Setting Goals You’ll Actually Meet

Are you a goal setter? This time of year, there’s lots of talk about how to craft impossible-to-miss goals. But having goals and achieving goals are not the same thing. Of the people who set goals over the course of the next few weeks, only a fraction of them will still be working toward them by the end of the month. One study even suggests that 92% of New Year’s goals will fail by January 15th. Let that sink in for a moment.

What’s different about those who struggle out of the goal-getting starting gate and those who make it to the finish line? A few things.

They get specific

“I’m going to work out more and lose weight,” is a perennial favorite for many folks. While it’s an admirable goal, it’s also incredibly vague. Instead, focus on specific measurable targets. “I’m going to increase my daily physical activity by 20 minutes, four times a week,” is something you can track and be accountable for.

They make bite-sized goals

“I’m going to write a book” is not only one of those nebulous plans that you’re likely to abandon before Super Bowl weekend, it’s also potentially overwhelming and unwieldy. Sitting down with an empty document open on your screen and the mission to write an entire book is a surefire way to induce writer’s block. Be specific with your goal. “I’m going to write for 30 minutes every morning” is bite-sized and manageable. Your big picture goal may be to write a book, and setting smaller, bite-sized goals will get you closer to reaching it.

They make a plan

Let’s talk about your future book some more. You’ve set a smaller goal of writing daily with a specific time limit. Now set another goal: “I’m going to complete a chapter a week.” This keeps you focused and on task. Sure, some mornings you may sit in front of your laptop and write a blog article. Some mornings you might write something completely useless and nonsensical. That’s okay. You’re still using the right muscles and developing the habit of how you’re going to use that time. Adding the second layer to your goal is going to help you make sure your daily habit remains somewhat on track more often than it doesn’t.

They document their plans

Study after study shows that writing down your goal makes it much more likely that you’ll achieve it. Put pen to paper and keep it somewhere you’re going to see it. It’s harder to ignore plans that are staring you in the face.

They recruit cheerleaders

Sharing your goal with someone else makes your goal real and you accountable to it. It’s easy to push our targets out or forget a goal altogether when we’re aiming for our achievements in solitude. We can fudge a deadline that only we know about. Bringing in an ally can keep you on task. Find yourself a cheerleader: someone who will nudge you into action if you drop the ball or can bolster your confidence in a moment of self-doubt.

They make it personal

If you don’t care about a goal, you aren’t going to stick with it. Don’t set the goals you think you should be striving for. Set the goals you want to be striving for. Be honest with yourself on this one. Goals that don’t excite you are less likely to be achieved. You need to be invested in the outcome.

They make time to celebrate milestones

As you’re making your goals and your plans to reach them, set specific milestone markers. If your long-range goal is to complete your MBA, map out your course schedule and a route to graduation. When you’ve completed a third of the credits required for your degree, celebrate! Don’t just wait for the big finish to let loose and be proud. Recognize your progress along the way, too.

They course correct

What sounded good in December, may not still work for you in March. It’s okay to reevaluate your goals and plans as you progress through the year and make adjustments. Maybe you decide you really don’t enjoy the process of writing a book, but you do love filling up your blog each week. Maybe your original goal of dropping 50 pounds before the end of summer is proving unrealistic for your lifestyle, but 30 is attainable. It’s okay to adjust your goals. It’s part of the learning and growing process.