Do you imagine yourself at a point in the future where you envision a new you; becoming more active, changing jobs, having more freedom to do the things you love? I believe that we all have goals whether we vocalize them or not. It could be a small dream or a dream that has been growing and building for years. Learning how to set goals does not need to be a complicated process but it does require some time set aside and planning. Follow along with my seven point blueprint for how to set goals to achieve successful outcomes.
Give Yourself Permission to Dream
So allow yourself to dream. We often get stuck in habits that come from mistaken beliefs that say we cannot set goals, that we don’t deserve to dream or that setting goals is a waste of time. These mistaken beliefs come from messages that we have received from different sources in our lives; family, work, school and friendships. We need to identify these roadblocks that keep us from our dreams. What are some of the negative words or phrases that come to mind when you think of why you are not following your dreams?
The Necessity of Small and Measurable
If there is one thing that I have learned as a counsellor is that people need small and measurable goals or they end up sabotaging their goals altogether, give up and feel discouraged. So what exactly is a small and measurable goal? Let me break each of those down for you that will help you learn how to set goals.
First ask yourself, how long would this task take to accomplish? Is it something that I can do each day or is it something over a week? The shorter amount of time it takes to accomplish a task (and then put it on repeat), the more likely you are to do it. I would start with daily tasks and even hourly tasks. I will give you an example. I set a daily goal of exercising on my elliptical for 10 minutes. Notice, I said daily and the allotted time was 10 minutes. I chose to focus on each day as it came and not think ahead. I also chose 10 minutes as that is a time frame that is small but will still be valuable. When you go from doing nothing to choosing an amount of time, 10 minutes is a small success.
So when it comes to a goal that is measurable, think of it as written down. If you are able to write it down, it is a specific measurement (time, miles walked) and makes sense it is measurable. So here is an example of a poorly measured goal; “I want to exercise in order to feel better” How exactly do we measure this success or likelihood of accomplishing this? “Exercise is not clearly defined and what does “feel better” mean? Measurable is a quantity such as kilometres, minutes, grams, calories, etc. My goal of 10 minutes a day is specific and measurable. I also know I have gone for 10 minutes when the tracker on the elliptical says 10 minutes.
Another comparison of a poorly measured goal versus a measurable goal in a different discipline such as a creative outlet might look like the following. “I want to journal more”. What does “journal” mean? Does it mean writing in a book or online, bullet jounalling or taking notes during a sermon? Also what is the “more” specifically? No amount is specified here. When we use language like this, we are opening ourselves up to different interpretations and therefore different expectations of ourselves and others.
Here is a very detailed, specific statement that is measurable for how to set goals when it comes to journalling. “I will take 10 minutes, at 8am in my office and write at least five affirmations in my notebook journal.” This is very specific; time specific, location specific, quantity specific and tool specific.
The Power of Vocalizing
I have always believed that talking to oneself is a good thing not a measure of poor mental health. I have often heard the cliche saying, “Its not too bad talking to yourself, it’s when you start answering back that it becomes a problem” I disagree with this statement for a few reasons. We have conflicting thoughts, ideas and opinions so it makes sense that we need to “hash it out” with ourselves to get to a desired conclusion (if there is one to be had). There definitely is the social stigma of having a mental illness, such as the case when someone has schizophrenia; responding to voices that are hallucinations or delusions.
This is not the case with self talk though. As toddlers, it is quite normal that we talk to ourselves. Around the age of seven when our self-consciousness kicks in, we become more private about our speech to ourselves. There certainly is vast research done in the area of the benefits of self talk. Labelling feelings can diffuse the power that they may have over you and normalize them.
So how does this relate to how to set goals? Caroline Corcoran gives 7 reasons why it’s good to talk (to yourself) in the Stylist article; “Did I say that Out Loud?” where you can read all 7 reasons.
Taking our hopes and dreams and voicing them as a form of self encouragement can only help us to accomplish our goals. Voicing our negative feelings and thoughts out loud also help us to discern the negative, unhealthy or critical messages that live inside of us. When we give (literal) voice to our rational (positive) and irrational (negative) thinking, we build awareness and awareness leads to change. I like to think of vocalizing thoughts as a cheerleader cheering on a team. Vocalizing is a tool that can help in all of these areas for how to set goals.
This is a large topic and it is far too broad to be covered comprehensively here. For the sake of this topic of how to set goals, I will keep it to broad basic tools.
Fear stands in the way of many of our goals becoming reality. Fear initiates with a negative experience (trigger) that is turned into a thought and then lead to action or inaction. Often, we don’t know what we are afraid of. We need to do a backwards inventory that looks something like this. Start by asking yourself, “What action am I not moving forward on?” This could be a larger career changing move such as avoiding a job interview, taking a course, enrolling in school. On a smaller scale it could look like not starting a craft project, avoiding organizing your pantry, not starting to journal.
To be honest, it isn’t always fear that holds us back from our goals, it could be lack of time or energy, disability etc. We have to be careful with calling the lack of time an excuse as we make time for what is priority. For the sake of this article, I will stick to fear as the discussion point.
Sometimes it helps to have someone else walk us through an inventory of questions that get to the root of the fear. This could be a friend, a spouse or a trained professional counsellor. Some of those questions could be;
- When did the fear start?
- What were the surrounding circumstances?
- Was the fear connected to success or failure?
- What is the belief about yourself in regards to this fear?
- Is the belief you hold to a lie or a truth?
- Imagine the best case scenario, like waving a magic wand and having all of your dreams come true. What would the dream look like?
The basic conclusion is that we need to figure out if fear is holding us back and if it is, what are we willing to do to conquer it?
Many large followings that are trying to achieve goals (financial freedom, weight loss, fitness, building a business) have accountability build into their business model. Accountability increases the likelihood of achieving our goals. We are held responsible to these goals if we share them with others and ask for encouragement.
I’ll give you an example. I posted myself on Instagram stories on my elliptical each day for six days. I asked for encouragement and I received it in the form of messages. This accountability prompts me; it reminds me that I set out to do something, starting doing it, asked for encouragement and received it. This is a tangible (posting on social media and receiving encouragement) outcome that was made due to my willingness to start (small). Now, when I think about not going on the elliptical, I will be reminded of the people that are standing behind me with encouragement when I ask for it. There is a threat of loss of connection (small though still important) if I choose to forego the goal. Sometimes fear (of the loss of something good) can be a good thing. Also, writing this out in this post is a tangible way to be accountable. My readers now know about me desire to keep consistent with my goal of 10 minutes on the elliptical each day.
So how do you measure success? If you have made it this far, you have all mental tools you need to start measuring success. The only thing left to add is some practical, hands on tools.
- Notebook Journal – I recommend picking up a notebook journal to start tracking your progress. Head on over to the Shop and grab yourself an original design notebook journal to develop your plan of action. This treat to yourself says, “I am important and so are my goals”
- Write It Out – Until you have developed a regular habit (which usually takes a minimum of three weeks), write out your plan. Writing out a plan versus just speaking it out makes you 40 percent more likely to achieve your goals. Be specific about your goal. Make a check list of the when, where, how, etc.
- One Day at a Time – Only look at the present day, not to tomorrow. Refrain from listing the mistakes and negative talk about what you have not accomplished in the past. And when you do have negative talk, challenge it with the question, “How is this helping me? If it is shaming and negative, turn it into an affirmation. In the beginning, when you make small, measurable goals, check in with yourself no later than a week.
- Create an Affirmation – Affirmations are short, concise, positive, present tense “I” statements that you are working towards believing. Take the negative, shaming self talk, for example, “I will never accomplish this” and turn it into “I am accomplishing ___________”
5. Celebrate Yourself – When you have reached a milestone or have a positive shift in the way you view yourself, stop to celebrate. Celebrating could be in the form of a new encouraging affirmation, sharing your “success” with someone or treating yourself to something that is connected to the milestone. The only way that you will know you have indeed had success is written proof. It is such a joy to look back on your journey and know you have made great strides. Giving yourself the pat on the back will propel you forward with encouragement to make your next goal achievable.
Now that you have the tools and the self start guide, you know how to set goals to achieve successful outcomes! Remember to dream big, start small yet measurable, challenge your fears, grab an accountability partner and start writing out those daily affirmations.
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Blessings from my house to yours,