Originally published January 2020, updated July 2023.
Everybody has things they want.
We want to run faster🏃♂, eat healthier🍎 maybe look better🤳🏼
Some of us even have goals:
My goal is to improve my running.
My goal this year is to get fit.
Having goals feels good. We think we’ve highlighted what we want, and now we have a goal it won’t be long before we get it. Fast forward three months and that goal has retreated to the back of our mind and is now more like what it started as; a vague thing we want, that we think about a lot but are no closer to having. We aren’t faster or healthier, and we probably look the same as we did in January. Cue setting more goals.
The secret to fixing this useless cycle is to learn proper goal setting skills. Yes, there is a skill to setting effective goals that translate into actions and results. The good news is that the science of effective goal setting is well researched and not so hard to learn and start using today. It’s not easy, but it is simple, and it is effective.
Here are 5 vital tips for setting goals that get results:
Tip 1: Be Specific & Make Your Goal Measurable 📈
Bad example👎: I want to lose weight
Good example👍: I will lose 5kg of fat by February 25, and maintain that weight until December 31.
Vague goals get vague results. You could ‘lose weight’ by not eating for a week, then pile it all back on. By being clever with the time of day you weigh yourself, or by chopping your arm off.
Make sure your goal is as specific as possible and know how you are going to measure it. How will you ‘prove’ that goal was achieved? It helps to put your goal into number form whenever possible, as this will act as an objective measurement meaning you can’t cheat yourself (which we all try to do). Commit to specific dates, and never use the word ‘try’ in a goal.
Tip 2: Write Your Goals Down, and Tell Other People 🖋
Research shows that writing down your goals and telling other people about them makes you far more likely to achieve them.
Why? Simply put, you are now going to be held accountable for them. It’s easy to have a vague idea of running a sub 20 minute 5k in your head all year. It’s a lot harder to see your friends every weekend and have to say ‘ahh I didn’t run this week…’ when they ask how the 5k training is going. Write your goals down and keep them visible, on your fridge, by your desk or as your phone background so they can’t slip away from you. Tell as many people as you can so whenever you see them, you’ll be reminded of your goals.
Then, once you’ve completed a goal, you can go back to that piece of paper and take great pride in putting a huge cross through it.
Tip 3: Break Your Goal Down into Smaller, Specific Actions 📜
Let’s say your goal is to win your first white collar boxing match. That requires a lot of different skills and training. Break it down:
1. You will need excellent footwork: Complete footwork drills for 1 hour each week for the next 6 weeks
2. You will need to get used to hard sparring: Spar with a challenging opponent for at least six rounds at least four times before the fight
3. You will need to be fit: Complete 30 minutes of hill sprints twice per week for the next 6 weeks
And so on. If your goal is BIG, you will need to break it down into specific and measurable actions that you can measure and hold yourself accountable to. Put all these small pieces together and you will find you’ve nearly completed the BIG goal before you realise it. Don’t forget to tell someone you’ll be doing these actions 😉
Bonus tip: a year is a long time to stay focused on a single goal. Try setting goals that take 1-3 months at a time to complete. If it will definitely take a year, break that large goal into 1-3 month sub goals.
Tip 4: Don’t Worry if the Goal Changes 🤷♂
Review and update your goals on a regular basis to ensure they are still relevant to you.
Doing so also keeps you on track and taking the appropriate steps and actions. If some of your strategies aren't working, fine tune them, or devise new ones. This is called course-correcting, remember this is part of the process, not a failure. You might realise that sub 20 minute 5k is unrealistic by the goal completion date you set (and you definitely did set a date). If it’s really unrealistic, don’t be afraid to review the goal and make it attainable, or you risk becoming demotivated and giving up all together. Change it to a sub 21 minute 5k by the original target date. Then once you hit that, set another goal of hitting sub 20 in four weeks’ time.
You have to be careful here that you don’t take an easy route out. A good goal should challenge you.
Tip 5: Do Something 👊
Possibly the most important tip on this list. Get up and go do it. If you’ve set your goals properly, you should have a simple actionable task to get you started, but even these can look intimidating or make you feel bleurgh🥴. The risk is that with all the best intentions, you never get started and your beautifully planned out goals stay on a piece of paper.
They key is to start. Work your way into a new habit. Run for 5 minutes at any pace, swap your sugary drink for a healthier option once, walk into the gym and do three reps on the leg machine, just turn up to your new yoga class. Writing your first blog post? Commit to writing the first sentence, and see where it takes you.
“You don’t have to climb the whole staircase at once, you just need to take the first step.”
Follow these simple tips, and this might just be the first year you start getting the things you want. You turned that want into a goal, that goal into actions, and those actions became results.
Set proper goals this year and you won't fail, you'll succeed.