My 5-year-old self had a goal of becoming a ballet dancer. My 8-year-old self had a goal of building a dollhouse to rival the one my cousin had, and my 16-year-old self had a goal of running a business as successful as Google.
These goals all had a few things in common:
- They were grandiose.
- They were intended to impress other people, and
- I didn’t attain any of them.
What are the steps to reaching goals through building habits?
It’s human nature to set goals for ourselves. And we usually mean to reach them. At least, we mean it until the next shiny goal comes along.
Step forward to now. I’ve reached some pretty big goals in my life. I’m an accomplished professional in my field, I have a beautiful family and home, I fit into my jeans, and I’m going to show you the method I use to turn my big wishes into realistic goals and actually attain them.
The steps are:
- Set a goal.
- Promise yourself a reward.
- Create daily habits that move you toward your goal.
Step 1: Set a goal
“People with goals succeed because they know where they’re going.”
Goals should be attainable
I’m not saying you shouldn’t dream big. You absolutely should! I’m saying that if your dream is to be as famous a singer as Justin Bieber, you’ll need to break your dream into smaller goals first.
Maybe start with a goal of learning how to sing.
Here’s an example:
Sub goal 1: I want to learn how to sing.
Sub goal 2: I want to sing in a band.
Sub goal 3: I want a recording deal.
Goals should be measurable
It’s important to set goals that you can measure so when you achieve them, you can set new ones. Otherwise, you may get stuck trying to reach the same goal your whole life and never feel satisfied.
Here's an example.
Measurable: I want to be able to bench press 100 lbs. for 8 reps.
Goals should be challenging
According to the study, Attainment versus maintenance goals: Perceived difficulty and impact on goal choice by Antonios Stamatogiannakis, Amitava Chattopadhyay, and Dipankar Chakravarti, participants overwhelmingly rated goals that required incremental gains as being easier to achieve than goals that they perceived as non-challenging or status-quo.
Think about the amount of satisfaction you would feel after running a 10-mile marathon, compared to running around your block. Of course, this is relative. If you’ve been in a wheelchair for the past few months, running around your yard is going to feel pretty great!
So, make sure your goal is going to take some work to achieve, but not so much work that it feels overwhelming.
Goals should have a target date
Make sure your target date is realistic, though. A target date that’s hard to achieve will have the opposite effect. You’ll likely get stressed and start to wonder if it’s worth the effort.
Here’s an example of a goal with a target date:
Goals should be meaningful to you
Let’s say you want to attract that cute girl in your study group, and you’ve heard her gush about football players. Should you set a goal to join your school’s football team?
Well, do you like football? Do you think you could stay motivated for long enough to actually make the team? Would you keep at it once she starts to date the captain of the chess team a few weeks later?
It’s so much easier to stay motivated when you are trying to achieve a goal that's meaningful to you personally.
Write your goals down
You can also put a written goal somewhere visible as a reminder that you should be working on it. In fact, the more reminders sprinkled around your house and where you work, the better.
Tell someone about your goals
You’re more likely to hold yourself accountable when you think other people are paying attention.
Step 2: Promise Yourself a Reward
This works on the honour system, though. Choose something that costs a bit more than you would normally spend or is difficult to find. That way you’re less likely to reward yourself if you haven’t actually earned it.
Sometimes I ask my friends to reward me with a special night out once I meet my 21 days. I know for a fact they’ll require proof.
Step 3: Create daily habits
“A goal without a plan is just a wish.”
Stack your habits
For example, let’s say your goal is to completely declutter your house by July 1st. You’ve set a task of spending 10 minutes every day going through your stuff. That’s the habit you want to form, right? It will lead to you accomplishing your goal.
So, stack that task with another habit you already have. Why not do your 10-minute declutter while your coffee is brewing? Or while you are talking on the phone to your mother (if you do that every day. You should do that every day!)? Or add it to your bedtime ritual if that works better.
Just start! Commit to 1 minute
On those days, give yourself permission to commit to just one. Spend one minute. Declutter one item. Call one person. Whatever your task is, just start. Do a tiny piece, then see how you feel.
If you still aren’t motivated, walk away, but you might find that by accomplishing that tiny piece, you’ll want to do more.
Remember, even tiny movements toward your goal are still movements toward your goal.
Track your progress
So, track it. And make it visual. Give yourself every chance you can, to create those habits that will carry you to the finish line.