It’s that time of year. Most of us, after gorging ourselves on christmas cookies, start feeling guilty and set some goals. We promise to be in shape, work harder, be a super hero. Three weeks into January and we’re back on the couch watching Netflix and chowing down on the candy canes left over from the christmas tree.
Fortunately for you, dear reader, I’ve gone through this routine enough times that I’ve gotten sick of it. A few years ago I promised myself I’d find the secret to setting goals that I could achieve. Here’s how I did it:
1. Don’t knee-jerk goal set.
Most people set goals that are almost impossible. Odds are not good that you’re going to make it to the gym for an hour workout every day for the rest of your life, and it’s a bad idea to set that as your goal. Others will set goals in areas that aren’t really that important, and give up because there’s not enough motivation to keep going when times get tough.
Think very carefully about what is the most important thing in your life to change. What one thing would have the biggest impact on you if you changed it? Once you find this, we can proceed to step 2.
2. Shoot low.
You heard me right. To borrow a phrase from Tim Ferriss, we’re looking for the “minimum effective dose” with any goal we set. The trick to setting a goal that will actually get accomplished is setting a target that is a little below what you believe is possible to achieve under perfect circumstances, but will still make a big difference in your life.
3. Create a plan, then double the time.
If you give yourself double the time to accomplish a goal, you’re probably going to reach that goal within your time frame. If you set too aggressive a time table for your goal, you’ll get discouraged when things come up that you didn’t expect (and they always do) and give up.
For instance, if you need to lose 70 pounds, set a one year goal of losing just 25 pounds. Losing 25 pounds will do you far more good than losing zero pounds, which is what you’ll lose if you give up because your goal is too lofty.
4. Create routines.
Routines are the secret sauce to accomplishing goals. A month ago I started eating a protein bar immediately after waking up, and doing 30 pushups. Now when I roll out of bed, it’s a habit for me. Because I’m in a routine, I’ve been really consistent, and seen some major improvements. Since I started doing it, I’ve gained 7 pounds of muscle and dropped my body fat percentage by 3%. Create good habits, and you’ll create results.
5. Focus on the task, not the results.
Results change from day to day, and everyone experiences setbacks. The problem with looking at the results is that you’ll think you’re failing if you don’t see results all the time. If you focus on the task, you’ll be focusing your attention on something you can actually change and improve.
6. Don’t reward yourself too soon.
If your goal is to practice every day for a month, don’t reward yourself mid month with a day off. Make yourself earn your reward. I do this with projects I’m working on, too- I won’t even tell friends about what I’m working on until I reach a milestone because I don’t want to get the positive affirmations (a big reward for me) too soon.
7. Celebrate milestones.
When you do hit a goal, go nuts. Celebrate with your friends, buy yourself something nice, and bask in your accomplishment. This will mentally tie accomplishing goals with good things, and help create a positive mental cycle of hardship>reward that you’ll be able to leverage for accomplishing your next goal.