Anyone who knows me is well aware that I’m a goal-oriented person. I’ve been this way as long as I can remember. Having a goal in mind at any given phase of my life gives me a sense of purpose when I’m working towards it and a great feeling of accomplishment once I’ve completed it. Whether it’s something like getting a degree or running a half marathon, staying inspired towards a goal is quite invigorating and life-affirming for me.
In my counseling practice, I often come into contact with clients who for whatever reason have lost touch with their goals — either they didn’t receive the emotional nurturance from a young age to be well set up for goal achievement, or they were steadfast towards a certain goal and realized it wasn’t making them happy anymore or they are going through a period of depression or anxiety that is preventing them from seeing clearly and taking right action towards their goals.
Much of my therapy work with these folks revolves around helping them become clearer on what they truly want in life (instead of striving for the approval of someone else,) increasing emotional resiliency to tolerate the discomfort involved in moving towards challenging life goals and encouraging clients to take action to make their dreams a reality. I’ve compiled some of my best tips for you here that have helped me immensely towards achieving my goals and that I remind my clients about, as well:
1 | Finish the “frog” first
When it comes to achieving our goals, there are always those things on the to-do list that we keep pushing down to the bottom. Years go by and you still haven’t made that one phone call or sent in that one form (ask me how I know!) In the productivity world, this type of task is called “the frog” — it’s the last thing you want to do. This concept was popularized by author Brian Tracy who wrote “Eat that Frog” — a manifesto in kicking the procrastination habit so many of us struggle with. Tracy gained the inspiration for his book title from the famous Mark Twain quote: “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day." What productivity experts suggest is that you should eat those frogs first! Because when we get the frog out of the way, we free ourselves from worrying about it and we open ourselves up to feel excited about what comes next. Need a tip for how to conquer that big toad on your list? That brings me to my next point.
2 | Create accountability
When I have a goal that requires some pretty scary steps in the process, I know that I need to create some accountability so that I tackle those challenging tasks (instead of putting them off forever.) I contact 2-3 people whom I explain exactly what it is that I’m going to how and exactly when I’m going to do it — both “what” and “when” are very important. I also say “ask me how it went, so I actually do it!” as a way of building in some social accountability. Once I tell other people about my plan I’ve already committed myself to doing it. Not only does this help put my feet to the fire to get it done, but I also receive support no matter what the outcome — either my plan fell flat and I have friends to encourage and uplift me, or my plan went beautifully and I get to celebrate my successes with my emotional support team.
Don’t feel like you quite have the cheerleaders needed to create accountability and support for your goals? If it’s a personal goal, consider seeking some pointed guidance from a therapist, life coach or spiritual leader. If it’s a professional goal, consider enlisting support from a retired executive for mentoring, a mastermind group or a mutually supportive networking group within your chosen profession.
3 | Utilize visualization
We can only achieve what we can visualize for ourselves and believe is possible. Our current beliefs are limited by our past experiences unless we actively imagine a different possibility for ourselves. This is where meditation, vision boards and inspiration boards come into play. Start to imagine, what will your world look like once you’ve achieved this goal? What will be different in your life? How will you feel? Embody that feeling as much as possible by conjuring up memories that approximate the feeling you’re going for. Want to get crafty? Get some beautiful imagery from magazines or postcards and start collaging your future onto a poster board. You’d be amazed at how powerful such a simple, fun activity can be.
I also do an easy exercise where I go into a state of meditation and find one word that speaks to me that has an energy to it that I want to augment in my life at that time. I write the word down on an index card and post it in an area of the house I look at everyday. When I see that word it reminds me to bring the spirit of that word into my daily actions. A meditation teacher of mine, Andrea Bendewald, calls it “Word Yoga,” which I love! If you’re feeling like you don’t quite know where to start with incorporating visualization into your practice, no worries! Try a guided visualization meditation — like the one here — to take the first step.
4 | Write your goals down
This one sounds too obvious to be effective, but scientific studies show that individuals are 42% more likely to achieve their goals of they write them down on a regular basis. I believe that this works on a subtle level, where writing down the goal makes it more real and tangible than simply holding it as a thought in your mind.
I have three mini-tips for this one: 1) write down your long-term goal somewhere you can revisit it, whether that be in a journal, on a bulletin board or in a note app prominently placed on your phone 2) in a word processor, break up your long-term goal into more actionable short-term goals, and arrange them in the best order to do them and 3) start scheduling the actionable short-term goals into your calendar right away. Start small. Go for the low-hanging fruit at first. Why? Because you need to get some momentum in the right direction and to feel confident and competent that you can absolutely make this goal a reality. Then work your way up to the more challenging tasks.
5 | Identify obstacles
Write out the most likely potential obstacles to your goals and how you would respond to them. Don’t get stuck in the weeds! Let’s say you come up against an obstacle such as “I don’t have time for this.” Don’t stop there and give up on the goal! If your schedule doesn’t allow for much action towards your stated goal, then give yourself a longer period of time to complete it or make the necessary changes in your life to free up some space. It might be uncomfortable to say “no” to other opportunities and obligations every once in a while, but it will be necessary for you to move towards your stated goal.
Another example — let’s say you’re writing out your actionable short-term goals and you come across an area where you honestly don’t know what you’re supposed to do next. Have no fear! A great short-term goal for you would be to seek out the advice of someone who has achieved the goal or a similar goal. This could mean asking around or doing online research and could involve a cold call. Push through the nerves. You got this.
6 | Reframe failure
Failure is a necessary part of success! If we see every tumble, mistake, and mishap as proof that we’re no good, then we’ll never achieve our dreams. We need to reframe failures as steps along the journey towards our goals. When was the last time anyone ever said “everything went perfectly and I learned so much”? Never! We have to take risks and make mistakes so that we learn how to pivot and course correct. In the mistakes lie our opportunities to dig deep, feel fully, get humble, problem-solve and modify our actions. Any person you look up to who you idealize as successful and wonderful I guarantee you is a master of failure. They’ve gotten so good at failing, that it doesn’t get in their way or discourage them from trying again. JJ Virgin always has some great things to say about failures leading to success.
7 | “Gamify” your goals
The idea of gamifying goals has become a popular buzz word in the blogosphere, but the theory behind it has been around since the 1930’s, when psychologists Pavlov, Skinner and Watson set the foundation for the field of behaviorism. A behavioral worldview acknowledges the fact that the more rewarding an experience is the more likely one is to continue doing it. Now, achieving a goal is a naturally rewarding process, however the achievement of a goal typically takes a long while and requires a lot of grit to get through the difficult aspects of realizing the goal. What gamification accomplishes is that it helps you break up your larger goal into smaller units and creates reinforcement along the way to give you the added “boost” needed to complete the objective.
Although I don’t take a behavioral approach in my work for the most part, I think that there’s no harm in having some fun and reinforcement along the way to your goals! Check out this LifeHacker article for some awesome apps that can help you gamify multiple areas of life such as productivity, fitness, mental health, nutrition, personal finance and even chores.
8 | Identify role models
We all need people to look up to. For one, we need to see and believe our goal is possible, and role models provide great evidence for that. Two, they can serve as mentors, whom guide us on our journey, support us through dark times, provide inspiration to keep going, and give us their best tips and tricks along the way. Not sure who your role models are yet? That’s okay! Start by getting inspired or by reminding yourself of the last time you felt truly energized by the words or presence of another individual. Maybe it was a transformational book you read, an incredibly powerful TED talk you watched or a particular podcast episode you felt was talking directly to you, your struggle and your dream. Start there. See what you can learn from that person. Find out who inspires them. Now you’re on the right track!
I hope this article is helpful to you to provide at least one nugget of wisdom or encouragement to stay the path with your goal. Sometimes the universe gets us to our goal in the most unexpected ways, so I urge you to stay strong, stay connected to your purpose and keep kicking butt! Now it’s your turn. I’d love to hear in the comments section what your main takeaway is from this post. Do you have a goal in mind? Are you inspired to try some tips to keep you moving forward? Do you have a mind-blowing goal achievement technique that I totally missed? Please share your thoughts in the comments below. Want more goal-setting awesomeness? Check out how to set soul-centered goals and how to write SMART goals next. Thank you for reading and be well.
about the author
Hi! I'm Natalie. And my passion is helping people live more peaceful, meaningful lives. Through holistic therapy in Pasadena and here on the blog, my mission is to provide people with the support and tools they need to live their best life.