Achieving your Goals, a systematic process that actually works
Have you achieved everything you wanted to over the last 12 months? Do you feel confident you can do it again? Or did your lofty expectations not seem achievable 3 months in so you gave up? Whether you did or didn’t hit your goals for the last year, it’s worth assessing what went well and what didn’t.
Frequently what’s getting in the way of achievement is the actual goal. Without a clear target, you’ll never hit your mark. That’s why it’s crucial to learn how to set goals that are both challenging and achievable. But without a structured plan in place you are very unlikely to achieve even a hotly desired goal. Here we'll cover how to set goals to ensure you achieve them. By the end you’ll have an understanding of what makes for compelling goals, you’ll feel fired up and ready to go and you’ll be prepared for the challenges ahead as well as with the steps you need to take to see it through to your goal.
Many people don’t set goals because when they don’t achieve them it feels like failure. But if you’re going to achieve anything in life you have to want it, you have to be willing to make some effort for it and you have to be prepared to take a bit of a risk. So what if other people think you’re aiming too high, or never going to make it? If you want to go for it, do it, and don’t be ashamed. Most of the people who would bring someone down for aiming high do that because they don’t want you to do better than them. They don’t want to be made to feel inadequate in any way. Now you’re not aiming for your goal because you want them to feel inadequate, you’re aiming for it because it fulfils some desire in you. So, do every action I ask of you and think about it properly and you are going to take some risk by naming a goal you would really like to achieve. It doesn’t have to be revealed to the world, but you have to be prepared to go for it, to take some risk by extending yourself, your comfort zone and being willing to open yourself up to new experiences.
In order to go forwards we must first go backwards. Did you have any goals last year? What were they? Did you achieve them, happily ticking them off at some point during the year, or on December 31st when you reviewed your achievements before the champagne and fireworks? Or did you lapse at some point earlier, forget about them or just find you have aimed too high?
It’s really important to review why we have failed in the past in order to be able to progress in the future. So, think back to your goals from last year. Did you achieve them all? Where did you get to? Take a few moments and make some notes.
If you didn’t achieve your goals, why not? Take another moment and list the reasons or excuses you didn’t achieve your goals.
It’s really important that we acknowledge the reasons or excuses we used to not achieve last year as forewarned is forearmed. If you know what tripped you up last time, you can avoid it this time. If it’s because you went on holiday and didn’t go to the gym for 2 weeks, then didn’t start again the minute you arrived home then you can guard against this. You can make sure you work out every day on holiday, or every other day. You can buddy up with someone, at home or away with you, to make sure you do this. Or you can write down your workouts and check your progress off against them in order to give you accountability and the feelings of achievement that ticking something off entails. Or, you can accept that you won’t work out on holiday but book to see a friend in the gym on the day after you return so that you are straight back into the swing of it. So you see how analysing why and when you failed last year can not be a total failure if we learn from it and use it to make sure we don’t fail in the same way again this year.
Did you write your goals down and track your progress? We have something like 1400 thoughts in our brain every single minute. If we don’t write our goals down we are basically expecting them to compete for focus with those other 1400 things. That’s bound to end in failure. Writing your goals down is the only way to keep them in your focus and keep yourself accountable. If you don’t write them down, for instance, you can pretend they never even happened!
So let’s start moving forwards now. What would you like to achieve this next year in terms of work and personal life. Take some time to have a think. Don’t rush, take your time and think about what you would really like to achieve.
Now I want you to think about why these are your goals? Do they tie into an ultimate or bigger goal? If we can tie them into an emotional reason then we are far more likely to stick to them.
So how important are these goals to you? Are they tied to a more emotional reason? If they are then it’s a great way to make sure you focus more on achieving them. Do you want to get fit, or is it that you want to be able to play football with your kids, or grandkids? Is it that you want to lose weight or do you want to make sure you can dance at your children’s wedding? Do you want that promotion for the title, or because you know you could do a great job leading the team to a higher level? Or do you want it so you can afford to get married, have a great honeymoon, go to Disney World? If you can find an emotional reason then use it.
Goals are emotional to us. So let’s try and connect in with that. I want you to ponder the following 2 questions.
I know when I think about my goal to be able to do a pull up, it’s all about strength and fitness and fighting the inevitable decline of our strength and muscles as we age. I know that sounds dramatic but I’m getting on a bit, and my daughter still likes being picked up. She’s getting heavier and heavier and I want to be able to lift her up and cuddle her as long as I can. A pull up is just a measurable target for me that requires whole body strength and means I will continue to do my classes 4 or 5 times a week. I know for sure that if I haven’t achieved my pull up target by next year, I’ll be really disappointed but if I have, I’ll be proud as punch of myself and it’ll make me think, what’s next? What can I focus on next? How can I be even stronger? If I can do my first pull up in my 50th year what can’t I do? It also sets a great example of the power of not saying I can’t to my daughter. So that’s my emotional reason to keep going, even when it hurts.
So now let’s have a think about what will help us achieve our goals. At work and in our personal life. What I mean by that is what kind of things can we put in place to help us, who can we utilise? Let’s just think about what we can take advantage of and put in place to help us.
So, for example, it might be that we tell everyone about our goal, that we write it on the blackboard in the kitchen and stick it on a post-it on our desk at work. That way we completely own it and other people can ask us about it and hold us accountable too. Does that sound scary? Yes, it is. You are putting yourself out there for people to check on. You can do it, don’t shy away from it. Use it to help you, to keep you on track.
What else can you use? Perhaps you can set up a spreadsheet, a calendar that you cross off days on that you achieved your goal. Can you promise yourself a reward at each victory goal, like a special meal out or a day at the seaside, or a nice book. Give yourself permission to enjoy the achievements of victory goals but don’t reward yourself too much as research shows that that reduces our achievements overall and might even lead to failure. Keep your mind on your goal at all times.
Perhaps you might give your family permission to ask you how you’re getting on. Or you might use a financial spur. When I was trying to lose weight once and just couldn’t shift my final 4lbs I promised my husband that if I didn’t hit my goal weight by a certain date he could have £500 to spend on computer games. I really don’t like computer games so I didn’t want that to happen. Guess what? I achieved my goal weight as every time I fancied something that meany he’d get his games, I managed to control myself.
Do what you need to do to keep yourself on track emotionally.
I want you to write down what you can do to help you stay on track.
Goals are for idiots, systems are for winners. – Scott Adams
Why on earth would we start a goal setting guide with this concept? Well, it’s because yes, the goals are important, but they actually aren’t the most important thing in terms of their own achievement. What is the most important thing in terms of achieving goals is to have a system that moves you along towards your goals in a way that maximises your chances of achieving them and keeps you motivated and focused. Just having an end goal doesn’t do this as well as a system. So that’s why we focus on the system rather than the goal itself.
But the goal itself is still important as a starting point. So, in order to maximise your chances of reaching your goals, we have developed a system of goals that will motivate you and keep you going in the right direction. It’s called the Stepping Stone System.
It works like this:
You identify an Ultimate Goal, a big goal that you are working towards. It might be running a marathon, doing a pull up (that’s mine), saving for a house deposit, or a Porsche, or a special holiday, achieving a promotion, or a professional qualification or learn Spanish. Whatever it is it’s pretty big and will take several months or years to achieve.
Have a think right now about an ultimate goal or two that you have and write them down in a notebook. Before you write them down I just want you to listen to me about where you’re going to write them - write them either on the far right of the page, or the bottom of the page, because what we’re going to do is work backwards from them. So say your goal is to achieve promotion. Write ‘Promotion’ on the far right or bottom of the page. Do it now with your own goals.
Now what we’re going to do is we’re going to identify some milestones on our way to achieving that ultimate goal. These are called Victory Goals, as they show you are on your way to ultimate victory and have achieved these smaller victories. So, if your goal is promotion, what might count as victory goals are things like: having certain duties delegated to you, ‘acting up’ while your boss is on holiday, being tasked with a significant project or report.
If your goal is to do a pull up, victory goals might be to be able to do a negative pull up, or to be able to do 5 pull ups with a black band, which is the thinnest band you can get, or to be able to do seated 10 pull ups.
Get the idea? Okay so now I want you to identify 2 or 3 victory goals for you which are milestones on your path to achieving your ultimate goal.
Once we have identified our victory goals then what’s really important is to put a date on them. When will we be able to do 10 seated pull ups, or be able to run that project at work. If you can’t put definitive dates on, say end of June, give yourself some slightly wider but still specific parameters. So it might be within the next 3 months for your first victory goal, then within the next 6 months for your next one and so on. Dates are really important as they create shorter term accountability, which is absolutely what we need to give us the urgency that will mean that we will follow our system.
The next stage is to figure out what we start with now, today, this week, in order to get us going on the path to our ultimate goals. What we do now is identify 3 Stepping Stone Goals for this week that will help us accomplish our victory goals, help us move in that general direction. So it might be, that one of your Stepping Stone Goals is to speak to your manager and let them know that you are interested in promotion, for example.
Your stepping stone goals must be absolutely achievable each week, so they must be under your own control. It’s no good putting a goal that relies on someone else’s involvement as then you might not be able to achieve it through no fault of your own. This would affect the efficacy of your system, it would weaken it, which is not what we need if we’re to achieve our ultimate goals. I recommend people to put stepping stone goals down that are pretty easy for you to achieve. Step by step you will still make your victory goals but you don’t want to be trying to avoid your Stepping Stone Goals as this will make you less likely to carry on in the long term.
The system works because each week you are focusing on achieving only 3 small goals, that just happen to eventually add up to a big goal. If you’re always moving forwards in this way, week by week, your goals become much more achievable than if they are just one big lump of an achievement you are aiming for.
A technique to further focus you on your Stepping Stone Goals rather than your victory or ultimate goals is to cross them out. So you are really really focussed on what you can do, week by week, to make progress rather than any distant glamorous destination that it’s harder to link emotionally with.
So, get a small notebook, or a way of recording your Stepping Stone Goals and make sure each week you have 3. Decide on your goals whenever works for you, Sunday, Monday, Friday, but make sure it’s the same day each week so you get into a habit. Tick them off as you achieve them so you can feel that sense of progress. You should always know what your Stepping Stone Goals are. I could ask you at any moment and you should be able to reel them off.
Okay, so off you go, decide on your Stepping Stone Goals and start achieving your goal right now.