7 simple ways to achieve your goals
1. Set yourself manageable, specific actions.
Rather than saying something like “I want to lose weight” or “I want to be more outgoing,” decide on particular behaviours that you will demonstrate in certain circumstances.
For weight loss, you might say “If I feel hungry, then I’ll walk up and down the stairs twice before allowing myself to eat” or “If I get offered a second helping of food at dinner, then I’ll say ‘that was delicious, but I’ve had enough thank you.'”
For more advice on how to create more effective actions, you might want to read a previous blog post of mine on the topic of implementation intentions.
2. Set goals that you are 80 per cent sure you can achieve.
For example, if you have tried repeatedly to give up eating sugary snacks but failed each time, then don’t aim for such a huge goal. Aim to cut down by a certain amount instead. Perhaps aim to give up just on Mondays and Tuesdays to begin with. Or decide to wait until after 11am before eating your first sugary snack of the day – or whatever you feel 80 per cent certain you can do.
Once something feels comfortable, you could then set a further goal. Set yourself up to succeed even if the achievement may seem small – that’s better than aiming for a huge achievement only to fail completely.
3. Write your actions down.
Several studies have shown that people who write down their specific actions tend to be more successful at following through with them. It makes sense if you think about it. If I ask you to multiply 37 by 19 in your head, it’s darned difficult. But if I give you pen and paper to do it, you’re almost certain to get it right.
Writing your actions down allows you to structure your thinking and make far more effective plans.
4. Focus on processes rather than outcomes.
You can more easily control how you spend your time (a process) than what you achieve (an outcome). For example, say you want to find a life partner or you want a new job. Both of those outcomes are not directly in your control. Instead, you can control the process, e.g. you can write a profile for an online dating website, go out a certain number of times a month and so on. Or you can decide to rewrite your CV or apply for so many jobs a week.
If you plan to do a number of actions that are based on processes, you can feel in control. But if you plan based solely on outcomes, you could easily be setting yourself up for disappointment.
5. Consider setting collaborative goals.
Research suggests that people who set joint goals may be more successful at achieving them. For example, if you and your partner at home want to drink less alcohol, then decide on an action such as: “If it’s a weeknight, then we will drink herbal tea instead of wine.” Or for goals outside of the home, you could buddy up with a good friend or a trusted colleague at work too.
6. Treat yourself with self-compassion.
Whenever you set out to change anything in your life, it’s inevitable that you will experience lapses and blunders. I think I have quite strong willpower but I don’t always get to the gym when I should or do all the work I set out to do.
When you have a bad day, give yourself a break. Don’t be too self-critical. Imagine what your best friend would say to you to support you. I doubt your good friends would criticise you – so don’t do it to yourself.
7. Remember that growth is possible at any age or stage of life.
Some people get trapped into believing that their skills and behaviours get fixed after a certain age. But research tells us that the brain is incredibly plastic. It’s simply not true that old dogs can’t learn new tricks. Adults do learn and the brain continues to forge new connections even into very late adulthood.
One research-tested method for improving your prospects of growth is to spend a few minutes writing about a skill you learned or behaviour you changed in the past. Writing about past successes can help to set you up for future accomplishments. Keep reminding yourself that change is possible and you may boost your chances of success.
Oh, and if you want more support on goals and changing stuff in your life, you could take a look at my book You Can Change Your Life.