Updated: Nov 20, 2022
This article will tell you how to set achievable goals and avoid goal-setting mistakes. You'll also get tips on how to avoid giving up so you can achieve success.
Do you ever feel that you are just drifting through your life? Maybe you want to achieve certain goals, but that hasn't happened yet. It's discouraging.
And, at this point, you're not even sure what you need to do next.
I think all of us feel this way at some point in life. The good news is that there are specific steps you can take to achieve your goals in life.
This article will help you learn effective goal-setting techniques that will help you do that.
If you look at your life and decide you are ready for change, the next step is to set a goal. Not just any goal, but the right goal for right now.
But, there's more to achieving goals than just wanting to achieve them. It's important to understand how to set goals that are achievable and motivating. You can also increase your chances of success by learning how to avoid the failure traps that cause people to give up on their goals.
Before we start looking at how to set effective goals, let’s look more closely at why it’s important to set goals and how to set the right ones for you.
Why It’s Important to Set Goals
There’s a saying that if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there. What does that have to do with setting goals? Well, we set goals because they give us direction.
You can wander through life and hope to achieve the things you want without a goal, but it’s a hit-or-miss thing. With well-defined and achievable goals (and I’ll talk about those later in this article), you have something we can work toward.
Because you know what you want, you can figure out what steps you need to get there.
Plus, it's a whole lot easier to stay motivated to reach a specific destination than it is to stay motivated as you drift through life hoping to reach a desirable destination.
Next, let’s look at what you can do to set goals that are achievable.
How to Set Goals that are Right for You
You could just figure out what you wanted to achieve, like having a successful business, and say that’s your goal.
The problem with the “have a successful business” goal is that it’s too general. It doesn’t answer some important questions like:
What kind of business do you want to start?
When do you want to start that business?
Why is starting this business important to you?
How will you know if the business is successful?
Answering these questions will give you a much clearer picture of the goal you want to achieve. Once you have a clear picture of the goal you want to achieve, you'll be in a better position to figure out what you need to do to achieve it.
Setting SMART Goals Will Help You Succeed
When you’re defining what you want to achieve, state those achievements in terms of SMART goals. SMART stands for:
Let’s take a look at each of these characteristics.
Specific – A goal that is stated in clearly defined terms. For example, if you say your goal is to run, that’s not specific. If you say your goal is to run a 5k race, that’s specific.
Measurable – A measurable goal is one you can evaluate to determine whether you achieved it or not. If your goal is to go for a short run, that’s not measurable.
If your goal is to go for a 20-minute run, that’s measurable. All you need to do is check the time at the start of your run and when you finish. You either ran for 20 minutes or you didn’t.
Achievable – An achievable goal is one that you can actually accomplish, given the right resources, preparation, motivation, or whatever else the situation requires.
If you set a goal to run a 5k in 10 minutes, that’s not achievable, no matter what you did to prepare for it.
If, on the other hand, your goal is to run it in 45 minutes, that’s achievable for the average person if you have the training, resources, physical capacity, and so forth to do it.
Relevant – Let’s be honest here. If your goals aren’t relevant to you, there’s no reason to care about them. If you don’t care about them, why work toward them?
To be motivated to put in the work, you need to care about what you’re working toward. Caring inspires you to start and to keep going when you run into challenges.
Time-bound – Never set a goal without a deadline. If you do, you’re setting yourself up for near-certain failure. Deadlines work magic.
Managers know this. That’s why they set deadlines. Deadlines help you figure out what you need to do and when you need to do it. They also hold you accountable. And they push you to act.
Once you decide that you want to work toward a goal, take the next step and define it in terms of these SMART characteristics.
Short of putting in the effort, setting SMART goals is the single best thing you can do to increase your chances of achieving what you set out to do.
Avoid These 7 Mistakes When Setting Goals
There are several common mistakes people make when setting goals. Some of these mistakes will doom your chances of success. Others just make success a lot harder to achieve.
Here are seven mistakes to avoid making when you're creating goals:
1. Setting goals because someone else thinks they’re important.
We’re motivated by dreams that we care about – not someone else’s dream.
If you set goals because someone else believes in them, but you don’t, chances are you won’t follow through. This doesn’t make you a bad person or a failure. You’re just not working toward the right things.
Set goals that mean something to you, and you’re more likely to put in the work to achieve them.
2. Making goals too easy.
Goals should challenge you and require effort on your part. If your goals are too easy, they probably won’t inspire you.
If you do complete easy goals, you won’t get much satisfaction from the achievement because you didn’t have to do much to achieve them.
3. Making goals too hard.
If your goals are too far out of reach, you’ll give up before you get started. There’s no point in setting a goal that you can’t achieve, no matter how hard you work or how many resources you put toward that effort.
What's considered difficult is different for everyone because our circumstances are different.
You’ll have to look at your own situation and decide what you can work toward that is both achievable and challenging. Once you decide, go all in!
4. Giving up when problems start.
If your goal is challenging, you can expect to run into obstacles on the way. You may run up against things you didn’t anticipate or maybe your personal circumstances changed.
Whatever it is, expect a rough patch.
When you hit that patch, don’t quit. Stop where you are, reassess the situation, and change what you need to change to get back on track.
5. Underestimating the time it will take to achieve the goal.
We have a tendency to underestimate how long things will take to complete. This is called the planning fallacy, and it can cause a lot of frustration as you breeze past a deadline without achieving what you planned.
To avoid it, use reasonable estimates based on your own experiences and resources.
Also, try to find out what other people with similar goals did. A Google search can provide a lot of information to help you create a realistic plan.
6. Keeping your goals in your head instead of writing them down.
When you write things down, it creates a commitment of sorts. It makes visible what you've carried around in your head. Seeing it on paper or on-screen makes it real and gives it importance.
You can write your goals on paper, in your journal, on an electronic sticky note, or on your phone. Or on your bathroom mirror.
It doesn’t matter where you write them down. The main point is to write them down somewhere.
7. Defining goals as something you DON'T want instead of something you DO want.
Negative goals help you avoid something, but wouldn’t you rather achieve something instead? I would rather go through life achieving than avoiding.
When you have a big challenge in front of you, it’s more uplifting to work toward something you want to achieve instead of something you want to avoid.
Even if your motivation is to avoid a negative outcome, I suggest reconsidering the goal and framing it in terms of what you want to accomplish instead of what you want to avoid. A positive is better than a negative one.
Now that you have some ideas on what not to do, let’s look at a few things you can do to help you stick with your goals and be successful in achieving them.
5 Tips to Help You Stick with Your Goals
At some point you might find yourself feeling discouraged and ready to give up. Before you do that, try these five strategies first:
1. Break goals into small, manageable chunks.
To achieve big things, think small. Every big task is nothing more than a series of small tasks strung together. Evaluate those big tasks and break them into snackable bites, small tasks that you can complete quickly.
Breaking down large tasks also helps you avoid feeling overwhelmed by the scope of the challenge.
2. Reward the little wins along the way.
It's hard to stay inspired when success is a long way off. That's human nature. We're more likely to act when we'll see a result today or in the next few days, than when we know the reward is weeks or months away. That's why achieving little wins along the way is important.
Instead of waiting to celebrate a goal that's weeks or months away, reward yourself for the little wins now.
3. Cultivate patience.
We are so used to getting what we want when we want it, that we don’t have many opportunities to cultivate patience. It’s not easy to be patient. As often as you need to, remind yourself that it’s not worth giving up a dream just because you can’t have it today.
Grit your teeth, be patient, and let the process play out.
4. Stick with it unless there’s a compelling reason to give up.
The moment you give up, you've lost the opportunity to achieve what you set out to do. Occasionally, however, there are good reasons to quit.
Perhaps you’ve changed and the goal no longer matters. Or maybe the circumstances have changed, and the goal is no longer realistic. In those cases, giving up makes sense.
But if you’re giving up because you're discouraged, rethink that decision. Instead of giving up, figure out how to deal with the discouragement.
(If you find quotes as inspiring as I do, these quotes about being discouraged will help lift your spirits.)
5. Stop criticizing yourself for not making the progress you had hoped to make.
As a friend of mine once said, “Give yourself some grace” when things go wrong. And there's a good chance things will go wrong along the way, especially if your goal is significant.
Criticism is not a path forward. Nothing you say to yourself will change what happened before this moment. The only thing criticism does is make you feel worse. Instead of criticizing yourself, figure out what you can do to move forward.
In the end, all that matters is that you get back on track. So, put your energy into figuring that out. Then, act on that knowledge and soon you'll find that you're making progress again.
Before I wrap up this article, I want to leave you with a few final points to help you set goals for yourself that will actually help you achieve what you want to achieve in your life.
Key Points to Take Away
Here are six key points to keep in mind as you think about your upcoming goals:
Set goals that are meaningful to you.
Define each goal using SMART characteristics.
Write goals down on paper or store them electronically.
Break big tasks into small ones.
Reward yourself for successes along the way.
Turn mistakes into learning events.
So what goals are you going to set?
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