathon in the two months time. If you’ve never tried to learn a language, don’t set a goal to be fluent by the end of the year. Setting goals is about pushing yourself, but setting yourself unrealistic targets will only impede your chance at success and your wellbeing.
How can you plan to achieve your goals?
Fail to plan, plan to fail. Simple, but true. Having your mindset on a goal is one thing, putting in consistent work to get there is another. So, having plans and strategies in mind to get you through this tricky terrain will give you the best shot at reaching your goal.
This is one I’ve fallen victim to time and time again. I’m a bit of a dreamer, so I can sometimes get a little too excited about goal-setting. The result? I have goal lists longer than my arm, to-do lists I’ll never manage to tick off and approximately 1,000 things on my mind. Which, don’t get me wrong, is great. I love working on goals, but I’ve learnt to (try to) slow down.
Quality over quantity is truly the way here. I’d recommend setting a maximum of 3-5 goals for your year and focusing in on those. You’ll see much better results and feel far less burnt out in the process.
Plan your attack
To create the basis of a plan for completing your goals, ask yourself these five questions.
- What resources and equipment do you need?
- How much time do you have to dedicate?
- When do you want to work on your goal?
- Where do you want to work?
- Are there any other habits that can help you?
Imagine you wanted to start running. Your answers might look something like:
Before I start, I need a good pair of running shoes and a gym membership. I’ll run for thirty minutes three times a week, in the evenings. In the Summer, I’ll run outside and in the Winter I’ll run inside. To help, I will also aim to improve my diet, drink enough water and get enough sleep to help my performance.
Now you have a concise go- plan. You know exactly what you need and when you need to show up.
Plan your journey
This is where the fun bit comes in – research. What steps do you need to take to reach your goal? What you’ll need to plan will differ depending on your goal. But essentially, you need to ask yourself how you’re going to take steps to improve and move towards your goal.
With regards to the example above, say you want to be running a 5k in 25 minutes by the end of the year, you’ll need to decide:
- What will your starting point be? How long will your first runs be?
- What increments will you increase your distances by and how often?
- What will your running route be?
- How will you track your progress?
You’re ready to get started!
How can you stick to your goals?
Establish your why
If you want to stick to anything, you’ll need to know why you’re doing it. Why should you bother getting up early? Why do you want to go to the gym? Your why is your reason to keep going, in those moments when you really don’t want to, so you’ll need to make sure it’s really sturdy. Your goals need to have battles you’re willing to face, so if you’re aiming for a goal for the sake of how it looks to other people, or just because the idea of the end product seems nice, you might struggle to see it through.
Once you have your why, get excited about it! This is your chance to make dreamboards, to do your research, to map out your plan of attack and start enjoying the process.
Review your habits
Goals are reached in little steps, so you’ll need to implement smaller habits to help you move closer to your goal. Everyone gets a little stuck and bored disciplining themselves into the same habits every day. I give most habits three weeks and see how they’re faring. Then I evaluate what’s going wrong and shake them up a little.
Maybe you’re trying to wake up earlier, but you’re waking up too tired – solution: try going to bed a little earlier to accommodate and establish a nighttime routine to help you get into bed on time.
Maybe you’re trying to eat healthier, but after a long day at work you’re finding it really hard to cook, solution: meal prep at the weekend to take the stress out of cooking and remove the temptation of ordering out or skipping a meal.
Once you know what’s working and what’s not, it’s time to mix it up. If running in the evening seems to be too tiring after work, trial running in the morning. If running’s not working at all, try swimming. Find what works for you. I’m a person who tends to get bored with the same routine so I find mixing up my habits and my routines gives me a little burst of energy, revitalising my want to succeed and making habits that much easier.
Some habits will need a little longer before you can truly say whether they’re working or not. Changing any aspect of your life is going to have an adjustment period. A study conducted by UCL in 2009, indicates that it takes people, on average, about 84 days to create a habit. So, if it’s not working out on week one or two, stick with it, you’ll get there.
Allow yourself some wiggle room
Without sounding pessimistic, remember that life will get in the way, but that that’s okay! In the wise words of good ol’ John Lennon:
“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”.
You won’t hit your goal every week. You’re allowed to take breaks when you need to. Of course, it’s important to stay disciplined to give yourself the best chance at hitting your goal, but when you’re on holiday, when you’ve had an awful week, when you’re ill or when you simply just feel like you can’t face it today, it’s okay to take a day off. The better practised you become with discipline, the better you’ll learn to recognise the difference between procrastination, and a genuine need to step away from your goals for a minute.
In the study I mentioned above, it showed that missing the occasional repetition of a habit didn’t affect the person’s ability to form a habit. Your goals are for you, and you only, so take care of yourself and rest when you need to.
Take it one step at a time.
I get a little over-excited. I tick off step one of my to-dos, and then, realising I have some time to spare, hungrily dig into steps two, three, four and five and cycle like this every day until I wake up wondering why I’m burnt out and unmotivated. It seems obvious, but it’s taken me a long time to realise that bitesize, consistent portions are much more effective than overworking and not being able to face it again for days or weeks on end.
And finally, always, always, always enjoy the journey
My biggest tip. Treat your goals like a road trip. Yes, you’re trying to get from point A to point B. But the objective isn’t racing to your final destination as fast as possible, it’s taking scenic detours, pausing to enjoy the view and listening to a damn good playlist on the way.
I’m cheering for you.
Love, Ella-Rose x