Chances are, dozens of goals cross your mind each day. There are things you want to accomplish today, next week, and even next year on your mental to-do list. By turning that to-do list into actionable goals, you can get more done and feel a greater sense of accomplishment.
Achieving goals is not as simple as thinking of something you want to do and then completing the task. If it was, many people would be very accomplished. Instead, we think of things we want to complete, take a few steps toward the goal, and then get distracted or discouraged.
Smaller short-term goals are easier to reach than long-term goals that require more of a commitment. It’s natural to want to see results right away, and when you don’t, you may stop putting as much effort into your goal. It likely stays on your mind though, and you put it off or make less effort than you could toward meeting it.
For example, if you want to run a 10K race, you have to commit to weeks of practice. You have to build up your endurance, starting slowly by alternating intervals of running and walking until you reach your goal. It’s easy to feel motivated the first week, and even the second week.
But as the days pass, you may find yourself putting off practice until the next day, every day. You lose the progress you made and feel more discouraged, so you let go of your goal, maybe even pursuing something different. Over time, you may have many half-finished ideas and projects that you never quite complete. By setting more meaningful goals, you can accomplish more.
5 SMART Elements of a Goal
No matter what you're looking to accomplish, five elements make setting goals worthwhile. With these elements in place, you’re more likely to achieve your goals, according to many experts. All goals you set should be SMART, or:
1. Specific. Get detailed about outlining your goal. It’s not enough to say you want to run a 10K. When do you want to complete the 10K? Do you have a running time you want to beat for your 10K? You’re more likely to stick to a specific goal.
2. Measurable. Ensure that you apply a metric to your goal. If you want to eat healthier, quantify what that means. Count the servings of fruits and vegetables you eat each day and track them so you can visually see your progress over time.
3. Attainable. It’s easy to set a big goal, but is it something you can reach? For example, if you want to lose 10 pounds in a month, that may be pushing the limits of attainability. Instead, set a goal for two months so that a goal that is just out of reach doesn’t discourage you from trying at all.
4. Realistic. Does your goal make sense? Are you able to reach the goal given your schedule and other responsibilities? If you’re not a runner, setting a goal to run a full marathon may not be realistic. Instead, set a goal to run a 5K, then a 10K, a half marathon, and finally a full marathon.
5. Timely. Set a timeline for your goal that makes sense. While you want to give yourself enough time to reach your goal, you also don’t want it to be so far out that you feel like you have plenty of time to reach it. The goal should provide a sense of challenge to you.
You can set all of the goals you want, but if you aren’t motivated to reach them, you probably won’t. Motivation is crucial for committing to a goal and taking steps to reach it, even on hard days. When you set a goal, take some time to reflect on why it’s important to you. If it helps, write down your “why” and keep it somewhere you can always see it.
Plan for Obstacles
The path to success isn’t easy. Say you create a plan for achieving your goal to run a 10K. You choose three days a week to practice running. You establish a completion date with a finishing time in mind. Then, you get sick. You’re down for a week, and that pushes back the goal of your timeline.
Instead of giving up on your goal or putting it aside for another time, recommit to your goal. Run an extra day for three weeks to catch up or push back the date of your final 10K by a week. Allow some flexibility in pursuit of your goal.
Create the Habit
It takes 30 days for an activity to become a habit. If you look for reasons not to chase your goal, you’ll always find them. Don’t make excuses for the first 30 days of your goal. Push through the necessary steps and give yourself a chance to establish healthy habits that get you closer to your goal.