Reaching goals, part 2: Set yourself up for success

There are a couple of motivational tricks I’ve discovered that make goal setting fun and productive. Doing just one will increase your chances for accomplishing what you set out to do. Doing all of them? Well, no need to get crazy. Start with baby steps and see what happens.

Tip 1: Make it measurable

image by flickr user aussiegall/Creative Commons

If you’re vague about what you want to accomplish, not only is it hard to tell when you get there, but it’s hard to stay inspired. It’s like running a race but not being sure where the finish line is. Qualitative goals, like “I’m going to eat more healthy food” are hard to measure. But when you set quantitative goals, like “I’ll eat 5 servings of vegetables a day for the next three months” at the end of the day you know where you stand. Did you eat five servings of veggies today – yes or no? Pat your self on the back and keep it up, or do better tomorrow. No guessing required.

Tip 2: Start with mini-goals

One sure-fire way to lose motivation is to set unrealistic goals. There’s nothing wrong with thinking big, but it’s easy to throw in the towel completely when success is really far away. If you ultimately want to lose 60 pounds, break it down into manageable chunks. Start small, say with a goal of 10 pounds, and celebrate your success when you get there (see #5). You’ll have an achievement under your belt and will be primed for reaching for that next goal.

Tip 3: Track your progress

Tracking your progress is an excellent way to stay focused on your goals. Smartphones and various online applications make it simple to keep logs of just about anything you can think of, and good old pen and paper do the trick pretty well too. So there’s no reason not to start tracking.

Right now one of my mini-goals is to stretch for at least 15 minutes five days a week. After each session, I log it in the food and exercise application I use. I already feel good about having completed the stretching (which I don’t particularly enjoy), and logging it makes it feel official.

For weight training, logging sessions is both motivating and educational. I strive to lift more weight with each and every training session. Tracking the details of my workouts means I always know what I have to lift to beat the day before. On those rare days when I’m just not feeling it, seeing that I’m in danger of not beating the day before is all I need to get me to push a little harder. Plus, when I reach a specific goal, I have a detailed record of how long it took and how I progressed, which helps me set the next goal.

Tip 4: Tell the world

photo by flickr user glennwilliamspdx/Creative Commons


You are the only one responsible for whether or not you achieve the things you set out to achieve. So this isn’t about expecting other people to hold your hand or nudge you when you’re slacking. This tip is simply about making your goals real. When your goal exists only in your mind, it can take on the qualities of a dream or fantasy. It’s still a goal, but it’s kind of like a secret too. When you tell other people, you signal to yourself that you are committed to making it happen. And that’s powerful.

Other people knowing does build in a little external accountability too, which isn’t a bad thing. You just shouldn’t count on it.

Tip 5: Celebrate the layers of your success

The great thing about goals is that reaching them has multiple levels of reward. Going back to that five veggie a day example, at the end of three months the person with this goal has improved their diet. And they’ve likely created a new eating habit that they should be able to maintain. And they’ve proved to themselves that they CAN make positive change.

When I reach a certain goal, I take a moment to celebrate the goal itself (quietly, privately, internally – but that’s just me. If balloons or a new pair of shoes does it for you, have at it). Then I take a moment to think about the other ancillary benefits reaching the goal may have delivered. It’s pretty cool to realize net gains that you didn’t anticipate or expect.

Tip 6: Adjust on the fly

Sometimes you can do everything right and still fall a little short. So you’re measuring and tracking and realize that you’re just not going to make that goal on the timeline you expected. What do you do? Give up? Plop down on the couch with your buddies Ben and Jerry, a 22 of Oakshire Overcast Espresso Stout, and the first season of The Sopranos?

A better choice would be to reset your goal. If you wanted to bench 210 by July 4, and it’s June 30 and you’re stuck at 190, adjust. Set a rapid fire goal – add five pounds by your original end date. Then look back at your training log and come up a with a new, attainable (but not too easy) goal to reach for your next cycle. There’s no such thing as failure. Just delayed success.

7: Don’t stop reaching

I don’t care who you are, how fit you are or how strong you are, you can always improve. So work for it, and make it happen.

What are some of your current goals?

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