I like goals. I like having a direction to focus on and pursue. If you’re thinking about your own goals this year, I’d like to offer a few tips. If you’re not, now is as good of a time as any to start.
Goal Setting Tips
1) Start with review
I’ve written before about the importance of looking back, but it bears repeating: you can’t know where you are, or where you want to go, unless you know how you’ve gotten to where you are. The best way to think about any changes that you may want to make in your life is in the context of the life you’ve lived thus far.
To help with this process, I recommend doing an annual review. It doesn’t have to be done at the start of a year. It can be done any time that you’re making a change.
The review process is important because it helps give context and story to the goals you set. It helps you articulate why your want the things you want. Without the context of your life and your process, your goals can lack the substance you need to really stick to them out.
Follow my free guide if you’d like some help, or make it up as you go
2) Choose identity based goals
While it’s tempting to jump right into thinking of how you want to implement your goals— what you want to actually do— it’s best to start even bigger: who you want to become.
The most effective goals are identity based.
What we do flows out of and follows who we are. The best way to change what we do is to begin by changing the way that we think about ourselves. Instead of attempting to change our behavior on it’s own, we’re trying to become the kinds of people who do those kinds of behavior.
Let me show you what I mean: let’s say that you want to get in shape, but instead of working out, you like to snack and watch netflix in the evenings. It’s hard to change your behavior and work out at night when the story you tell yourself is that you’re the kind of person who needs to “unwind with netflix and snacks”. Or worse, the story you might be telling yourself is that you’re “lazy”, “unmotivated”, or that you “just can’t ever seem to do that”.
Instead, try on a new identity.
Change the way you think about yourself. What if you start to think of yourself as a yogi, runner, weight lifter, fitness buff, gym rat, cross fitter, or whatever type of exercise you prefer?
This takes the dissonance out of your activity.
Instead of being someone who is “lazy” trying to exercise. You’re a runner going on a run.
The formula is simple. Try it for yourself:
Instead of ___[ACTIVITY]____, become ______[THE KIND IDENTITY ASSOCIATED WITH THAT ACTIVITY]______ .
– Instead of writing a book, become a writer.
– Instead of starting a business, become an entrepreneur.
– Instead of traveling outside the country for the first time, become a traveler.
– Instead of getting out of debt, become a frugal saver.
– Instead of learning to code, become a developer.
3) Connect the Identity Goal with Quantifiable Activity
This is the piece that has been a game changer for me. You can’t just change your identity and expect everything to fall into place. You have to take action. But not just any action. It must: 1) be the right action that will move you toward your goals, and 2) measurable and quantifiable.
I decided this year that I want to get into running. I’ve flirted with running since 2005— when I ran a marathon. I wasn’t a runner before and haven’t been one since. Running has always been something I did very causally— only when I felt like it (which was rarely) and never enough to see significant results.
Instead, in 2018 I decided to become a runner. I wanted to get more in shape and feel capable in my body. I had some health issues a few years ago that really scared me. After a long recovery period, I was ready to see what I could do with my body.
So in order to achieve my goal, I decided to run 365 miles in 2018.
To runners, 365 miles in 365 days is not very significant. I know runners who log 100 miles a month. I just learned that a friend of mine did 2018 miles in 2018. That’s a serious goal and some serious miles!
But to a non-runner (as I was), 365 miles was a long way to go.
What this commitment did for me was to give me a very quantifiable way to measure my progress and see if I’m achieving the goal.
In order to make changes that are sustainable, they must be measurable. The more you can connect your goal to quantifiable action, the more noticeable progress you’ll see toward your goals.
4) Make it a Habit
Finally, big goals need consistent effort. They need the kind of work that keeps the goal in the front in your mind and attention daily and the kind of activity that keeps you working on it at least a few times per week.
This is why running 365 miles worked for me. The only way I’d be able to accomplish it is through consistent effort— by making it as much of a habit as possible.
What Can Go Wrong With Goals
The primary way goals get abandoned is when they’re not made to be part of your weekly life. Failed goals are either poorly chosen (they don’t fit who you are right now — see the first step about identity above), or an effective plan was never made.
I’d love to hear from you which of the steps above are most challenging and what goals you are considering and/or already pursuing. Comment below!