From time to time, we all struggle with staying motivated. There are days we drag our feet at work; there are projects we leave unfinished around the house; there are New Year’s resolutions we make in earnest and then completely forget about by February or March. It’s not a sign of weakness, it’s an aspect of human nature.
But it can be overcome. We’re here to tell you that whatever you set your mind to, you can achieve—whether your goal is to lose weight, get fit, live longer, or all three. In today’s post, we’ll share tested and true strategies for setting the right kind of goals and staying the course when the going gets rough.
Tip #1: Choose to focus on actions, not outcome.
Setting a goal to lose 40 pounds or to lower your cholesterol by 50 points is like setting a goal to win the lottery. It may seem like there’s a big difference, but think about it: In reality, you have no more control over your body’s ability to obey your commands than you do over the likelihood of your ticket being drawn.
Really really wanting to achieve a certain outcome won’t guarantee that you do. Planning to achieve a certain outcome won’t guarantee that you do. Trying really really hard to achieve a certain outcome won’t guarantee that you do. Goals aren’t achieved through desires and intentions—it’s our actions that drive our success. In fact, the only things in this world that you have absolute control over are your own actions and reactions.
So instead of defining your goals as outcomes, which are beyond your control, define them in terms of actions—for example, “drink more water,” “pack a healthy lunch before work,” and “take a walk every evening after dinner”—and then follow through.
“Things do not change; we change.” — Henry David Thoreau
Tip #2: Be explicit.
We’re not talking X-rated here; we mean “explicit” as in “clear-cut and well-defined.” The more specific you can be when determining the actions you plan to take, the better. Also, make sure your goals are actually measurable so you can keep track of your progress and hold yourself accountable.
For example, don’t just aim to “drink more water”; aim to drink 8 glasses a day. Don’t just plan to “pack a healthy lunch”; plan to pack a 400-calorie lunch with two servings of vegetables, one serving of lean protein, and one serving of fruit. Don’t just decide to “take a walk” after dinner; decide to walk three miles (or 5000 steps, or twice around your neighborhood—the unit of measurement you choose isn’t important, as long as you have some way of measuring your progress).
“The barrier standing between you and the life you are capable of living is a lack of consistent execution.” — Brian P. Moran, The 12-Week Year
Strategy #3: Keep it real.
Whatever you do, resist the urge to go overboard—setting unrealistic goals is surefire self-sabotage. Work in increments if you have to. If you can’t see yourself realistically walking three miles every evening right off the bat, start with one and work your way up over time. Or be creative and find a workaround, like taking shorter walks throughout the day. The trick is to set goals you believe you can achieve; that way you’re setting yourself up for success, not failure.
“To enjoy good health, to bring true happiness to one’s family, to bring peace to all, one must first discipline and control one’s own mind.” — Buddha
Strategy #4: Set a deadline.
“A dream is just a dream. A goal is a dream with a deadline.” — Napoleon Hill
To make your dreams manifest, you have to give yourself a due date to work toward. Setting a deadline helps you know how to pace yourself and gives you more motivation to hold yourself accountable. Without one, your dreams are just out there floating in the aether, untethered to reality. After all, there are only seven days in a week, and “someday” is not one of them!
Strategy #5: Remind yourself why.
Why is your goal important to you? How will you feel about yourself once you’ve achieved it? What effect will it have on your life?
Ask yourself these questions, and then write the answers down. (Don’t worry about spelling or grammar; the only person who’ll ever read it is you.) Writing is a powerful act of self-expression and self-discovery that can help make your thoughts feel more real and actionable. Rereading and reconnecting with your reasons for wanting to achieve the goal you’ve set will help you stay the course in the face of temptation.
And it doesn’t matter what those reasons are; remember, this is for your eyes only. Want to improve your life expectancy so you’ll be around to see your granddaughter graduate? That’s great! Want to drop a few dress sizes so you can make the mean girls at your high school reunion feel jealous? That’s great too! Whatever works for you—whatever gives your goal meaning and makes you feel determined to achieve it.
“When you feel like quitting, think about why you started.” — Author Unknown
Summary: Be SMART
An easy way to remember how to set smart goals is to memorize the acronym SMART:
S = Specific
M = Meaningful
A = Actionable
R = Realistic
T = Timely
We hope you’ve gained something useful and encouraging from today’s post. Always remember: Everything you need to attain your goals is already within your power. All you have to do is go out there and do what you know you need to do.
To your success!