Setting and achieving goals is a skill that, once learned, will serve you well throughout your life and in any circumstance.
Whether you want to quit smoking, save money, be a better parent, or learn how to drive, the fundamentals of achieving what you want do not change.
The most important (and difficult) aspect is being honest with yourself. Take time think about what it is you truly want and why you want it. For example: Are you going to stop smoke because you are worried about your health or because you want to please your spouse? Both are valid motivation, but knowing why you’re doing something will help you succeed in doing it. Because if you really don’t believe that smoking can damage your lungs and you’re trying to quit because people say you should, you will likely fail. Your goal has to be something you want.
Once you are certain you are doing this for your own reasons, define what your goal actually is. You might initially say that you want to lose ten pounds. Is that really your goal? Or is it to reduce your waist size by 2 inches? If so, why 2 inches? Is it fit into a specific pair of pants? Is it to reach a weight where you feel comfortable with your own body? Let’s say that your true goal is to fit into an old favorite pair of pants. Forget the number of pounds or inches. Clearly state in your own mind that you want to be able to wear those pants before two months is up. Then, you can start working toward that goal.
Next, think backwards. To use another example, let’s say you want to get a more challenging job. In your mind’s eye, you know that job is to be web designer. At the moment, you don’t have the skills or credentials to make any potential employer take you seriously. So, plan backwards. Study a good cross-section of job postings for web designers. Find out what they are looking for. Make a checklist and mark off the skills, experience or qualities you already have.
Then, from the remaining items on the list, investigate how you can go about getting them. For example, if you need to take courses, research your options. How much money will it cost? How much time will it take? Figure out how you can budget for the money and arrange your schedule to make the time available. Put those results into action. Figure it out step by step from achievement back to the present. Then move forward.
During this process, assess what tools you will need. If you realize that you will need to be very organized in order to manage working and taking extra courses, but that has never been one of your strengths, find the tool to make it work. Maybe that means investing in a time management course, or paying someone to keep you organized. In any event, without being able to manage a full schedule, you will not be able to reach your goal.
Set smaller, interim goals that lead to your ultimate one. Be as clear about those sub-goals as you are about the primary. And, when you achieve the smaller goals, allow yourself to feel good about it. You’ve accomplished something. Just because it is not yet everything you want, it is not less significant. For some, acknowledging that accomplishment is enough to stay motivated. Others need a more tangible reward such as taking a night off and going to the movies. Whatever works for you, do it. That is how you will stay motivated to reach your ultimate goal.
At all times, remain flexible. You can plan every detail, but something will always go awry. Successful people try to think of likely inevitabilities but also know that it is impossible to foresee them all. Yet, they can roll with the punches. You can’t take the first derailing of your plan as a failure.
When something happens, big or small, to throw off your original plan, reassess your reality. What has changed? Are there now new roads to lead you to your goal? Achieving what you want involves continual assessment. If your goal is crucial to you, you might monitor your progress every day. Or, for long-term goals, every month or two may be all that is needed.
Everyone wants something better for themselves. Growing and expanding is part of human nature. The only difference between those who achieve their goals and those who don’t is that those who don’t have never learned how. Everyone can do it, if they want.