Every year, just before Jan. 1, thousands of New Year’s resolutions are set:
- “This will be the year I visit the gym every day, hell twice a day. I’m running a marathon.”
- “I’m going to bust my ass and finally get that marketing promotion. It’s been three years since my hire date — I deserve it!”
- “This year, my husband and I will move to whimsical Colorado … we just need a few more months to look things over.”
Most of us start strong. We visit the gym. Go into work early and stay late, spend hours on end researching apartments in Denver and Boulder. Yet somewhere between January and December, life interjects, leaving many of us setting the same goals, again.
Then there are the lucky few who somehow, almost magically, achieve their aspirations with remarkable ease and grace. The lucky few, who skate from goal to goal like Olympian and gold medalist, Evan Lysacek, in the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games.
Is it luck? And if not luck, then what?
Call it manifestation, goal setting or sheer tenacity. Whatever you call it, accomplishing one’s aspirations calls for similar methods, regardless of the vision. Here are four techniques for setting goals: writing, deadlines, specificity and finding your motivation. These techniques can be used for work, health, travel or whatever you desire.
1. Write It Down
Gail Matthews, psychology professor at Dominican University, found that people who wrote down their goals were 23 percent more likely to reach their goals. Writing down goals makes your ambitions physical, solid. Re-engage with your written goals on a daily basis, post goals on your fridge or bathroom mirror. If you really want to feel motivated, consider posting your goals to Facebook, Instagram or Twitter — heck, why not all three and why not share them with us? Writing your goals down and announcing them to the public adds an extra layer of commitment. You may feel more motivated knowing you’re accountable to other people.
2. Set Deadlines
Every goal begins as a dream and that’s great — daydreaming is a fun, necessary part of setting any purpose. Daydreams become problematic when they fail to come down to earth. Too often people set goals without an end date or deadline in mind. Goals without deadlines are easy to ignore. Deadlines push us to succeed. They drive us to visualize our goals by considering and prioritizing each step. When creating deadlines, remember to be practical. For example, running a marathon with less than a month of conditioning would be hella hard. In the same breath (pun intended), spending a year revising your resume to apply for a new job is unnecessarily long. Goal dates shouldn’t be ludicrously quick or painfully slow — they should be balanced, tangible and measurable.
3. Make Specific Micro-Goals
I’ve always been a fan of Creighton Abrams’ adage, “When eating an elephant take one bite at a time.” Breaking huge, seemingly impossible goals into “micro-goals” or feasible chunks allows us to create specific, manageable targets without becoming overwhelmed. After creating a timeline for your long-term goal, consider what you need to accomplish between now and then. If your goal is to run a marathon, write out each step of your workout for the coming week. Set an exact time and place to exercise. Your last mile was 8:56 — make the next one 8:50. Know what you’re working toward each day. Accomplishing small micro-goals will not only make you feel successful but allow you to more easily see it.
4. Consequences and Motivation
Whatever your goals, it’s critical that you’re aware of their consequences (good and bad). After each “micro-goal” remind yourself of what you’re working for — what’s the end result? If you want to run a marathon to improve self-confidence, acknowledge that. At the end of each run praise yourself for where you have improved while noting areas you can enhance. While it’s perfectly fine to “treat yo’self” after an especially difficult workout, day in the office, whatever, I do not recommend regularly making a material possession the reason for pursuing your goal. Ultimately, your reward isn’t the fleeting happiness of a vanilla soy latte with whipped cream or a new Kate Spade purse. The greatest reward is the incalculable feeling of pride, triumph of fulfilling your goal, your dream.
It is human to have goals as much as it’s human to procrastinate. The question becomes: What’s your priority?
What goals are you working toward? What’s the best advice you’ve ever received about pursuing aspirations? How can we help? —Alex Bisges