Nine Tips for Setting and Achieving Your Goals

The following guest post is by Scott Quitter of A Couple of Quitters.

Do you set goals or at least a resolution every year, or do you avoid it because you never accomplish anything? Perhaps you’re setting the wrong goals; or maybe you’re taking the wrong approach.

While there isn’t one perfect way to set goals, there are ways to increase your chances of success. These tips come from personal experience-the best teacher.

  1. Only set a few meaningful goals that you are serious about achieving, goals that will have a big impact on your life if you were to accomplish them.
  2. Think about where you want to be in the future and set goals that will move you in that direction.
  3. Once your goals are set, focus on the most important one as your primary goal.
  4. Write out a broad, step-by-step plan on how you will achieve your primary goal.
  5. Work on subordinate goals as time, energy, and enthusiasm permits.
  6. Review all your goals bi-weekly or monthly. Review your primary goal daily or at least weekly.
  7. Be willing to cross any goal off your list if you change your mind about it.
  8. Set up a reward or consequence (or both) for keeping you on track and moving closer to achieving your goal (consequences are far more effective than rewards).
  9. Enlist the help of a spouse, partner, friend, co-worker or relative to establish accountability.

photo credit: James Jordan

There will always be one or two goals that are the most meaningful, like getting a new job or starting a business, or maybe paying down debt, purchasing a new home, or going back to school to get a degree. These are the types of goals that would have a big impact on your life if you accomplished them. Give these goals the most attention, but make sure all of your goals are meaningful to you-the kind of goals you will be motivated to achieve.

In order for you to accomplish your primary goal, what steps do you think you might need to take and by what date do you want to achieve them? You don’t have to know exactly how you’re going to achieve your goal, you only have to define the steps as well as you can.

Start with the end in mind

To do this, make a list starting with your goal-the end result which is the accomplished goal-and work backward, step-by-step. With each step, determine what step would have come just before it and write it down. You’ll end up with a list of action items leading to the achievement of your goal. Here’s a sample list:

Goal: to drink a good cup of coffee

  • Drink coffee
  • Pour coffee into my mug
  • Remove mug from cupboard
  • Make a pot of coffee

There are other steps that would possibly be needed, such as buying coffee from the store, grinding the beans, maybe researching coffee makers or getting gas so I can get to the store to purchase what I need. I don’t have to list every little detail, just the overview.

When I have my list, I’ll rewrite it so that my very first action item appears at the top (making a pot of coffee) and the end goal is at the bottom (drinking coffee). So my goal for this week might be to research coffee makers. Next week, I might actually buy a coffee maker which will lead to buying coffee beans, then researching and buying a coffee bean grinder…etc. I’ll begin with the first action item and figure out what I need to do to achieve it. Then, I’ll start working on the second action item…leading, eventually, to drinking a good cup of coffee.

Be flexible

As you go along, adjust your plan and dates, if needed, according to your results. If you realize that a step is missing, add it to your plan. Be flexible and willing to change according to your circumstances or needs. Keep adjusting your plan so that you’re always moving forward. If you’re confused about what steps are needed, then find or read about people who have achieved your goal and learn from them.

Accountability – the key to success

It’s important to be accountable to someone. Most adults cannot hold themselves accountable. So find a partner who you trust and tell him/her what your goal is and check in once a week with a progress report.

Personally, just checking in with someone each week has never been enough to motivate me. It’s hard for a spouse or close friend to hold you accountable. Therefore, establishing a specific reward after a specific goal or milestone has been reached can be effective. However, I suggest that you set up a weekly or bi-weekly task to work toward that will help you achieve your primary goal. If you fail to meet your commitment, there should be a consequence.

Setting a consequence for not achieving a goal or a specific step in the process is very effective because people will do more to avoid pain than to gain pleasure. You would think that if the goal is so important, we would be automatically motivated to take consistent action until we achieve it. Sadly, that is usually not the case because people avoid change which is often painful. Be careful when selecting a consequence; you may have to try a few before you hit on the best one. If the consequence is too severe or too weak, it will be ineffective. You’ll know when you’ve found the right one because you’ll get a sinking feeling in your gut when you think of it.

Some examples of effective consequences:

  • Missing the Sunday football game
  • Missing your favorite weekly TV shows
  • No video games for a week
  • No online gaming for a week
  • No computer for a week
  • No non-essential phone use for a week
  • No trip to your favorite restaurant

Whatever you select, you must be 100% committed to following through. That means, you have to be completely honest with your partner. If you lie, you’re only cheating yourself. Lying undermines your drive to accomplish a meaningful, life-changing goal-a goal that you set in the first place. Don’t be easy on yourself!

Life is full of distractions and interruptions, but if you try these tips, I think you’ll find yourself on track to have your best year ever. As the saying goes, it’s hard to reach a destination when you don’t know where you’re going. Now go set some goals and get going!

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