It is most definitely no longer the New Year, but hey you can set goals any time! This is the last of three posts on personal goals. If you haven’t yet, be sure to check out the first post on “why set goals?” and the second post on “how do you set worthwhile goals?”. This was intended to be finished much closer to the start of the year, but alas life happens.
Once you have some goals set, you can start working towards them! With longer-term goals (those being on a schedule of a year or more), many people start out strong. They make steady progress, have lots of enthusiasm, and are full of confidence. But then something happens. A few weeks, or maybe months, pass and the spark is gone. Usually, that initial rapid progress has slowed, the enthusiasm has kind of been drained by repetition, and their confidence wavers.
This is exemplified by the infamous “New Year’s Gym Rush”. I’ve already written about why I think many people fail to stick with their goals and resolutions, so in this post, we’re going to focus on what you can do to make it further!
How I Reach (Most) Goals
Let’s get one thing out of the way, I don’t reach all of my goals. As I said way back in the first post, you shouldn’t achieve all your goals. If you do, it likely means you’re not challenging yourself enough. You’re leaving growth opportunities on the table.
To use a cliche, the journey is the reward. While working towards your goal you are learning and growing, which is the worthwhile part of it. If you always reach your goals, then that probably means you’re not journeying as far as you could. Plan to learn; not necessarily to reach.
That said, once you’ve reached your goal, you get a chance to soak in your accomplishment and reflect on your growth and learning, which is valuable as well. So you also don’t want to set unrealistic goals that you never reach.
An ideal goal journey will challenge you to grow and learn such that you barely reach your destination, but you do reach it.
So, let’s dive into how I approach my goal journey.
Schedule Steady Progress
These points are all kind of intertwined, but to start you need to schedule steady progress.
Figure out how you can make progress toward your goal and then establish some schedule that steadily moves you in that direction.
For instance, if my goal is to learn to play the guitar by learning 6 songs this year, then my schedule might be to practice every other day and focus on one of the songs each weekend.
Notice that I don’t really put any deadlines on the milestones in the above goal, just a general idea of how I’m going to get there. It’s a mixture of general learning and then focused movement towards the specific goal.
One important thing to note here is that steady progress does not mean constant progress. You don’t have to practice every day or be measurably improving in every task, but you need to have some consistent effort. In the above example, you’ll be much more successful practicing with the steady schedule above instead of not doing anything for 6 months and then practicing non-stop for an entire week.
The way you ensure you make steady progress is to track your progress. This goes back to the last post where I emphasized setting a concrete way to measure your goals. It is much easier to stay motivated when you can look at a concrete indicator of your improvement over time.
Going back to the “learning guitar” example, being able to see that you’ve mastered a few songs by halfway through the year will keep you motivated to keep going. If you don’t track that progress, it’s easy to belittle what you’ve learned and get discouraged.
That said, your tracking can be as rigorous or not as you want it to be. I use a spreadsheet in Google to track my goals. I know some folks that like to write theirs down on paper. Others use apps dedicated to a specific goal. Whatever method you choose, I think tracking your progress is vital.
So you have your schedule and you’re tracking your progress, the final step is to periodically check-in using the tracking you’ve done and adjust your schedule accordingly.
Going back once again to the guitar goal example, if you’re 3 months in and you’ve only managed to learn one song so far, you might want to stop and figure out how to adjust your schedule. Maybe you need to practice more or maybe there was some up-front learning that needed to take place and you expect the other songs to be learned more quickly. In either case, it’s good and helpful to check-in with your progress.
How frequently should you do these check-ins? My rule of thumb is, check-in often enough that even if you’re off track, you never lose sight of the road. For me, that usually means about once a month. I often do this when I have a holiday weekend or am traveling (long hours on an airplane or in the airport are good to do some self-reflection).
Sometimes during a check-in, I also decide to drop a goal. If I realize I’m not actually enjoying the journey for one of them or have no motivation to keep making progress; I’ll stop. I’m doing this for myself, so if I’m not enjoying it, why keep doing it?
So that’s all the advice I have on setting and reaching goals for now!
Once you have your goals, you start scheduling progress for them. You track that progress and periodically check-in to make sure you’re still on track. During that check-in, you schedule some more progress, and the cycle continues.
I hope this helps you with your own personal growth! Remember that this is all for yourself, so don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t reach all your goals and most importantly have fun with the journey!