It's that time of the year when we start earnestly setting goals and hope they don't peter out along the way. But unfortunately, according to a 2018 study by Statistic Brain, 92% of New Year's goals fail. More soberingly, 25% of goal setters give up during the first week. But is there an effective process to set goals and achieve them?
Here are some helpful tips:
Choose worthwhile goals You've likely heard of SMART goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Begin by understanding that goals are meant to spur us forward to positive transformations and if it doesn't "feel" that way, choose again. They should be selected based on intrinsic motivation and align with your passions. For example, learning a new trade or language because it resonates with you makes more sense than, "I want a bigger car than my neighbour." Importantly, set goals that you can control – "I am going to be an acclaimed author" is more of an external estimation than "I will write a book by year-end."
Prioritise and stretch
Don't fall for the idea that goals have to be projects spanning months and years; every single goal requires time and commitment and, therefore, will make its own demands on you. Choose goals you can achieve, not ones that you can't accomplish; such "impossible" dreams will only frustrate you, leading you to abandon them.
On the other hand, the point of the goal is to stretch you, and if it doesn't engage and push you in new ways, you'll most likely get bored.
Make goals specific and break them down
This is the "S" component of the SMART concept. Vague and unspecific goals are doomed to fail: "I am going to lose weight this year" rings hollow next to "I am going to lose 5 kgs by the end of March."
Such a specific goal will help you build an action plan to make it achievable. Writing down the goal first will enable you to make it tangible and real for yourself, forcing you to answer questions to get there. In the weight loss example, you might arrive at answers such as "five gym sessions per week, healthy diet plans, cutting alcohol intake, wight hours of sleep." Already, the goal appears to be more achievable this way.
Commit to goals and make them public
We often stumble here, but stick to your plan and stay motivated. Telling your friends and family about your goals can also be a powerful motivational factor; they can provide support when it seems overwhelming. The other side of the coin is to celebrate the small victories: pat yourself on the back, take small breaks, and document your achievements.
Set deadlines to accomplishment
Goals have to be time-bound. If working on it is something you can do only when you "feel up to it," you'll never get there. Importantly, timelines will strongly shape your plan of action, and in many cases, help you achieve more realistic chunks of the goal in more realistic time spans.
Evaluate your goals
Goal setting is a process, and evaluation is an essential component here. Don't get lazy and go with "good" and "bad" assessments. Instead, think about what you set out to do, how you did it, and what you got from it.
Whether you reached your goals or not, you would've figured out important lessons to carry forward – what works for you and what doesn't, whether reaching the goal lived up to your expectations and why you failed. Think of every goal-setting process as an iteration to improve what you are doing.