Each year I go through the cycle of setting goals. I achieve some, I fall short of some and mysteriously ignore some of my goals. However, having the habit of setting goals frequently, over time I got better and better at achieving more of them.
It’s a sinking feeling when you go over your goals and realize that you haven’t achieved a lot of them. On the other hand, nothing makes you feel more confident and motivated than achieving your goals.
Does any of this resonate with you?
Each year, when doing my end-year review, I try to figure out why I failed to achieve some goals and why I easily achieved others. I’ve tried to summarize 3 important keys to set goals in a way that I will actually achieve them and that will motivate me to achieve more.
The goals that I achieved were those that genuinely inspired me, which are not just achievable but also slightly ambitious, and limited to a short time frame of under a month. Achieving these goals motivated me to set new and more ambitious goals, which led me to achieve even more.
The ability to set effective goals is life-changing. If we repeatedly set ‘bad’ goals, meaning that they are poorly defined, we tend to not achieve them.
This makes us lose trust in ourselves. It makes us doubt that setting goals is of any use.
If you apply these 3 keys when setting goals, you’ll notice that you’ll achieve more and more of your goals over time.
What about SMART Goals?
When talking about self-improvement, people tend to get caught up in debate about what the best method is.
Is there such a thing as the best method?
Since self-improvement is not a science, I believe that there are many different ways that can be suitable to a different extent for different people.
There are tons of methods that all have their advantages and shortcomings. Rather than to pick one method, it is important to experiment for yourself and use a combination of whatever works for you.
If it works, then it works.
And that is also my opinion on SMART goals. Of course the concept is useful. Effective goals are indeed specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-based.
What I am trying to add here is how to tweak goals in a way that is motivating. Try it out and see for yourself if it works for you or not.
3 Key Qualities to Set Motivating Goals
1. Inspiring goals
A goal that you’ll likely achieve is one that inspires you. That gets you excited and motivated when you think about achieving it.
But then there is also such a thing as a demotivating goal.
Motivating vs. Demotivating Goals
I’ve recently thought about the relationship between motivation and goals. On one hand, motivation helps you in achieving goals (besides pure discipline which is underrated). On the other hand, you can also set your goals in such a way that motivates you.
Some people love to run. The thought and the image of jogging in the woods instantly inspire them and makes them want to put on their running shoes and go for a run.
That is not me.
I like to go for a run once in a while, but I know that it is not something that inspires me.
So instead of running, one of my goals is to walk briskly for 30 minutes on at least 5 days of the week and take the stairs instead of the escalator whenever I’m not carrying anything heavy.
This inspires me because I love getting fresh air, enjoy my surroundings while listening to a long podcast or youtube video, knowing that at the same time I get some exercise. In addition to that, I also save on one-way bus fare.
There are of course goals that we want to achieve, which are defined externally, e.g. filing our taxes. The form we need to fill out is given, the deadline is fixed and so are the documents that we need to submit.
Some things we just need to get over with.
But there are a lot of other goals that we are free to define. If we want to eat healthier, there is no single way to eat healthier. There are plenty of possible combinations of food items that you can choose from to achieve this.
If you hate brussels sprouts, then don’t make it a goal to eat them twice a week!
There are plenty of other alternative foods that you can add to your meal plan that will make you healthier. Let’s say you love kale salad with walnuts and cranberries. Scrap brussels sprouts and make it your goal to make a huge container of kale salad that lasts for a week. If the thought of having delicious and healthy salad ready in your fridge to munch on at any time gets you excited, then that is an inspiring goal.
If you choose to run 3 times a week and eat brussels sprouts 2 times a week as your goal, but you hate these things, then it will likely not work.
You will likely not achieve these goals, and blame yourself for not meeting your goals. In the end, these goals will quickly demotivate you.
So before setting your goal, really try to imagine yourself working on it and achieving it. If it is not inspiring to you and there is an alternative goal that serves a similar purpose, then pick that one instead.
Remember that there are different ways, different goals and goal combinations you can set to achieve an overarching goal. So make sure you pick the right one.
2. Realistic but slightly ambitious goals
Here I want to touch on the ‘A’ for Achievable and ‘R’ for Realistic in SMART Goals. Goals should be achievable, meaning that you have the capabilities and resources to achieve them, and also realistic, meaning that it can be realistically achieved within the time frame and with the available resources.
But this defines only the bare minimum. It doesn’t address whether or not it will sufficiently motivate or excite you.
When I started to work on my youtube channel more intensively, I asked myself what goal I wanted to set in terms of the number of videos I wanted to upload. I ended up setting myself a goal of uploading 3 videos per week during a certain time frame.
I could’ve chosen 1 video per month as my goal.
After all, this would meet the definition of achievable and realistic. But this goal was not motivating enough for me. There was a week when I cranked out 2-3 videos, and I knew that this was doable, at least for a limited period of time. Therefore, imagining to make just 1 video per month, meaning 12 videos per year, wouldn’t be motivating enough for me.
It just wasn’t ambitious enough.
When I set myself a temporary goal of 2-3 videos per week for a month, I got really excited. I knew that I would be able to do this because I had done this before. Only this time, I would do it for a whole month.
Once I started to pursue this, I got so excited and perhaps a bit cocky. Things got a bit overboard and in the first week, I stretched my goal to 6-7 videos per week for a period of one month. I actually achieved this goal, but it totally burnt me out.
This is the definition of a goal that is too ambitious.
So the key here is to find the sweet spot. A goal that is realistic but ambitious enough to motivate you.
3. Defined for a short time frame (1 week-1 month)
A frequent mistake that people make when setting goals, is to set a timeframe that is way too long. For example:
“Lose 10 pounds this year”
“Quit smoking within 12 months”
“Read 20 books this year”
“Earning $20,000/year from blogging within the next year”
One of the questions to ask yourself before setting goals like the ones above is: Have you done this before, or do you have any experience in working on these goals?
If you are used to reading a lot of books, and in the past have easily read 2-4 books every month, then setting yourself a goal of reading 20 books this year is a safe bet. If in the last year you’ve managed to read 18 books in a year, then reading 20 books this year is only a slight stretch. There is no mystery in achieving this goal.
But if reading was never your habit, then jumping to the goal of ‘reading 20 books in a year’ at once can be very difficult.
Likewise, if in the last year you’ve already managed to earn $16,000 from blogging, then setting a goal of ‘earning $20,000/year’ is a goal that you can reasonably work towards’.
But if you’ve just started your blogs a few weeks ago, or if you’ve even just started thinking about blogging, then trying to achieve this goal will be like looking at a black box. In getting to this specific income level from blogging, there are simply too many sub-steps involved. And because you don’t have experience blogging yet, you don’t even know if $20,000/year in your first is a realistic goal to set.
By defining your goal as $20,000 (a considerably large number compared to ‘0’ where you are at right now) and your time frame is 1 year, it is very likely that you’ll fail to accomplish this goal. After 1 year passes and you review your success at this goal, you either earned the $20,000 or not.
You practically allow yourself one chance at playing one super long game that you know nothing about.
Setting these goals over a long time frame means that you are likely to review your progress after the year is over. You are not giving yourself enough chances to review and tweak your goals.
If you want to increase your chances at success, here is what you need to do:
Define goals for shorter time frames.
Define goals for the near foreseeable future. How about this:
“Lose 2 pounds within the next month and keep it stable for 3 months after”.
“Smoke 1 cigarette less next month”
“Read 2 chapters of two books every week”
“Write one blog post every two weeks for the next month”
Here we’ve shortened the time horizon to a duration of one week to a month and then defined what goal would be achievable within that time frame.
What does this do for us?
It is less intimidating because we can concretely imagine achieving that goal.
It is difficult to imagine finding the time to read 20 books in a year. But it is quite easy to fit in reading 2 chapters of two books every week.
It gives us the opportunity to celebrate small wins frequently.
If you set your goal as “Lose 20 pounds in a year”, you will feel that you haven’t achieved your goal until the scale shows 20 pounds less at the end of the year. You might lose motivation and steam on the way and give up. By defining your goal as “Lose 2 pounds in one month and keep it stable for 3 months after”, you can celebrate a small success relatively fast.
Defining goals for a shorter time period of 1 week to 1 month gives us a chance to pause and redefine the goal
Try to pursue your goal for that time frame and give yourself time to review your experience.
Was it too difficult for you? Then adjust your goal for the next 1 week or 1 month. Try to improve or change your method to meet or exceed your goal. Then in the next time period, you can adjust your goal again.
Was it too easy for you? Perhaps you figured that writing one blog every two weeks is not enough for you, in which case you can adjust your goal to one blog every week. Or three blogs in one month.
By applying these 3 key things: Setting inspiring, realistic but slightly ambitious goals, and defining goals for a shorter timeframe, you will very likely to achieve them.
And once you’ve achieved several goals, you are likely to feel more confident about the process.
You’ll find that you’ll trust yourself to set more difficult and ambitious goals. Start by setting small goals and gradually increase the level of difficulty over time.
Do you feel motivated to list your goals now?