You hear it from everyone, including yourself: This year, I’m going to push through with my resolutions. Then suddenly you find yourself in the middle of April, and you haven’t done anything concrete. Don’t worry, there’s always next year. But if you really want to stick to what you set out to do, you need dedication, genuine willingness to change, and smarter goals.
It may sound surprising, but your goals could be part of the problem. ResumesPlanet editor Sarah Bernstein identifies uncertain life goals as one of the factors in unresolved resolutions. “It’s a matter of finding something realistic, but not lazy,” the life wellness expert writes.
So what’s the next step in establishing a goal you can live with? Here are a few guidelines to smart objectives:
Tip #1: Be as Specific as Possible
Sometimes plans don’t work out because they stay in the realm of great ideas, where they can conveniently be fantasized about and forgotten. Former Apple CEO and tech innovator Steve Jobs effectively debunks this myth of grandeur with one of his famous formulas to success, “Think big, start small.”
It seems that only the first half of Jobs’ advice reaches most people’s ears. We are rarely told to start small. You could have a plan for your life ten, twenty years from now, but you won’t be able to map out a believable course of action to achieving that if you’re stuck in the present with no stepping stones to mark your progress.
Downsizing your goals to your current situation doesn’t mean you’re giving up on your long-term plans. In fact, it only shows that you’re taking concrete action to getting there. For example, if you want to achieve a career milestone like getting into your dream job or becoming a manager at your company, start by aiming for the things that can help you get there. In this instance, you can close certain deals or seek the mentorship of the right people first so you’re one step closer to bigger dreams.
Tip #2: Aim for Personal Growth
In the age of social media, it’s easy to look at other people’s lives and envy them for what they have – and what you don’t. This becomes a standard that you may end up following, but it doesn’t take an expert to know that this type of goal-setting can be unhealthy.
According to career analyst Dan Pink, being geared towards a growth-oriented and autonomous mindset can be more beneficial in the long run. In his famous TED talk, “The Puzzle of Motivation”, Pink explains how, when left to pursue personal projects, people can create something surprisingly fresh and unique. In the same way, pursuing goals for yourself can motivate you more than living up to other people’s standards.
All that said, if you’re aiming for a certain goal, always ask yourself “Am I doing this for myself, or to impress other people?” As a common example, most of us can relate to: do you want to look good to get other people off your back, or does it genuinely make you feel better about yourself? Taking a step back and re-assessing your goals is also a big step in the process of setting them.
Tip #3: Push Yourself
While it’s advisable to set realistic goals, it’s also good to constantly challenge yourself and set higher standards once you’ve crossed one thing off your list. Don’t let yourself become complacent with small victories. You’re supposed to celebrate them, but your goal-setting shouldn’t stop there. Set goals that grow with you, not ones that keep you stagnant.
Time Management Ninja’s Craig Jarrow poses a hard-hitting question for every time you feel like giving up, “If you don’t push yourself, how do you know how far you can go?” Jarrow says that people can be too trapped in their comfort zones that they forget to live their lives. A comfort zone can be a safe haven at times, but nothing grows there. If you’ve set a goal for yourself, always move in its direction and work on stepping out of your comfort zone.
If you’re planning on becoming famous in your industry, talk to the right people, and acquire enough skills. Take specialized classes, do more work. You’re allowed to slow down, as long as you keep going. It may also help to surround yourself with a support system that encourages you to work your way through every obstacle, and to set objectives that present a healthy challenge to what you’re usually used to.
Tip #4: Make Progress a Habit
Looking at your long-term life goals can be daunting, but you can relieve some of the anxiety that comes with it if it comes as second nature to you, and if you follow a specific schedule. Being able to incorporate a practice of improving oneself can also work in the same way.
Keynote speaker James Clear suggests that rather than motivation, it’s intention that’s important in progressing towards a certain goal. In one of his articles, Clear makes an example out of a group of people who managed to fill their exercise quota after they wrote down a specific time and place when they would do it. Rather than set a strict deadline for your goals and feel bad if you don’t achieve it, Clear says that it’s best to have a flexible timeline for yourself instead.
Applying this to an actual example, you could have setting up a successful business as a life goal. Following Clear’s advice, you may want to map out when and where this business would be, what type of product it would sell, and what market it caters to. Next to that, you can start planning the specific steps you can take one step at a time to achieving it.
Tip #5: Believe in Yourself
Everyone feels a constant pressure to do well from the get go, but the truth is, most people don’t hit the ground running. If you have goals you’ve set for yourself, don’t put them off just because you don’t think you’re not good enough. Keep setting those goals, whether you feel like you’ve fallen short of achieving them or not.
Stanford University psychology professor, Carol Dweck, explains in her TED talk on self-improvement that learning to forgive yourself for past mistakes is a crucial step in growth. Dwelling on failures can put a person’s morale down, and hinder them from looking at brighter futures. However, Dweck asserts that improvement starts with the acknowledgment of one’s abilities to overcome struggles. Maybe now’s just not the right time, but eventually, you will get to those goals.
It sounds like just another impossible motivational quote, but it may actually work. Think back on the first time you learned how to ride a bike. It was difficult at first, and you fell down plenty of times. You may have even scraped your knee. But eventually, with time and practice, you learned how to get on the bike without falling off. And now you know how to ride it. This is similar to other, larger life goals: if you set your mind to it and practice enough, you’ll also be able to achieve them.
The Takeaway: Plan Smart, Achieve Faster
Goal setting can be an exhausting thing. You look back on previous goals that have gathered dust, unachieved, and think: Is this really worth it? But there’s never a wrong or right time to start aiming for your life goals again. You just need to know how to plan smarter to achieve them faster.
Be specific in the type of goals you want – don’t be afraid to start small for the time being. These stepping stones will help you move towards a larger, long-term objective. Instead of looking at other people’s progress, focus on yourself and your own standards. This will make you happier and keep you fixed on what really matters.
Always push yourself in the direction you want to go. There are no detours to success, so take the straight path for surer results. Make it a habit to strive towards your goals consistently, and don’t forget to believe in your capabilities to achieve and set your goals.
Are you ready to face the rest of the year with more certainty? Establish smarter objectives and live a fuller life.
Paige Donahue is an editor and blogger from Pennsylvania. She enjoys the challenges of finding new ways to influence opinions and helping educate others about new things. You can connect with her via Twitter.