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Setting and Achieving your Goals

Do you find it hard to set and then stick to, your goals? Do you find time gets away on you, procrastination kicks your butt, or you just feel like the goal is too far out of reach?

Let's take a quick look at how to set achievable goals, and how to keep ourselves motivated over time when our big goals are long term targets that may take us months or years to achieve.

goals goal setting targets progress

Step 1: Choose a Good Goal

This is important. You have to actually want the thing you're aiming at, not feel obligated to be going for it. For instance, if you think you should want to drop 5kg, but you're actually really happy as you are, this would be a terrible choice for a goal as you are lacking motivation from the get go.

Choose something that's important to you, that you're fired up about, and that you can see some big potential benefits from achieving. For today, we'll use the example of exercising regularly. Let's say you've been a couch potato for a while and you want to get back in shape, improve your energy levels, and keep up with the kids.

Step 2: Be Specific & Realistic

Ok, great! You have a goal, now let's get really specific with it. We need to be specific here so that we can track our progress, and we want to be realistic so that we have a solid shot at achieving it.

If I decide I want to exercise regularly - that could be anything from a short walk once a week, up to three workouts a day at a high intensity. Depending on my time constraints, current fitness levels, and energy levels, some goals will be more realistic than others.

Maybe I have three kids, run the household, and hold down a job on top of this - in this case, three workouts a day will be pretty hard to swing. And if I shoot for the impossible, when I inevitably fail it will impact my willpower and self esteem going forward, so this is an important one to get right.

In our above example, what does "exercising regularly" look like to you? Maybe you want to get up to the minimum recommendation of exercising 5 times a week, for 30 minutes at a time with an elevated heart rate. Great! That's specific and realistic, and because it's specific, we can keep track of how you're going with it.

woman in the trees why

Step 3: Know Your Why

This step is often overlooked, and it's a biggie in terms of motivation. WHY do you want to achieve your goal? Usually, we want to achieve a goal because we can see it will benefit us in some way.

There are two types of benefits:

  1. Delayed: these benefits you won't see until much later down the track. For instance, your why might be "I want to exercise so that I can lose weight and look great on the beach". You won't get this benefit until weeks or months into your new habit.

  2. Immediate: these benefits you feel immediately, or very close to performing the behaviour involved. In our exercise example, it might be "I want to exercise because I feel better for moving, and it gives me more energy during the day."

The problem with only having delayed benefits for your goal is that we tend to lose motivation when we don't see instant results. Have you every set a goal and worked really hard toward it for a few weeks, only to lose motivation and slip back into old habits? I know I have.

Studies have shown that this is often due to a lack of focus on immediate benefits. We absolutely want those delayed, long term benefits too, but identifying the immediate benefits will help you stay motivated and push on after the initial rush of enthusiasm fades.

Step 4: Make A Plan

Now that we have our specific, realistic goal in mind, and we understand why we want to achieve this and have our immediate benefits in mind, it's time to make a plan.

Goals are easier to achieve when we schedule them in.

Different goals require different levels of planning. A bigger, longer term goal may require breaking down into smaller, bite sized steps. For instance, maybe your exercise goal is to run a marathon, when you've done no exercise in years.

In this case, we could break it down as follows:

Step 1: Get my heart rate up for 30 mins, 5x a week

Step 2: Start running 2km, 2x a week

Step 3: Increase the runs by 10% over a period of three months

You may also want to research your goal to get more specific about what you need to do, or consult an expert. In our example case, a personal trainer and nutritionist may be of use.

Once I have my baby steps sorted, I need to make time in my busy diary and prioritise the steps. I like to schedule mine in, giving them days and times that I will perform each task (or workout, in this case), so that I don't have the excuse of "I ran out of time."

one step at a time, letters, progress

Step 5: Measure Your Progress

When you're scheduling your steps, it's a good idea to also schedule a check in to measure your progress. This may be weekly, bi weekly or monthly. In our exercise example, I could sit down at the end of each week and count up how many times I got my heart rate up for 30 mins - this tells me where I'm at.

For interest sake, let's say my count up shows I managed two sessions this week. Ok, so not what I was hoping for, but coming from my starting point of no exercise at all, that's a really big improvement.

It's really important to stay positive. If I look at this count up and focus on the three sessions I missed, it's easy to start beating myself up about it and descend into a shame and guilt spiral. If I feel like I'm failing and not good enough, I'm more likely to give up and go drown my sorrows in a litre of ice cream or a bottle of wine (I prefer cheesecake, personally).

Instead, if I focus on the two sessions I did manage and celebrate that win, I stay positive and see forward progress. That helps keep me motivated as I go forward.

I can also check in with myself after my exercise sessions, and later on in the day, to see how it's impacting my energy levels. The more often I remind myself that I feel better for moving, the more motivated I am going forward.

Step 6: Accountability

Ok, let's say we're a few weeks in now and are tracking well. We've managed to make some big steps forward and we're feeling so good about our progress we decide we can afford to take a break from all that hard work - after all, we deserve it!

So we have a week where we indulge ourselves, or maybe just get really busy (perhaps the kids are home sick all week and hubby is away with work). Let's say at the end of this week I do my check in and realise that I haven't exercised at all.

I have two options:

  1. Beat myself up about it, go into a shame spiral, tell myself I am hopeless/worthless/not good enough and pack it all in because what's the point?

  2. Have a look at why this happened. Keep a sense of humour about it, have a laugh, accept accountability, and see if I can find a way to improve things next week

In the former, we're done. Dead in the water. It's all over, Rover. We go back to baseline, completely ignoring all of the amazing progress we've made so far and all of the benefits we were seeing (improved mood and energy levels, feeling stronger and healthier, managed to chase the kids down on the playground the previous week).

In the latter, we accept that we either made a mistake or life got on top of us that week. We take a good hard look at the week to determine which was the case, then look for ways we can do better next week.

That might be lowering our expectations for a week or two, which may be reducing the number or length of our sessions, or it might be asking for help. If I can get someone to come and look after the kids for half an hour, then I can still get out of the house and get moving. Or maybe I change my exercise session up, maybe instead of hitting the gym or going for a run I do a half hour yoga workout on youtube from the lounge.

There is always a way forward - it just may not look like you expected it too.

celebrate two women lake forest

Step 7: Celebrate!

It's really important to celebrate your wins - especially the small ones. Most of us have a tendency to brush them off as too small to be worthwhile celebrating - but here's the thing, research has shown that by getting excited about and celebrating our small achievements (the baby steps), we increase our motivation a huge amount and are far more likely to see the goal through to the end.

It can be a small celebration - it might be saying "YUS!". Or a self five, maybe a little victory dance. It might be that you take a moment post exercise (or baby step) to breathe, smile, and acknowledge that you did it, you're one step closer to your goal.

Well done! Go you!

Final Thoughts

Goals can be tricky things, but the more we set them and the more we achieve them, the better our self esteem and sense of self worth gets and the happier we tend to be with our lives.

For those struggling with health issues, goals can be a great way to start to take back control of your health and wellbeing, one step at a time. While many conditions these days are chronic issues, and some lifelong ones, this can be one approach to changing your lifestyle to be more healthy overall. This in turn tends to make conditions and symptoms much more manageable, and improve your overall health, mood, energy and wellbeing.

Check out the rest of my blogs for more tips on how to get yourself back on track, or get in touch for a chat or treatment.


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