Unsuccessful people have goals, successful people stick to them.
Last post I talked about what goals are, and why they are important in your life. This time I want to teach you about how to make effective goals, what the process looks like and what you should have at the end before finally taking your first step to a better life.
There are a few key criteria to ensure your goals will be as easy as possible to achieve, as well as some tips and tricks to make the less of a chore and more like a fun way of life. Luckily for all of use the criteria can be boiled down to an easy to remember acronym: SMARTER. Pair this with easy-to-do tricks, and you'll find that your life goals will be easier than ever to achieve!
What is SMARTER? Many of you have heard about the acronym SMART, and if you haven't that's not a problem, however, I like to add two more letters to that, the "ER". Let's break it down.
For a goal to work it must be specific. Ask yourself this, have you ever decided that the day had come for you to finally hit up the gym, get in shape, lose weight, get a sexy summer body, then you go to the gym and you don't have a clue where to start. So you go do some jogging, lift a few weights, change and go home, and after a few days of this you feel like you're getting nowhere? Your goal wasn't specific enough, you mistook your goal for your vision. A better way to achieve it is saying you will lose 50 lbs. Just with this one step you can already see the difference; more cardio, less weights.
Thinking back to my high school days I remember what my English teacher told me about formulating a specific answer to an essay question. The famous "5 W's"
What do I want?
Why is it important?
Who is involved?
Where is it located?
Which resources/activities do I need?
Try writing down your answers to these 5 questions on a piece of paper, whatever tool you use to take notes, and make sure that you see it at least once a day, even if that means putting it on a post-it on your fridge. You don't have to read them every day, just make them visible.
You decided to read more books. How many? Set a number. This will allow you to know when you are done, this will also let you know how much you have left to accomplish your goal.
Here's a little psychology for you. Let's take the example of reading books, where the amount of books left is sort of a countdown to completing your goal. Did you know that in the right context (such as this one) countdowns actually help us be more patient? This is why YouTube ads have a countdown to when you can finally enjoy the video you clicked on. Knowing how much time is left eases our waiting anxiety by letting us know exactly what to look forward to. In YouTube's example this ensures them that we will sit through 5 or 15 seconds to finish the ad instead of clicking another video hoping that it won't have ads. It increases retention, which is exactly what you want your goals to have. This public transport. It's why the subway has a countdown to when the train will arrive. It gives us a sense of security.
Translated to the context of our goals, this means that we will be less likely to give up on them because it shows us that we are on track and the time and effort we have to exert becomes gradually less and less as time goes by.
Last post I talked about what one of the key predictors of procrastination is, but if you didn't read it, here's a little recap. Procrastination happens for a variety of reasons, however, one of the main ones is a feeling of overwhelming, and impossibility. When we are faced with a task that seems too massive for us to easily undertake, one which requires a large amount of effort and planning, we are naturally prone to putting it off. I talked about how it is possible to break it down into smaller objectives to make your tasks less encumbering, however, setting your goal too high (for example "I'm going to learn calculus") even the task of breaking it down can seem too much. I admit I've been guilty of this myself, and still am from time to time.
A really good exercise in preventing this is trying to rephrase your goal in more actionable terms. Like this: instead of saying "I will go to bed earlier" and then having to move all your routines hours up, and find a way to fit an episode of your show before bed, et cetera, et cetera, rephrase it to "I will wake up at 8 am". Trust me on this, going to bed at 1 am is just not going to be feasible anymore, and then gradually your schedule is going to catch up to your new commitment. This has been perhaps my most valuable lesson in goal setting. Make it achievable.
Your goal must matter to you. Your goal is just that. Your goal. As much as I said these tips and tricks will make sticking to your goals easier than ever, it will by no means be a walk in the park. Realize that you are changing your life, relearning how to live your days. That takes a lot of effort. And if you don't feel like you need to do it I'll give you a tip right now, stop. You will fail. But if your goal is relevant to you, and it aligns with your vision of your future, you're already a step ahead.
Okay, the 5 W's I mentioned earlier weren't actually the 5 W's. I switched out "When" for "Which". That's because this question is so important it needs a place of its own. I'm going to tell you a story, when I first started out on my journey of motivation, productivity, and self-actualization, one of my first goals was to set up my calendar with all the activities I had to do as far as I knew them. But I hadn't yet learned of the SMART system, so, I never set myself a due date. I ended up going MONTHS without setting it up. This was an activity that really only took a couple of hours, nothing major, but I always found something else to do instead. Now that I do have it set up I write down deadlines like I'm in school for everything that I say I have to do. For example, if I have to send out 12 emails to my clients I will set it in my calendar for a reasonable date, like two days from now.
This point might seem very trivial, you might ask "okay, but after I set a deadline so what? No one's going to chase me down on my own goals." And you might be right. However, we are creatures of our word, we want to be as consistent as possible with what we say and do, even noticed how some people will continue arguing their points even well after they were shown to be wrong? It's in our nature. On top of that, this goes back to the principal of countdowns. In the context I talked about in the Measurable section, I said that they make us more patient, and might ease our anxiety, however, when deadlines get closer our adrenaline spikes, our anxiety and stress too, which is why when you're running late you literally start running around. We work much harder than when we have time to spare.
Studies show that when sports players get towards the end of the match they start acting more rapidly and trust their instincts more, those who chose to remain calm tend to overthink more and perform less favorably.
Obviously no one is perfect. We may think we did everything right but have, in fact, left out a couple of things here and there. This is where the evaluation comes in. Every week, or month, depending on your time-frame, take a look at what you've done, if you're on track, if you are perfect, if not, ask yourself what went wrong. Have not been sticking to it? Why not? What can you do to get back on track?
And finally, reward. This journey you're embarking on is not easy by any means. When you do something good, reward yourself. You've hit milestones that will bring you to be the best of what you can be. Celebrate. Certainly don't reward yourself with a cigarette after two weeks of having quit, but you could go to the cinema! Post a before and after picture of your gym progress for all your friends to see! Show yourself that what you're doing is good. It's way too easy to lose track of your little victories and feel like no progress is being made, don't be afraid to be proud of who you're becoming!
The journey to becoming your best self is long and hard. You know the value of what you're undertaking, and you know that falling off the wagon is a bad bad idea. However, halfway through you lose all motivation (which happens to the best of us). What do you do?
Luckily there are 4 easy, additional tricks to make sure you won't fall off, and more importantly, that allow you to get back on it if you do.
Why visualize? Researchers from Cleveland Clinic
Foundation reported that in a group of subjects, just visualizing themselves working out helped them maintain muscle strength. This isn't a secluded study, there is real research done indicating that visualizing an action will bring its effects to reality. The part of the brain which lights up when visualizing events does not actually distinguish the action from reality. The more real you make the visualization the greater the response the brain will have. The problem is understanding what you visualize. Thankfully, I can give you an answer.
Visualize yourself being motivated and ready to act.
Imagine yourself having an unstoppable desire to complete your task, really feel it.
See yourself finishing the task.
Visualize what you'll be like once you've completed your goal.
For each point above ask yourself these questions:
What am I doing? (eg. Jumping up and down with excitement, telling all your friends, smiling, laughing)
What am I feeling? (eg. happy, excited, pumped)
What do I look like? (eg. wearing gym clothes, slim, smart, professional)
Where am I? (eg. at home, the park, the beach, the library)
What does it smell like? (eg. fresh, like new books, sweet with a touch of salinity)
When is this? (eg. tomorrow, next month, Christmas)
Sometimes your own mind just isn't enough, and that's okay! In this occasion, we can leverage our friendships, our connections, or even strangers. At the start of your journey tell people about it. Maybe post it on social media, tell your friends, or family, some of you might even like the idea of posting your progress every day or every two days. There is a man, called the incredible shrinking man, who weighed an outstanding 700lbs, his friends and family didn't think it necessary to motivate him to lose weight so he never did. That is until he posted on an online forum bodybuilding.com telling people to ask him anything since he was probably the most overweight person on the site. Instead, he started an unexpected journey which led him to lose around 300lbs in just over a year! One of the main things keeping him going was constant updates on his situation so that everyone would know if he didn't do everything he was supposed to do.
Ah, dopamine! haven't we heard of how bad you are getting us all addicted to this and that... Well, guess what, we can use it to our advantage. We all heard about how addictive apps are that they keep you coming back all the fricking time. Awesome!! There are PLENTY of habit tracking apps, accountability apps, "21 days challenges" apps, make full use of them! I'll tell you now, I've never been on my phone so much, and have never accomplished so much at the same time!
And lastly, forgiveness. We aren't perfect. I'm not perfect. I lost all motivation too, backtracked on my goals, stopped doing what I said I would, numerous times. I predict you're going to do this too, a lot, especially starting out. But you know what? It's okay. It's totally fine, it's learning progress. You wouldn't expect to start learning Spanish and never forgetting a word, would you?
Forgive yourself, but don't forget yourself. Jump back on track, keep going, and your life will change!
Motivation is a struggle, but the victory IS the fight. You lose when the fight stops.
Thank you for tuning in to one of my first blog posts, there will be many more to come, but everyone has to start somewhere. Let me know what you thought of this article, what did you learn from this? What can I change about it? What did you really like, and what can I improve in the future?
Hi, I'm Matthew, my mission is to spread knowledge about motivation, productivity, and enabling people to achieve the best that they can be! I have a vast background in psychology and a passion for self-improvement. I literally can't remember a time when I didn't have a psychology book in my hands. On top of that, I've traveled around the world from a very young age, and seen many different courses of life, forming friendships with highly successful people, as well as people who are willing to do anything to make ends meet. My own life took me down a roller coaster of highs and lows, and I'm forever grateful that I've been able to overcome everything it threw at me. Now I want to take the opportunity to give back, and help others learn tools and methods for becoming who they were born to be!