8 tried-and-tested tips to help you achieve your goals
I've always been a fan of new year's resolutions. Yes, I know how much the concept is disliked. The general consensus is that they never last the year. Except mine mostly do.
It may just be a time when I'm more reflective and motivated (after a week of unwrapping presents, lazing around and eating chocolate) but I find they tend to last. If I flip back through my notebook a year later, all my goals have either been achieved, or I've made a concerted effort towards them in the time that has passed.
Perhaps my goals are too easily achievable? Maybe. Maybe not. I think that the very act of writing them down every year transforms them from abstract aims to tangible projects. From then on, it's just about chipping away at them.
I'm not superhuman (ha!) or an expert (and you definitely don't have to wait til January 1 to set your aims), but I've found there are some ways to make even the biggest of your goals more achievable and stay motivated while you work on them.
Here are some of my tips:
Clearly define your goal (and the steps you need to take)
So you want to 'Do more online courses'? That's great... but how much is more? One course a year? One a quarter? Which courses? By setting vague aims, you're making it more difficult to judge your progress and distance to an endpoint (if you're a habitual to-do-list ticker like me, you're also leaving an item that can't officially be crossed off your list, which will just sit in the back of your mind annoying you).
Break your goal down into an overarching aim and the steps you need to take to get there. So if your updated goal is to 'Do 3 online marketing courses in the next 12 months', add in actual action items like 'Research course providers', 'Pick subjects' and 'Enroll in course'. When your goal is chopped up into more achievable chunks instead of one overwhelming item, you'll be more motivated to take the next step.
Tell someone about your aims and get them involved in your quest
It's easy for our goals to stay in our heads, sometimes for years. When you write it down, it becomes a subconscious reminder. Tell another human (preferably a supportive one), and you have a whole new level of desire to achieve it.
For example, when I decided I wanted to train to run 10 kilometers, I told everyone from my parents and friends to my colleagues. It didn't make much of an impact on their lives (they were probably thinking 'Cool, good luck to you, crazy lady') but it made a big difference for me. Now I had to do it - otherwise I'd be a quitter! Every time I wanted to sit on the couch eating popcorn instead of going for a run (very often), I thought of what I'd have to tell them the next time they asked for an update (i.e. nothing).
Telling someone else also means you'll have a cheerleader every time you have a bad day or doubt your progress. Think you're not getting anywhere? Someone on the outside can see how far you've come already and give you a nudge so you keep on going. You may even get a companion on board for your journey if you find someone with a similar goal.
Make it easy for yourself
Even with the best intentions and motivation, your mind will find a way to resist at some point. It's sneaky like that. Know your weaknesses so you can prepare a counter-attack.
Do you have the attention span of a squirrel? Don't put your phone next to your desk, or turn off your internet while you're working on that write up. Are you trying to eat healthier but keep faceplanting into anything with sugar because you didn't have enough time to pull together real food? Make your lunch the night before, or keep some snacks in your bag in case of the munchies.
Want to go to a morning gym session but can't get out of bed? Put aside your workout gear the night before so it's only a step or two away (or if you're really lazy like me, sleep in it). Hate spending hours at your desk working on an essay or project? Beautify your workspace or relocate to a library or quiet coffee shop for a change of scenery. Find out where you're being pushed off track and find a way to fix it.
Don't let your self-imposed rules get in the way
People avoid working on their goals for lots of reasons - everything from fear (what if I fail?) to self-doubt (what if it's not very good?) and distraction (hmmm, I wonder what's happening on Facebook today). But there are other things that can get in your way that may initially be seen as an advantage - like having high standards or a perfectionistic nature.
Maybe you have a goal to write more, but only want to write when you can immerse yourself in it completely and spend hours expertly crafting phrases and sentences. Any day you can't have that set up seems lost to you, and you'd rather not write at all than write two sentences. Push yourself out of those boundaries.
Every little bit helps, and if you're always waiting for the perfect time to start, you may never begin.
Can't imagine anything more boring than spending your weekend studying for your least favourite subject? Set up incentives to keep going. You don't have to promise to buy yourself a Ferrari if you finish a chapter in your text book -- think of something small. Maybe you can have a cup of coffee once you finish the section? Or if you work all day on Saturday, you can have Sunday off to do what you really want to do?
Unfortunately, some of the greatest achievements require a lot of ground work that isn't fun or incredibly engaging. It sucks. But if you give yourself little rewards, you'll be more inclined to work through it. Remember, it's all about delayed gratification.
Remember that any progress is better than none
Life gets busy. Sometimes something beyond your control creeps in and your goals get off track. It happens. Just don't stop or use it as an excuse to quit.
When I was working on my Masters dissertation (gah! I still get chills even mentioning it) I often had to squeeze in research time in the evenings or on weekends, when everything from traffic jams to after-hours work events and boring-but-important things like grocery shopping crept into my study time. But even on the days I only wrote a paragraph or read three pages of a journal article, I stayed in the game.
Remember, even if you only make the tiniest amount of progress on your goal, it's still progress as long as it's getting you closer to where you eventually want to be. Small steps everyday are better than larger, sporadic ones.
Work with your moods and schedule
I don't know about you, but I am very unproductive in the afternoons. There is this dead zone between 2 and 3 pm where my brain just slides into a galaxy far, far away and I start contemplating how comfortable my laptop would be as a pillow.
Now that I've figured out this is a regular thing, I work around it. I schedule the more brain-intensive tasks for earlier in the day, and leave something simpler for the afternoon. Think about when would be best for you to completely dedicate yourself to tasks, and try and shuffle other obligations around that.
Visualise yourself achieving your goal
No, I'm not wandering off into some strange realm of dreams and hallucinations. I mean you need to think about what it will be like when (not if) you reach your goal. What will you feel like? Look like? Where will you be or go? What will you do?
This helps both motivate you and distract you when you want to give up. When I was trying to save money for a trip overseas, I visualised what it would be like on my trip - what I'd see, what the food would taste like, what I'd do with the money I saved because I didn't spend it on yet another pretty dress or a dinner at a trendy restaurant. It helped me get through the days when I felt deprived and demotivated.
Are you a goal smasher? What works for you? Let me know in the comments!
Is one of your goals to save up to see the world? Take a look at my guide on how to save money for travel and stay motivated.