Setting and Achieving Goals

Do you feel as if you’re adrift in the world? You work hard, but it doesn’t seem to get you anywhere worthwhile?

A key reason you feel this way is that you haven’t spent enough time thinking about setting formal goals. Would you set out on a major journey with no real idea of your destination? Probably not!

Set Meaningful Goals

Challenging yourself to grow on a daily basis requires setting goals that are meaningful to you. According to John Norcross, specificity is critical when it comes to setting goals you actually achieve. He encourages people to think of goals in terms of how defined, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-specific they are. “Small steps together equal a giant leap.”

Build Accountability

If it wasn’t for accountability, we wouldn’t get much of anything done. If you don’t pay your bills on time, you’ll face late fees. Once you get into more creative, big-picture territory, holding yourself accountable can become more elusive.

Researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara looked at the difference between reward and penalties when it comes to achieving and sticking with goals. They looked at gym attendance and found that while visits increased when people were given financial incentives for working out, once the rewards stopped, so did their attendance. On the other hand, participants who created commitment contracts that required them to pay a certain amount to charity if they didn’t keep up their gym attendance had a long-term shift in their behavior compared to those who were simply rewarded.

Don’t Fill Yourself with False Hope

Ambition is important, but the danger comes in setting unrealistic expectations for what you can get done. This can set you up for feeling like a failure. “It is important to learn to distinguish between potentially feasible and impossible self-change goals in order to avoid overconfidence and false hopes leading to eventual failure and distress.” Janet Polivy, a psychologist at the University of Toronto.

It’s also important to plan for potential failure so you aren’t derailed when it comes along. Anticipating that you’re likely to get off track or fall behind will prepare you to push ahead. It’s all about maintaining that growth mindset and grit to push forward.

Don’t Ignore the Power of Positivity

Reframing goals so that they are positive, rather than triggering you to feel intimidated or afraid, is also important to making progress. One way to do this, according to leadership coach Peter Bregman, is to think in terms of focus areas rather than hard and fast goals. “A goal defines an outcome you want to achieve; an area of focus establishes activities you want to spend your time doing. A goal points to a future you intend to reach. An area of focus settles you into the present.”

Break down what you’re trying to achieve into the smallest, most attainable steps and focus on being realistic about what you can get done. Don’t shy away from failure and remember how important maintaining a positive frame of mind can be.

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