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How to define and achieve your goals

Chances are, dozens of goals cross your mind every day. There are things you want to accomplish today, next week, and even next year on your mental to-do list. By turning this to-do list into achievable goals, you can get more done and feel a greater sense of accomplishment.

Understand the objectives

Achieving goals isn’t as easy as thinking about something you want to do and then completing the task. If that were the case, a lot of people would be very accomplished. Instead, we think about the things we want to accomplish, take a few steps toward the goal, and then get distracted or discouraged.

Smaller, short-term goals are easier to achieve than long-term goals that require more commitment. It’s natural to want to see results right away, and if you don’t, you can stop putting so much effort into your goal. It probably stays in your mind, and you push it away or try less than you could to achieve it.

For example, if you want to run a 10k race, you need to commit to weeks of training. You need to build your endurance by starting slowly, alternating intervals of running and walking until you reach your goal. It’s easy to feel motivated the first week, and even the second week.

But as the days go by, you may find yourself postponing training until the next day, every day. You lose the progress you’ve made and feel more discouraged, so you give up on your goal, maybe even chasing something different. Over time, you can have many half-finished ideas and projects that you never quite finish. By setting more meaningful goals, you can accomplish more.

5 SMART elements of a goal

No matter what you’re looking to accomplish, five things are worth setting goals for. With these elements in place, you are more likely to achieve your goals, according to many experts. Any goals you set for yourself should be SMART, or:

1. Specific. Get details on setting your goal. It is not enough to say that you want to run a 10K. When do you want to finish the 10K? Do you have a run time that you want to beat for your 10K? You are more likely to stick to a specific goal.

2. Measurable. Make sure to apply a metric to your goal. If you want to eat healthier, quantify what that means. Count the servings of fruits and vegetables you eat each day and track them so you can visually see your progress over time.

3. Achievable. It’s easy to set a big goal, but is it something you can achieve? For example, if you want to lose 10 pounds in a month, it can push the boundaries of the possibility. Instead, set a goal for two months so that a goal that’s just out of reach doesn’t discourage you from trying at all.

4. Realistic. Does your goal make sense? Are you able to achieve the goal given your schedule and other responsibilities? If you are not a runner, setting a goal to run a full marathon may not be realistic. Instead, set a goal of running a 5K, then a 10K, a half marathon, and finally a full marathon.

5. Timely. Set a timeline for your goal that makes sense. While you want to give yourself plenty of time to reach your goal, you also don’t want it to be so far away that you feel like you have a lot of time to reach it. The goal should give you a feeling of challenge.

Understanding motivation

You can set whatever goals you want, but if you’re not motivated to achieve them, you probably won’t. Motivation is crucial in committing to a goal and taking action to achieve it, even in tough days. When setting a goal, take the time to think about why it’s important to you. If that helps, write down your “why” and keep it somewhere you can always see it.

Plan for obstacles

The road to success is not easy. Suppose you create a plan to achieve your goal of running a 10k. You choose three days a week to train for running. You set a completion date with an end time in mind. Then you get sick. You’ve been down for a week, and that pushes back the focus of your timeline.

Instead of giving up on your goal or putting it aside for another time, re-commit to your goal. Set aside an extra day for three weeks to catch up, or push back the date of your last 10 kilometers by one week. Leave some flexibility in the pursuit of your goal.

Create the habit

It takes 30 days for an activity to become a habit. If you are looking for reasons not to pursue your goal, you will always find them. Don’t look for excuses for the first 30 days of your goal. Take the necessary steps and give yourself a chance to establish healthy habits that get you closer to your goal.