Everybody knows goals are easier to set than to reach. But what we’ve learned is that the most effective path to achieving any goal begins with a question few of us think to ask ourselves: Is the goal one I think I should meet or one I want to meet? Psychologists who’ve studied how people are motivated say that those driven by guilt or a sense of responsibility (My doctor says I should lose weight) are setting themselves up to fail. But if you care about the goal (I want to lose weight so I’ll have more energy to play with my kids), you’ll be driven by passion and positive emotions—two strong motivators that significantly up your ability to get what you’re after. So how to turn these theories into action? Try these five tips.
Stay grounded. Once you’ve established that your goal is meaningful to you, set realistic benchmarks to shoot for along the way. For instance, if you’re going for a new job, make a list of actions that will move you closer. Like revamping your résumé. Most employers are inundated with résumés, and a sure-fire way to make yours stand out is to take a less-is-more approach. Make it easy for them to quickly scan for key information and use white space liberally. A résumé that’s jam-packed with details will be off-putting and likely to end up at the bottom of the pile. Next, learn a new skill. Sign up for a class or ask to take on a new responsibility at your current job, which will look good on your résumé later. May sound obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people skip this key step.
Be specific. A goal such as planning to take two yoga classes a week is more likely to be reached than a vague statement like “I want to be less stressed.” When a goal is detailed, it can be accomplished more easily. Simply saying “I want to get more exercise,” for example, is harder to approach than committing yourself to going for a 20-minute walk after dinner every night.
Spread the word. Thinking about setting a new goal? Reach out to friends and family via Facebook for tips and inspiration that will help you get there. For example, post a question like this: Has anybody ever run a half marathon? Share your best training tips to help me get started! That way you involve your friends in your goal (and you’ve gone public with it, so now you can’t back down). As you reach training milestones, let your friends know, then ask for their advice on getting to the next level.
Create a visual. The saying “out of sight, out of mind” applies to hitting goals too. It’s all too easy to talk yourself out of your daily walk if you don’t have a fresh reminder of your long-term wish to lower your blood pressure, for example. That’s where prominent visual cues come into play. Choose one image that represents your outcome and put it somewhere you take the steps to reach that goal. Trying to get healthier? Place a picture of yourself from when you felt your best on the fridge. It’s a great reminder of how you can feel when you make smart nutrition choices. If your goal is to save money to take a family vacation, make your screensaver a gorgeous beach getaway. Every time you go online to do your banking, you’ll be reminded of the money you’re trying to save.
Learn to say no. To everyone else that is. Many of us put other people’s needs first. By adding the word “no” to your vocabulary (“Sorry, I can’t volunteer at this month’s bake sale”), you open up blocks of time to work toward your goal.