To help achieve our goals, there are some necessary things we can do to stay on course, continue to motivate ourselves, and not set ourselves up for failure.
The easiest way to know what goals to set is to understand what you are currently doing. Take 3-5 days and write down everything you eat and the approximate portion size. Write down how much you exercise (frequency, intensity, duration). Get an idea of what your day honestly looks like, including the times of day you are busy working, commuting, making meals, etc.
This thoughtful reflection may help you to learn how long it truly takes you to do different aspects of your life which will be vital in figuring out when you will be able to act on those goals you are setting. It will illustrate what you’re good at and not so good at currently. That reflection may open up other areas of your life to “The Power of Negative Thinking,” more on that in a bit.
Set Achievable Goals.
Setting a goal to shed 20 pounds is not a healthy achievable goal for the immediate future. It is not even really a goal but more of a desire, maybe a vague, generalized long-term goal at most but to get there from here we need to make shorter achievable goals to keep us motivated on the way.
Writing a goal down forces you to be more specific about your goal and less vague or generalized. Just writing down a goal often can be a powerful motivator to getting started. In fact, people that write down their goals are 50% more likely to achieve them then the people who do not write them down.
Unfortunately, only about 3 out of 100 people do write their goals down on paper.
The Power of Negative Thinking.
What happens when the only goals you think of seem to be the vague ones?
Sara Knight, Author of Get Your Sh*t Together, suggests instead of attempting to write your goal based on a positive best version of yourself you should use “the Power of Negative Thinking.” She urges people to base goals not on something you aspire to become but on something you don’t want to be anymore. She suggests: step 1 finding something that you feel is wrong with your life, followed by step 2 which is why? For example, instead of saying I want to lose 20 pounds and be in better shape the answer to step 1 could be “I’m tired of getting out of breath when I climb a flight of stairs.” Step 2 can sometimes be the harder part but one you must truly be honest too the Why? For example, “I never take the stairs because the elevator is easier and I would rather surf the internet during my lunch break than to go for a walk during my lunch break.” She feels, through this negative thinking, the goals will come by themselves.
In the above example you could find two goals:
1) “I will take the stairs instead of the elevator at work.”
2) “I will walk for 10 minutes on my lunch break instead of surfing the internet”.
To have goals become even more effective, they should be specific regarding the time frame to be accomplished, be something easily measurable, and challenging. A study by Shaw et al. titled Goal Setting and Task Performance: 1969-1980 indicated these specific challenging goals led to a 90% increase in performance. In an attempt to train for a marathon it isn’t enough to have the goal of “run in a marathon.” Instead make deﬁnable, attainable goals. Things like: I will run three miles three times a week for the next two weeks before I go to work.
That goal is well deﬁned, simple, and achievable. As you progress your goals will change along with you.
Research indicates that it is much easier to accomplish the short-term goals than the long-term goals, principally because they ARE short-term goals. There is no real chance to get distracted, lose steam or direction, get lost in the feelings of how daunting that long-term goal is, and let life get in the way. The easiest way of making sure you are on the correct path to your long-term goal is…..having more short-term goals between then and now! Say what now!?!
Let’s take another look at that generic goal of losing 20 pounds. In this example, let’s say that in 3 months someone is going away to a tropical beach vacation and they want to lose 20 pounds to look terrific on those above sandy white beaches. That can be pretty daunting to have to monitor your life for the next three months to ensure that you accomplish your goal. For some that realization is enough for them to stop before they start. For others they will start but as the research indicates they will stop after two weeks.
Instead, if we break that long-term goal into more manageable chunks, it could be a possibility. Through the powers of math, I can deduce that to lose 20 pounds in 3 months someone would have to lose 1.67 pounds per week for each of the 12 weeks before their flight taking off. You can now create 12 short-term goals which if successfully achieved will allow you to accomplish that enormous long-term goal set way out in the future. Knowing that every decision you make today will have an impact on something that will not be measured in 3 months by some “stranger-self” our mind attempts to create but instead be measured this weekend helps create more accountability and a greater sense of urgency.
Sara Knight talks about how no goal is too hard to accomplish. She notes that by breaking a larger goal down into smaller more realistic goals whose parameters are within your control, can make those long-term goals achievable.