Feb 122012

This post was originally posted at the Improving the World blog, however I decided to merge the two blogs so it can now be found here as well.

How do you reach a goal? A lot of people struggle with actually achieving what they set out for themselves. Helping people achieve their goals would definitely make for a better world!

I will first go into the process of setting a goal and then follow up with a number of tips and tricks to make achieving your goal more likely.

How to achieve a goal

Many people want something but don’t know how to achieve it. They would like to start up their own company but don’t know where to begin. They would like to get a long term relationship but have no clue how to go about it.

The steps for achieving a goal are:

  • Set your goal
  • Research what you need to do to achieve the goal
  • Set aside time to work on your goal
  • Do it!
Set your goal

It is very important to first set your goal before you get bogged down in trying to find out exactly how to do it or before doing something that might get you further away from home. Paralysis by analysis is only too common. If there is something you really want, trust in yourself that you will find a way of actually doing it. So be bold and state clearly what exactly it is that you want to achieve!

Research how to achieve the goal

Through research you find out exactly how you can go about achieving your goal. Find the right sources to tell you how other people have gone about achieving the goal you are aiming for. Sources can be other people, books, contemplation or the internet.

There is always more you can know about a subject, so don’t stop researching until you are completely done with your goal. If you want to set up your own business, keep on reading, keep on talking to people about it until the moment you sell the business, you go bankrupt or you retire.

Research is goal-specific; getting to a healthy weight is very different from doubling your income. In the next section you can find a number of general tips and tricks to help you actually meet your goal once you know what the steps are that you need to take.

Set aside time to work on your goal

A goal is not going to get reached by itself. You will need to set time aside to work on it. Be realistic how much time you are going to need and make sure that you take that time!

Make the time you set aside as specific as possible. “4 hours on Saturday” is better than “4 hours per week”. But “Between 15.00 and 19.00 on Saturdays” is even better.

Do it!

No matter how good a goal you have, no matter how much you research, in the end the only measure of success is whether you achieved the goal. And that means actually going out and working on it! Start this step as soon as possible. If your research comes up with something that you can do, do it right away!

Tips & Tricks for achieving your goal

In this section you can find a number of tips and tricks to help you achieve your goal. Use them all and I can all but guarantee that you will reach your goal!

Formulate your goal in a positive way

The first step in reaching a goal is actually setting it. When setting a goal make sure that you formulate it in a positive way, meaning that you state what you want to work towards and not what you want to get away from. For example if you want to stay off of the junk food, don’t formulate”I won’t touch another hamburger”, instead formulate “I will only eat healthy food”.

The reason to do this is because the human brain has trouble with negatives. If someone tells you “Don’t think of a pink elephant”, you first have to think of a pink elephant to even make sense of what was said, thus defeating the very purpose of the command. In the same way when you say you don’t want something, you first have to think about the thing you don’t want, thus directing your focus towards it. “I don’t want to touch another hamburger” will have you thinking of that nice and juice hamburger (and chances are you now are salivating, just to show how strong a single thought can be). But “I will only eat healthy food” will instead have you focusing on healthy food, and thus you will be much more likely to go for that instead.

Formulate your goal SMART

SMART is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timed.

  • Specific means that the goal should be as focused as possible. “I want to be healthy” is a nice goal, but not specific. “I will only eat healthy food” is much more specific.
  • Measurable means that there should be a clear way of knowing whether you achieve the goal or not. “I will play sports” is not measurable, but “I will play sports two times per week for an hour each time” is measurable.
  • Attainable indicates that it should be possible to achieve your goal. For an average human being running a marathon should well be attainable. Winning a marathon however might not be.
  • Relevant means that the goal should resonate with what you truly want. “I want a promotion” might be a goal, but if you only want this because your friends and family think you should want this, it’s not going to work for you.
  • Timed means that there should be a deadline to when the goal has to be achieved. “I will weigh 57 kilos” is a reasonable goal, but do you want this tomorrow or 40 years from now? A better formulation is “I will weigh 57 kilos in three months”.
Break it up in sub-goals

A single large goal can be overwhelming. There are so many things to be done, so much time to invest. Where to start?

Instead of setting a single big goal, break it up in smaller sub-goals. Want to start up your own business? Writing a business plan is a sub-goal. Going to the chamber of commerce to arrange the paperwork is a sub-goal. There are a number of advantages to this:

  • You get feedback much more often about whether you are on track. Achieving sub-goals lets you know you are doing ok, whereas with a single large goal you only know at the very end whether you succeeded.
  • Reaching a sub-goal makes you feel good about yourself, thus stimulating to continue reaching further sub-goals
  • You should be able to oversee a single sub-goal, making sure that you don’t get overwhelmed or stuck.

You can break a goal into as many sub-goals as you require. And of course if a sub-goal is also too much to oversee, break it up in sub-sub-goals, or even further.

Remind yourself of your goal

Make sure that you are very regularly reminded of your goal. In every day life it is very easy to forget it (temporarily), whereas it is in every day life you have to actually achieve it.

There are many ways you can remind yourself. Put up notes (post-its) with your goal on places where you can regularly see them. Your bathroom mirror, your fridge, your computer, your screensaver, your car’s steering wheel…

The constant reminders make sure that you don’t forget, but also that if you don’t act in accordance with your goal you are confronted with it. This then in turn creates a drive towards doing better, as we don’t like being confronted with our own failing.

Share your goal

Share your goal with the people around you. The more people you share it with and the more important they are to you, the more likely you will be to achieve the goal.

The reason for this is that you become socially accountable if you share your goal. If you keep the goal to yourself and you don’t make it, there is only one person you are disappointing. If you share however, you disappoint everybody that you told. And there is a very strong drive against disappointing the people we care about.

Some people will have trouble sharing a goal. They will think: “What will people think of me that I can’t even do X?” However, you will be surprised how supportive people will be. Everybody has things he / she would like to change and just seeing someone actually go through a change can be an inspiration.

To make it easier to tell people, start off small. First tell the people you trust most, then use the feedback that you get to progress further.

Ask for help

People love to help, as it shows off how good they are and at the same time allows them to do something for a friend. Why would you deny the people close to you this opportunity?

Many people think that their struggles are unique and that there is nobody with the same issues. Human problems however are very similar and in general a lot of people will be able to relate to what you are going through, either because they went through it themselves or because it is something they would like to improve as well.

Asking for help can garner a lot of advice, but more importantly, support. And knowing there is someone that is there for you is a strong motivator.

Scared of asking for help? Make it a goal to learn to ask for it! 😉

Make it costly not to achieve your goal

People are highly risk-averse, meaning that we hate to loose something we have. Make use of that when trying to achieve a goal. Give something (money?) to a friend and tell her to return it only when you have achieved your goal. If you fail, she is to give it to charity (make sure your goal is amply SMART).

The higher the value of what you might loose is, the more you will fight to achieve the goal. If the goal truly is achievable, don’t be afraid to really put your money where your mouth is. Everybody can miss a few coins, but when it comes to a monthly salary you can be sure you will be working very hard to get it back!

Visualize having achieved your goal

Visualize what your life would be like when you have achieved your goal. What will have changed, what will have improved? How will you feel about yourself? Make the pictures and feelings as strong as possible. This creates a very strong positive association between the goal and the visualized outcome. And this then creates a desire in your own mind to move towards the wanted outcome.

Take some time to do this visualization the first time. Make it as vivid and strong as possible. Make the picture(s) or videotape big, bright, colorful. Make the feelings and emotions strong and powerful.

When you have done the visualization once you can then do it again very quickly at other times to increase its effectiveness. You could for example do this every time you see one of your reminder post-its…

Take that first step

As soon as you have an inkling of an idea about what might be a first step in achieving your goal, take it! Don’t wait, do it now! Want to eat healthier? Go to your fridge and throw out all the junk food. Want to go on a trip around the world? Open up Google maps and take a look at which countries you might visit.

In this way you create momentum for getting to your goal. Once the first step is taken, the next one is easier. And it signals to yourself (and the rest of the world) that you truly are serious.

Stick with it

It takes somewhere around 20 days before a new habit is formed. And even the simplest step will take some time. Thus, give yourself enough time to see success. Stick with it, even if things are going the wrong way. Don’t give up just because you have a set-back. Allow yourself to make mistakes. If you don’t make mistakes, you are not learning anything; no mistakes means you could already do it. A set-back is just feed-back, more effort is required to make your goal. So give that little bit extra! Trust in yourself that you will eventually make it!

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