How to set goals (and actually stick to them)?

I have been actively designing my life for the past seven years now. And I mean life, not just work or career! It’s funny (no, not funny at all) how many absolutely intelligent women focus all their effort planning their careers and leave the other, equally important, areas of their life to a total chance.

I guess that is where the whole idea for DrivenWoman came from. We wanted to sound a wake up call for women to stop letting their life just happen, or be defined by others and not do what they really want. The truth is you can define your own life, even if you might not always get what you want. Even when you can’t define the outcome you can take control of the process and increase the chances by working hard towards it!

We wanted to list what we think are some key principles on goal setting and how to actually stick to what you said you’d do.

1) Goals, targets and action points

It is important to distinguish between goals, targets and action points. First think about your vision, the new you. Where do you want to be in five years time? What do you want to do or how do you want to feel? It doesn’t matter if you want to be a business owner or 10 kg thinner, the principles are the same… and the road may be equally rocky. Write down your ultimate goal, your vision.

Then bring parts of it closer to define a target you can reach within the next couple of months. Say, if you have an idea for your own business you should write a business plan. If you want to shave 10 kg off your weight, perhaps you want to cut sugar out of your diet.

Now define five action points based on your short term target. Action points should be something you can action pretty much immediately, such as ‘Find five examples of business plans for my sector on the internet’ or ‘Clean out my food cupboard from all things that include sugar’. You have now effectively transformed a goal that feels unreachable into an easily digestible action point. You should have absolutely no excuses not to act on your plan!

2) Walk before you run

You haven’t done much for actively improving for your life lately and then you finally decide to set aside time to focus on making the all important changes you know you should have made a long ago. What happens? The natural reaction is to over do it! You think this is your only chance of putting your life back on track so you cram everything in.

If you have not been to the gym in the past two months, then don’t suddenly decide to go four times next week. Start with just once a week. Or even once month. It is important to establish small habits towards the target and make progress immediately. Your end vision might be that you will go to the gym four times a week but you should establish once a week habit first before adding more sessions.

Achieving a realistic goal will give you stamina and boost your energy which will keep you going. If you fail miserably to meet your unrealistic goal it will backfire and you may give up hope alltogether!

3) Progress over perfection

If you can’t go to the gym for one hour, then go for a 30 minute run. If you can’t go for a run, then just walk to the station. If you don’t have time to walk, then at least walk up the escalators at the tube station! Most people think that if they don’t reach the full target, then what is a point of doing anything at all. You should erase such thinking as fast and as deeply as possible. Even the smallest step towards the right direction is better than no steps at all! We believe perfection is progress’s biggest enemy.

If you want to set up your own company don’t wait until you have enough time to do it, or when you have saved enough money or when your husband thinks it’s a good time. Do one thing that helps you move towards your goal every day! Look for benchmarks on the web, brainstorm brand names and try to find out who could help you. When the time finally comes (when you think the stars are aligned for you to take the plunge) you are not starting from the scratch but you are half way there.

4) Prioritise

If there was only one thing in your life that needed fixing right now.. what would that be? Just one. Be honest and pick one area to focus on. Once you have fixed that you can move on to the next.

I was not able to concentrate on setting up my next business – the one that has turned out to be DrivenWoman – until we had found a permanent home for the family. We kept renting and moving to a new place every 12 months. Only once we had settled into our current home (since 1,5 years ago), I had sorted out my kids school arrangements (they will start in September) and I had painted the walls the colour I wanted, was I able to dedicate enough time to think about the work aspect of my life.

It is healthy to accept that you don’t have the capacity to fix everything at once.

5) Deal with unfinished business first

We often have unfinished business in our lives. Whether it is a relationship that needs sorting out, unpaid bills or just 2 years of filing to do it holds you back from dealing with seemingly more important matters. And because filing sounds like something we can do on a rainy day you keep pushing it until tomorrow rather than dealing with it right away. It is good to get he unfinished business out of the way before setting goals for the really important stuff. Then there are no excuses for why we could not finish those important tasks!

6) Get comfortable with the uncomfortable

When you want to see progress it is so easy to set targets you know you can reach. When we try to change our lives we tend to fall into our own comfort zone to avoid the uncomfortable. We gain a feeling of control by solving problems with the skills we have rather than developing the skills we need. Someone trying to loose weight might always approach it through a fast diet rather than changing her lifestyle fundamentally. So what we are essentially doing is to do more of the same – just expecting different results. (That is called stupidity, by the way!)

It is a good idea to first define your default targets. The things you fall back into when you think you are not seeing progress in your life. Then look at the things you really want to achieve and re-write your goal and targets, including couple of tangible action points that take you outside of your comfort zone. Try to find some easy ‘wins’ to test the waters and to get comfortable with the uncomfortable.

7) Remind yourself of the ‘why’

There is a fundamental reason you want to do better. You should make it absolutely clear why you are putting yourself through all of this effort! If it wasn’t for a good reason you could just keep going on with your life as you have until now, right? When my alarm goes off at 5.30 am in the morning I know it is the only time in the day when I have to myself to do exercise and if I don’t, I won’t have the energy to do everything I want to do in my life. Simple as that. So kick in the butt and out of bed!

8) Do one thing properly

A rule of thumb on business stuff for me is to complete maximum two tasks per day. I don’t try to cram up my day with tasks I start and then will not finish leaving me with even longer list of unfinished business for later. I try to allocate sufficient amount of time for each task and then stick to it to complete it – and not let anyone interrupt me while I’m doing it. (Yes, sometimes you need to be anal about it and stick to your own agenda if you want to get stuff done..)

9) Create discipline and accountability

Setting goals and targets is the easy part. Changing habits and creating a discipline is the real challenge. Try to find people who want to achieve similar things and create a little support network around you. You are more likely to succeed with your new company if you are building it with someone who has a similar mission or at least can support you along the way. Or try to convince your girl friends to cut sugar at the same time as you do so together you can create those vital new habits that will help create a new better lifestyle.

It is a good idea to automate tasks, such as setting money aside every month (if you want to save) or to create weekly or monthly meetings with your support group.

Making yourself accountable to other people works wonders. If you publish your goal amongst a group of friends or people who you admire and respect it is likely you will make sure you will do what you say you are going to do!

10) Measure

Be specific with your action points and keep the lists short. How many pages are you going to write in one week or how many km are you going to run. However, it is important not to fall into the trap of too unrealistic action points if you set your ambitions too high. If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen, as they say. It is useful to set an ideal target and a minimum target to make sure you are at least moving towards the right direction even if you aren’t going as fast as you would like.

We hope the list is useful. Please feel free to comment and add points we have missed!

However, no set of goals and lists is going to make a difference unless they are put into action. There is no magic bullet, just hard work :).

~ Miisa

DrivenWoman is an empowerment program for ambitious women who want to achieve their dreams and goals fast.

Join our free community the Doers Tribe.

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

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