Goals are your new BFF. 5 Steps for making goals you love to keep.

Goals are your new BFF. 5 Steps for making goals you love to keep.

When Taylor Swift turned 30, she wrote an article for Elle Magazine entitled 30 Things I Learned Before Turning 30. Among many valuable and sometimes humorous insights was the importance of having something to look forward to, whether it is big like a vacation or small. She reminded us that maintaining a hopeful outlook for our future is an essential part of getting through difficult times. 

I was working with an athlete recently who was struggling to maintain the joy of her sport. Tension with her coach had caused her to doubt her own ability, and consequently, her performance suffered. She set goals for her stats each game and when the game board didn’t reflect success, the negative thought spiral ensued and her performance would spiral as well. Her own goals became her worst enemy, causing her anxiety before the game even had begun. 

Together we developed process goals that were more in her control and that supported her growth as a player and a person, like developing a growth mindset and more productive self-talk. She began to see goals as an effective way to infuse her path with hope and excitement instead of a test of her self-worth. Each time she made progress, she felt more confident, empowered and ready to tackle something more.

Misconceptions about goals

For many of us, setting goals can seem threatening. As with my client, they awaken the inner critic and make us an easy target for self-criticism when we fail to meet our own high or misguided expectations. It is also tempting to write off goals as only for those younger or, in our eyes, more talented than ourselves. I work with many clients who are in pursuit of big dreams, like winning a competition or making it to the Olympics, but goals are not only for these high achievers. Goals are for anyone who wishes to focus their attention on things that are important.

Setting effective goals

Effective goal-setting can give us direction and purpose in life, enhance motivation, and provide us with an opportunity to celebrate.  It is not the goal that is important, but rather the process of seeking and overcoming challenging situations. The sweet spot with goals is to choose something that feels challenging but still possible. Write it down. Post it where you can see it. Then forget about it and focus on the daily steps that lead towards the goal. 

If it sounds counterintuitive to say you should forget about your goal as soon as you have written it down, let’s imagine we are driving to Disney World. Orlando is our goal, our destination, and we enter into our phone’s maps app to get a route. Once you hit the road, however, looking at the destination is not much help. It’s too far away and too many turns lay in between where you are now and where you want to be. Instead, you zoom in until you can see whether to turn right or left at the next light. In the same way, once we set our goal, we need to shift our focus and zoom in to see the decisions we need to make today to lead us down our path to success. 

Just remember that like any destination, we can make adjustments along the way. Sometimes we need to make pit stops, and sometimes we need to completely reroute or change the destination entirely. The journey to success is rarely a straight line, and it would be less exciting if it was. Making and achieving goals, however small, can help us remember that life has good things in store, whatever your age and ability.

Below I have put together a few tips for making effective goals that can keep you looking forward to the future with hope and excitement. The first two steps help you check in to see if your goal is a “just right” goal that will keep you motivated. The last three steps provide some tips for increasing your likelihood of success. 

5 Steps to Making Goals You Love to Keep

  1. Make a goal that you truly look forward to. Is your goal motivated by what you think others expect of you, or is it something you actually want for yourself? Whether it is a big goal like winning a competition, or something more personal like learning to knit or connecting with family, it should reflect your innermost desire and align with your core values. One way to assess this is to notice if it makes you smile when you affirm the goal to yourself or others. 
  2. Make a goal that feels like a good stretch. If your goal makes you want to run and hide, you are not going to love keeping that goal. A great goal is one that feels like a good stretch and not a near strain. How can you tell? When you make a goal you love to keep, you may feel a sense of nervousness, but also excitement. You should be able to breathe, relax and even talk about it without feelings of panic. In yoga, we call this playing your edge. The optimal goal keeps you close to the edge, where you feel challenged, without pushing yourself over the edge, where you feel unsafe. Sometimes, you may need to back up, slow down, or readjust to maintain the right balance of nervousness and excitement, but it will be worth it in the end!
  3. Create an imagery script for your goal. Start by closing your eyes and imagining your goal as a reality. What does it look like? Use all your senses to imagine the scene vividly. What do you see, hear, feel and smell? Is anyone with you? Spend a few minutes each day imagining yourself achieving what you have set out to do, including the emotions you feel. Sometimes you may experience negative thoughts and self-doubt creeping into your imagery practice. This is normal since aspiring to a goal can be scary. Regular practice of imagery can help you become more in tune with yourself and aware of limiting thoughts. As you work through these thoughts in your mind, you can build confidence to manage them in everyday life.
  4. Make it visible. There is an old saying that if no one hears a tree fall in the forest, does it actually make noise? I might ask the same thing about a goal. If it is not spoken or written, is it actually a real goal or simply a wish? While it may be daunting to write your goal down, it can actually increase the likelihood of accomplishing it. One way to infuse fun into this practice is to make a vision board. This is as simple as cutting and pasting images and words onto a digital version or paper version of a board. Then post it where you will see it each day. Following in the tradition of Ted Lasso, you can touch your hand to the poster or otherwise connect to it daily to affirm your commitment.
  5. Celebrate along the way. Depending on what your goal is, it helps to divide it into smaller goals so that you can see progress more quickly. Smaller goals, also called process goals, are most effective if they reflect the daily habits that support the larger goal. For example, if your goal is to get an A in a class, this would be the outcome goal, or the result. Process goals may include things like studying for 30 minutes each night, or improving sleep habits. For an athlete, it may include weekly goals for fueling and hydration. As you achieve success with each smaller goal, celebrate with something that feels positive and self-affirming. For instance, if you are trying to lose weight, celebrate by buying new earrings or having coffee with a friend, rather than binge-watching a show.

At 56, I continue to set goals for myself on both a personal and professional level. I am committed to this practice as one aspect of healthy aging, and I look forward to setting many more in the years ahead. If you would like to learn to set effective goals that you love to keep, reach out to me for a free consultation.