How to Set Goals You Will Actually Achieve

By the time February or March rolls around, even the most committed people may have stopped working on their New Year’s Resolutions. Going to the gym three times a week lasted for a while until work and family life got in the way, and eating healthier became boring once you started missing chocolate ice cream and fried chicken. Now, you’re left with greasy finger lickin’ digits and stubborn love-handles that won’t ever go away since you cancelled your gym membership.

So… what do you do now? You were so sure that this was going to be the year you’d finally get your act together and stick to your New Year’s Resolutions for 365 days.

Breaking up a year-long goal into monthly goals

The solution? Start setting smaller monthly goals instead of one giant and challenging New Year’s Resolution. Studies have shown that setting smaller goals within a larger goal increases motivation to continue pursuing the goal, as well as making you more likely to succeed in completing your goal. Dr. Vic Stretcher, from University of Michigan’s School of Public Health, conducted a study on goal setting, explaining:

Subgoals cue a person to use a certain strategy that responds to effort. When a person is working on distal or long-term goals, subgoals may also provide the person with frequent feedback and may be more psychologically “real” than more global, complex, or distal goals. Subgoals are more tangible and can in this manner prevent hesitation or postponement of goal-related activities.”

What does this mean, exactly?

It means that instead of setting the giant goal of losing thirty pounds in a year, set a goal of losing three to five pounds every month. When setting large weight loss goals, it’s really easy to get discouraged, especially when you step on the scale and realize just how much more weight you have to lose. By using smaller goals instead, your monthly goal to lose three to five pounds is reinforced by being “rewarded” more often by setting and meeting smaller goals.

If you meet your five pound goal each month, or even lose six or seven pounds, the reward center in your brain will light up and you will become more motivated to pursue your goals.

Setting a new goal each month

While the above strategy has been proven to work for more lofty goals, there’s another way to approach New Year’s Resolutions: set new goals each month rather than picking one all-encompassing yearly goal. Have each month focus on an aspect of yourself that you want to improve. For example, in January, your goal could be to start drinking more water. For February, you start going to bed an hour earlier. For March, you begin meditating for 20 minutes every day. And so on.

The purpose of smaller, monthly goals is to maintain motivation in order to succeed. Every month you are forced to look at yourself and think, “what would I like myself to improve on this month?” With the smaller goal strategy, you are always accountable for your behavior, and you’re constantly rewarded by achieving goals, which further increases motivation for setting monthly goals.

Personally, I prefer the monthly goal setting strategy instead of a giant New Year’s resolution because every month I feel like I’m becoming a better version of myself, as opposed to waiting an entire year. The great thing about setting monthly goals is that you can start at anytime—just because it’s no longer January doesn’t mean you’ve missed the window to start improving yourself!

Creating a daily goal checklist

Another strategy to hold yourself accountable is to keep daily checklists. Track how many glasses of water you want to drink per day, or schedule time to work out for at least 30 minutes every day. Making checklists allows you to constantly monitor your progress and see what you want to get done each day, thus holding you more accountable for achieving your goals each month. If at the end of the day, you see that you haven’t hit your daily water-intake goal yet, it’ll motivate you to grab a heaping glass of H2O, or remind you to get your 30 minutes of exercise for the day.

Regardless of which approach you choose, every goal should be accompanied by a SMART plan:

Specific—Are you targeting a specific area in your life for improvement?

Measurable—How will you measure your progress?

Achievable—How realistic is this goal, and how can you accomplish it?

Relevant—Does this goal seem worthwhile? Does it match your needs?

Timebound—When do you want to achieve this goal?

Additionally, having self-efficacy, or one’s belief in their ability to succeed in a task, can make the difference between meeting goals or not. Every morning it’s a good idea to remind yourself of what your goals are, and why you’re doing them in the first place. Setting and meeting goals isn’t easy, and staying focused is even harder, but if you create a system that works for you and keep your eyes on the prize, you’re bound to succeed.

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How to Set Goals You Will Actually Achieve

By the time February or March rolls around, even the most committed people may have stopped working on their New Year’s Resolutions. Going to the gym three times a week lasted for a while until work and family life got in the way, and eating healthier became boring once you started missing chocolate ice cream and fried chicken. Now, you’re left with greasy finger lickin’ digits and stubborn love-handles that won’t ever go away since you cancelled your gym membership.

So… what do you do now? You were so sure that this was going to be the year you’d finally get your act together and stick to your New Year’s Resolutions for 365 days.

Breaking up a year-long goal into monthly goals

The solution? Start setting smaller monthly goals instead of one giant and challenging New Year’s Resolution. Studies have shown that setting smaller goals within a larger goal increases motivation to continue pursuing the goal, as well as making you more likely to succeed in completing your goal. Dr. Vic Stretcher, from University of Michigan’s School of Public Health, conducted a study on goal setting, explaining:

Subgoals cue a person to use a certain strategy that responds to effort. When a person is working on distal or long-term goals, subgoals may also provide the person with frequent feedback and may be more psychologically “real” than more global, complex, or distal goals. Subgoals are more tangible and can in this manner prevent hesitation or postponement of goal-related activities.”

What does this mean, exactly?

It means that instead of setting the giant goal of losing thirty pounds in a year, set a goal of losing three to five pounds every month. When setting large weight loss goals, it’s really easy to get discouraged, especially when you step on the scale and realize just how much more weight you have to lose. By using smaller goals instead, your monthly goal to lose three to five pounds is reinforced by being “rewarded” more often by setting and meeting smaller goals.

If you meet your five pound goal each month, or even lose six or seven pounds, the reward center in your brain will light up and you will become more motivated to pursue your goals.

Setting a new goal each month

While the above strategy has been proven to work for more lofty goals, there’s another way to approach New Year’s Resolutions: set new goals each month rather than picking one all-encompassing yearly goal. Have each month focus on an aspect of yourself that you want to improve. For example, in January, your goal could be to start drinking more water. For February, you start going to bed an hour earlier. For March, you begin meditating for 20 minutes every day. And so on.

The purpose of smaller, monthly goals is to maintain motivation in order to succeed. Every month you are forced to look at yourself and think, “what would I like myself to improve on this month?” With the smaller goal strategy, you are always accountable for your behavior, and you’re constantly rewarded by achieving goals, which further increases motivation for setting monthly goals.

Personally, I prefer the monthly goal setting strategy instead of a giant New Year’s resolution because every month I feel like I’m becoming a better version of myself, as opposed to waiting an entire year. The great thing about setting monthly goals is that you can start at anytime—just because it’s no longer January doesn’t mean you’ve missed the window to start improving yourself!

Creating a daily goal checklist

Another strategy to hold yourself accountable is to keep daily checklists. Track how many glasses of water you want to drink per day, or schedule time to work out for at least 30 minutes every day. Making checklists allows you to constantly monitor your progress and see what you want to get done each day, thus holding you more accountable for achieving your goals each month. If at the end of the day, you see that you haven’t hit your daily water-intake goal yet, it’ll motivate you to grab a heaping glass of H2O, or remind you to get your 30 minutes of exercise for the day.

Regardless of which approach you choose, every goal should be accompanied by a SMART plan:

Specific—Are you targeting a specific area in your life for improvement?

Measurable—How will you measure your progress?

Achievable—How realistic is this goal, and how can you accomplish it?

Relevant—Does this goal seem worthwhile? Does it match your needs?

Timebound—When do you want to achieve this goal?

Additionally, having self-efficacy, or one’s belief in their ability to succeed in a task, can make the difference between meeting goals or not. Every morning it’s a good idea to remind yourself of what your goals are, and why you’re doing them in the first place. Setting and meeting goals isn’t easy, and staying focused is even harder, but if you create a system that works for you and keep your eyes on the prize, you’re bound to succeed.

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