How to Set New Goals and Achieve Them

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While we’re not in the business of self-help, we know times are…uneasy right now. With parts of the country starting to reopen, we guess a lot of you are starting to think about what life will be like moving forward.

We want to take some time this week addressing goals and habits. This week is all about the process of starting over, starting fresh.

Today we’re focusing on goals.

You might have an old To-Do list lying around, or maybe you have a list of goals you set for this year, but we’re guessing they need some updating.

What is a Goal? (And What Isn’t)

person writing in journal while holding cell phone adding tasks

Goals can be many different things, but what they are not are hopes and dreams. I dream of owning a yacht. I hope to get a six pack. It’s good to have hopes and dreams, but they are not goals.

A goal is a specific, measurable thing. If we look at the dreams above and convert them to goals, they would look like this: I will save $200,000 in the next ten years and have enough money to buy a yacht. Or, I will lose two pounds a week over the next five weeks to get a six pack.

In order to have a goal, you need a defined way to get there. The smaller the steps, the better.

Set lofty goals, but start small

When setting goals, one of the best places to start is with small milestones.

If you have a dream of learning a new language, set your first goal as buying a language learning book, or downloading Duolingo. Your next goal should be to study for at least 10 minutes a day.

Learning a new language is a big dream for a lot of people, but starting with a small, manageable goal will get you closer.

The idea is to break down your big goal into tiny goals. Then you tackle them one by one until you’ve finally reached your dream.

Two years ago, I decided I wanted to learn German. I’m 43, so I knew I was in for a challenge. Here’s what my goals looked like:

Goal: Become fluent in German

  • Download Duolingo
  • Bookmark Duolingo on my computer
  • Sign in and get it ready to start German
  • Do two Duolingo lessons every morning
  • Finish full tree of lessons up to level 1
  • Buy two German Grammar books on Amazon
  • Study one lesson in German books every evening
  • Go through entire tree on Duolingo to level 3
  • Use app on phone to find and text other people in German
  • Plan trip to Berlin (This becomes its own Big Task to break down into smaller tasks)
  • Spend one week in Berlin and try to only speak German
  • Watch Dark on Netflix in German with German Subtitles
  • Find someone to speak German with on the phone and call them weekly

This is exactly the plan I took two years ago, and I now speak at a B1 level in German. I’m not fluent, but I can hold a conversation, understand most people having a German conversation, and understand most of what I read in German. I’m still setting goals for myself, but you can see that I took very small steps to get where I am now.

Some of the tasks above ended up taking more than one step to complete, so I changed that to its own Big Task, and broke it down into smaller pieces.

If this sounds familiar, you may have heard of the Getting Things Done methodology of keeping task lists. It was started by David Allan in 2001, and has been my main way of doing time management since.

Steps to Achieving Your Goals

person setting goals sitting at table with laptop and notebook

1. Work Through the Fear

This probably isn’t your first time setting goals. It’s probably not the first time setting some of the SAME goals. It can be scary. Maybe you’ve tried and failed at the goal before. Maybe the goal has sat on your to-do list for years.

This is the time to do some self-reflecting. Be honest with yourself. When you write down your goals, write down whatever scares you about those goals. Look through those “scary” thoughts and try to figure out where they’re coming from.

Most of those thoughts are probably blanket statements that just aren’t true. Maybe you haven’t hit your past goals because they were too big and you just didn’t know where to start.

What’s important here is to get your mind in the same place your body is. Try to get any negative thoughts turned into something more constructive. Thoughts that will help you achieve your goals.

2. Baby Steps

The most important part of setting goals is to break them down into the smallest, actionable goals possible.

My example above with learning German shows steps as simple as logging into a site. And they really should be that small.

One of the most common reasons goals aren’t achieved is because they seem too big and there’s no clear place to start. Breaking them down into small tasks will give you a clear path to success. 

And if one of your steps sits on your to-do list for too long, it probably needs to be looked at to see if it can be broken down into even smaller tasks.

3. Make Time for Your Tasks

white desk with yearly calendar and pen to set time

We’ve talked about planning your time before [insert magnum link] and scheduling your tasks is something you have to do.

Fire up your calendar and look for time you can block off for knocking out a few tasks. Go through your list one step at a time and schedule them out.

Having your tasks planned makes doing them really easy. And when the scheduled time arrives, you just have that one small task to do.

If you skip scheduling your tasks, you’ll never reach your goals, so make it as habit to find the time every week.

4. Prepare for the Unpredictable 

Now that you’ve made time for your tasks, you should also plan ahead for what to do if life gets in the way. 

Maybe one of your big goals is to get healthy, and one of the smaller tasks to get there is to make a smoothie every morning. And maybe this morning your alarm didn’t go off and there’s no time to make it.

Have a plan for a situation like that. Maybe you can swing by a smoothie place on your way to the office. Or maybe you can think of a healthy alternative to the smoothie that you can grab and go – like a banana. The important thing is to be ready with a plan b.

That way, when things get off track, you don’t have to think about it. You just switch to your alternative, and life goes on with you still working towards your big goal.

5. Let Yourself Fail Sometimes

Sticking to new habits can be tough. Reaching your dreams won’t always be easy, otherwise you already would have done it. 

There will be times where you take a step or two back. Times where you want nothing more than to just sit on the couch and watch Netflix.

And that’s ok. As long as you give yourself a pass when it happens and realize no one is perfect, you’ll find it easier to jump right back into it and start moving forward again.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully this gives you a clear path to start setting new goals as life starts to get back to normal.

Just remember to set small tasks and always work towards your bigger dream. Your future is up to you, and while you can’t control everything that happens to you, you can set goals and tasks to bring more order to your life and start working towards achieving your dreams.

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