How to Guarantee You’ll Reach Your Goals in 2018

Let this be the last article you’ll ever need to read on this topic

So, we’re one week into January. How’s everyone doing on their resolutions?

If you’re still going strong, you’re not alone: 73% of people keep their resolutions through the first week of the new year.

Already given up? You’re also in good company. Only 8% of people actually achieve the resolutions or goals they set for the new year.

Clearly, there’s something wrong with our idea of goal-setting.

I can relate. I’ve always been one of those people who loves writing lists, setting goals, making resolutions, all that jazz. Every January 1, I’d nicely write out my goals on a sheet of paper. Then I’d stick in my desk drawer, never to look at it again. Needless to say, I didn’t exactly keep myself accountable.

This year, I got certified as a health coach through Emory University, and as a personal trainer through the American Council on Exercise. Along the way, I learned a lot about the best strategies to set goals, get motivated, and actually achieve success. And those strategies I’ve learned have helped me actually attain my goals this past year. Below I’ve thought through the basic tenets of what I’ve learned. Hopefully it can help you, too.

The problem isn’t that we’re not enthusiastic or sincere or serious enough about our goals.

The problem is that we’re not getting the goal-setting process right.

In fact, maybe we get TOO excited about the idea of changing our lives for the better — losing 10 pounds, saving money for a big trip, getting our homes organized. So we just jump right in!

But when we reach for the moon without preparing properly, guess what happens? You don’t just land among the stars. You feel like you’ve failed. And you feel bad about it.

Throughout my work as a health and wellness journalist and as a health coach, I’ve decided there are 3 main components of successfully setting — and reaching — your goals:

  1. Planning
  2. Motivation
  3. Accountability

I. Planning

1. Do some soul-searching.

First up is figuring out what changes you truly want to make in your life this year. Ask yourself:

  • What do I really, really want? (Think about this in terms of different areas of your life: health, career, relationships, financial.)
  • What do I want to accomplish six months from now? One year from now? Five years from now? (A new job? To get in better shape? To take an amazing trip?)
  • What brings me joy in life? (Being outdoors? Being able to travel? Forming a deeper bond with loved ones?)
  • What frustrates me in my life right now? (Not having enough energy; not having enough money to splurge on things you’d want; having a unorganized garage)

2. Get specific.

Once you’ve nailed down your goal (pick one for today, but you can do this with multiple goals), it’s time to break it down. You may have heard of “SMART” goals — the following steps are my modified version of that process.

After all “lose weight” or “save money” aren’t goals; they’re wishes. Let’s say your goal is to lose weight. You need to be specific about how much weight you want to lose, and what small steps you need to take to get there. For example, I want to lose 10 pounds by May 1, which means I have to lose one pound per week. To do that, I’m going to make smarter swaps in my diet and start exercising more.

3. Make it measurable.

Then you want to get even more granular by making these steps measurable!

Instead of: I’ll eat healthier.
Try: I’ll swap my usual sandwich for a salad for lunch every weekday.

Instead of: I’ll eat more protein in the morning.
Try: I’ll eat eggs or yogurt for breakfast instead of a bagel.

Instead of: I’ll drink more water and less soda.
Try: I’ll drink at least eight glasses of water every day and limit soda to one per week.

Instead of: I’ll eat fewer sweets.
Try: I’ll only have dessert on one weekend night.

Instead of: I’ll get more exercise.
Try: I’ll go to the gym three days a week and walk 10,000 steps on the other days.

4. Make sure it’s attainable & realistic.

All of the above sounds great in theory, right? But you also have to plan for that little thing called life. Make sure your goals and the steps involved are practical at this point. Some times in life aren’t ideal to go for a big goal — like training for a marathon when you have 3 young children, or trying to save up for a vacation when you’re doing a lot home improvements. Include caveats when you can’t live up to your goals 100%.

5. Be flexible.

Plan for obstacles. If you can’t find a salad for lunch, and you have to get fast food, it’s OK! Don’t beat yourself up about it. It doesn’t mean you have to throw away your entire goal; just get back on track the next day.

6. Set deadlines.

This is the last piece of the SMART goal setting process: Make it time-bound. You can set a long-term deadline for the completion of your goal, but it’s also a good idea to set smaller deadlines along the way. For example, check in with your progress at the six-week, and six-month mark. Or even set weekly goals. And when you reach them, celebrate the small victories along the way!

II. Motivation

So you set your SMART goals and made your plan. Now the question is:

How do you get motivated?

As health coaches, we help people discover their intrinsic motivation for reaching their goals.

Basically, we want to move away from extrinsic motivators — not because they’re bad, but because they don’t set us up for long term success. Some examples: I want to lose weight because my doctor told me I needed to. Or, because I want to look good for my sister’s wedding in six months.

Instead, finding your intrinsic motivation means finding out what really makes you tick. What is your why? What is the true value in reaching X goal?

For example: I want to lose weight so I feel better and move better on a daily basis. Or play with my grandkids at the park. Or feel more confident. Or sleep better.

Or: I want to save money so I can enjoy my retirement years. Or take that dream trip to Paris. Or go on an African safari.

Some other questions you can ask yourself to tap into your intrinsic motivation:

  • What will life look like when I achieve this goal?
  • What would my life look like if I don’t achieve this goal?
  • What additional benefits will I experience as a result?
  • When I have been successful in the past with a similar goal?
  • How did I feel when I achieved success in the past?

Then, create your game plan. In addition to your specific steps you need to take to achieve the goal, add in these extra thoughts about what it will really mean to you when you reach it. Visualize taking those first steps, and visualize yourself reaping all those benefits.

Put it somewhere you’ll see it on a daily basis. How many of us write out our resolutions in a little notebook, stick it away in a drawer, and never look at it again?

Change that this year! Grab a marker or sharpie and it all down on a nice piece of paper (or a piece of computer paper!). Hang it up at your desk, in your kitchen, or on your bathroom mirror — wherever you’ll see it on a daily basis!

III. Accountability

The final piece of the puzzle: How do you keep yourself accountable? These practical strategies can help.

1. Put dates on your calendar.

If you followed the goal-setting guidelines, you already have deadlines! Add these to your Google calendar, Outlook calendar, whatever you use. The pop-up notifications and alerts will serve as helpful reminders.

You can also use your calendar to ‘time-block:’ carve out time to actually do those things you want to do. For example, say you want to meditate for five minutes every morning, or journal for 10 minutes every night. Put that into your calendar too! Or if you want to reach out to a business contact daily, add a reminder to do it every day.

2. Seek social support.

Talk to people about your goals! Tell a close friend, your spouse, or significant other about what you’re trying to attain. You can also hire a coach to keep you accountable — a health coach for wellness-oriented goals or a career coach for career goals, for example.

3. Turn it over to technology.

There are also some apps you can use to stay accountable, although I personally have mixed feelings about apps and other trackers. Sometimes they can just feel like another hassle to add to your to-do list. But if they work for you, go for it. Here are some recommended apps:

  • Strides App: This helps you set SMART goals for anything you want to improve: Health, money, productivity, business, etc. It helps you track your good or bad habits, and you can see your winning streak.
  • Productive: Plan your habits with this app’s easy-to-use interface, schedule reminders for any time of day, and stay on track with useful feedback
  • Five-Minute Journal: Research shows that jotting down five things you’re thankful for can help you improve happiness and stress less. If your goal is to be more positive or express gratitude, this is a great one. This app prompts you to do just that every morning, and it’s a beautiful format.
  • Trello: This is a helpful online productivity tool. It lets you create multiple to-do lists, which is great if you’re managing multiple long-term projects.

4. Be patient.

Not a very patient person? I hear ya. But it’s essential for success in the long run. If it helps you, consider making shorter-term goals, like monthly goals, instead of overarching yearly goals.

Final Thought: THINK BIG!

I know I said earlier that you shouldn’t “shoot for the moon”… but I still urge you to THINK BIG (but be practical at the same time).

As Bill Gates once said, “Most people overestimate what they can do in one year, and underestimate what they can do in 10 years.”

In other words, be smart about your goal-setting, be realistic, and don’t try to do it ALL this year. Just stay the course, and you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish in the long run.

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