When I was younger, like everybody else I used to come up with a few New Year’s resolutions that I had for the upcoming year. Get in shape. Get better grades. Expand my circle of friends. The typical stuff.
But by the end of the year I’d realize that I didn’t have much to show for what I had hoped to accomplish. It turns out you can’t just wish your goals into reality.
Here are a few things that have helped me accomplish long-term goals that I’ve set for myself.
1. Understanding The Power of Habit
Habit is the backbone of goal-setting.
Goals are the things we want to achieve that cannot be done in just a short and easy period of time. If it can be accomplished in a short amount of time then it’s more of a task than a goal. Goals are things we want done but require steady and frequent work over the long-term. They require discipline and dedication.
Let’s look at one of the first goals we all tackled back when we were children: Clean and healthy teeth.
What sort of habit was drilled into our lives to accomplish this goal? Brushing our teeth as soon as we wake up and again right before we go to bed.
This simple type of habit-forming approach to goals that we all practiced as children is exactly what must be replicated in your adult life to achieve your more ambitious aspirations.
2. Identifying the Real Goal
The first step is identifying the goal you want to achieve. Maybe it’s something along the lines of improving your body, your relationship, or your career. Let’s say you’re tired of experiencing a slight dip in confidence every time you take your shirt off at the pool. So your goal is to have 6-pack abs.
Once you’ve identified the surface-level goal, work backwards and figure out the steps that need to be taken for the goal to be actualized. The first question you’ll want to ask yourself is this: What lifestyle habit needs to be in place for this goal to become a reality?
In this example, the answer is working out at least 4 times per week as well as a daily calorie consumption not exceeding 10 times your body weight.
So really, the actionable goal is not so much wanting to have 6-pack abs. The real goal is figuring out the lifestyle habit required to achieve the surface-level goal.
The 6 pack abs stops being the goal and instead becomes the motivation for the real goal of creating a lifestyle habit.
3. Developing Mantras
Forming productive habits is hard. But it is absolutely crucial for achieving something that requires steady work over the long-term.
You will no doubt encounter temptation to stray from the difficult habit you want to firmly plant in your life. This is where mantras come in.
A mantra is short and inspirational message you tell yourself every time you don’t feel like following through with an activity necessary for your habit.
At the end of a long day of work, I sometimes really don’t feel like getting my 4th workout in for the week. I’ve already worked out the last three days. I’m tired. And the thought of watching reruns of The Office in my comfortable bed is more appealing than banging out interval sprints on the treadmill.
It’s at this point I repeat my mantra to myself in order to keep me on track.
“Resolve and Restraint”
Find the resolve to crush the difficult obstacles that stand in the way of being great and achieving your goal. Find the restraint to say no to the things that feel good for the short-term but derail you from achieving your goal.
Everytime I’m faced with temptation to make a decision that feels nice in the short-term but will have a negative impact in the long-term, I tell myself “Resolve and Restraint”.
Another mantra I’ve been experimenting with is something I borrowed here from the blog Bold and Determined. “Demand Excellence From Yourself”.
Sometimes when you’re having a weak moment, you need to give yourself a little pep talk and use a Mantra to remind yourself why you must push aside temptation.
4. Harnessing Momentum
Momentum is key in creating a new lifestyle habit. It’s near impossible to immediately go from never working out to working out 7 days a week. Or to go from spending every evening watching TV to working on side projects every single evening.
Lately, I’ve been working out four days per week without fail. I’ve also incorporated four writing sessions into my weekly routine that last 3-4 hours each.
It didn’t start out that way. It started with 2 workouts per week and 2 writing sessions per week. That wasn’t enough to achieve the goals I wanted, but it was a momentum bridge that took me from 0 per week to 4 per week. If I want to ramp it up to 6-7 per week, I think I would now have the momentum to do that without much trouble.
Momentum also works the other way. I recently took a 10 day vacation from my routine and it was not easy getting my productivity levels back to normal. I had to rebuild my momentum bridge.
5. Leveraging Accountability and Management Systems
Out of sight out of mind rings true when it comes to implementing new activities to build new habits into your life. You’ll need to have some sort of frequent reminder system.
Something needs to be in front of your face on a routine basis or life will find a way to distract and derail you.
Habits are not formed in the back of your mind. At first, everything must be going on in the forefront. Once the habit is formed, that’s when it can smoothly operate in the background without much proactive thought on your part (thanks to momentum).
This is why you need something to grade and track your productive habit-forming progress. I used to write up a list of goals and review it on a quarterly basis. But that wasn’t enough.
Now when I develop goals, I determine which ones can have their progress measured weekly vs. monthly. So I’ve built out a spreadsheet where I literally give myself a grade at the end of each week and month on my progress.
Did I work out 4 days last week like I said I would? 100%.
Did I work out only 3 days? 75%
You get the idea.
Once you’ve got several months of 100% progress logged, you can consider the habit formed and start looking for ways to build on top of it or focus your energy on something else.
These spreadsheets have served as my Productivity Dashboard and it’s been working working wonders for me so far. It’s a workbook made up of 6 goal input tabs and a summary tab with charts that give a quick and current snapshot of my goal progress.
It’s still a work in progress, but once I perfect the Productivity Dashboard I’ll be releasing it to the world so others can start using effective systems to accomplish goals. It’s a lot more effective than just trying to wish them into the world.