Psychologists know something that you should know too, when it comes to achieving your goals: Drive and determination are equally, if not more important than natural talent alone. In several studies, persistence and hard work is what separated those who made it and those who only dreamt about making it. How many times have you picked up a book and when you finished it thought “I can do better than that.” Well maybe you can, but the person whose book you just read put in the hard work it took to get it written and published. What’s your excuse? The next time you are tempted to throw in the towel when it looks like you’re getting nowhere, find a way to persevere. Modify your current strategy or figure out a new way of proceeding that will take you to the finish line.
Start with Self Confidence
Numerous studies show that when you feel confident (psychologists call this self-efficacy) about successfully accomplishing something, your changes of actually succeeding are increased multifold. Why? Because when we don’t believe in ourselves we tend not to approach goals with enough motivation and staying power to realize them. When we believe we can do something and then visualize ourselves being successful at specific tasks, our thoughts become clearer, our actions stronger and we don’t let obstacles stand in our way. So how do we get the confidence we need? First of all, make sure you have the skills you need to achieve your goal. If you don’t, fill in any knowledge or physical preparation gaps to give you the best chance of succeeding. If your goal is to lose weight, for instance, inform yourself about what a normal calorie intake is, what a typical weight loss program entails, how much you will have to exercise, etc. Now you’ve got some material to work with. The second way to obtain goal-related confidence or efficacy, is to look to our past history and acknowledge similar tasks that we achieved successfully. Remember the time you did lose weight? What was it about that time that made you successful? Now you know you can do it again. Third, we get goal-related self-confidence when we surround ourselves with others who cheer us on. For some of you a support group or even one friend who shares your goal will work nicely; for others simply deciding to avoid people who stand in your way or discourage you will make reaching the finish line a great deal easier.
Goal-Setting for Success
There is a right and a wrong way to set goals. The wrong way is to make your goals so long- term that you lose motivation to stick with them for the time it takes to reach them. Another road to self-defeat is to set unrealistic goals. I may want to be a figure skater, for example, but in midlife, and not having ever skated before except for a few lame attempts when I was a child, it is not likely I will achieve that goal. Goals should be realistic and short term. But what if your goal is to have a successful business? Isn’t that a long-term goal? Yes, but the idea is to break down your long-term goals into short mini-goals along the way. For instance, even though your overall long-term goal is to run a successful business, you can set a daily doable goal of increasing your client base by making x number of cold calls a day. A “doable” goal is something you have control over. If you set a mini goal of increasing your client base by one each day, you have no direct control over getting a client or not. You do, however, have control over the behaviors that are likely to draw in more clients—such as cold calling. So in this case, a doable behavior, or “mini” daily goal can be making 10 cold calls per day. Setting up goals in terms of tangible behaviors works with any objective you strive for. The goal of writing a book, for instance, is nebulous and too long term. But your daily mini goal can be to write a page a day, or 5 pages, or whatever is reasonable for you.
Adjust Your Goals as You Need To
Don’t think you must tough it out, and stick to your original plan even when something doesn’t seem to be going along as it should. The most successful people are the ones who know how to monitor themselves, change course, and modify their goal attainment strategies when what they’re doing doesn’t seem to be working. Many newcomers to exercise, for instance, start out with overly lofty goals—like exercising one hour per day, seven days a week. Well maybe the first day or even the first week, you might be able to stick to it. Then, when things get too hard you’re likely to just give up and convince yourself you can’t do it, so why bother. In reality, all you need to do is adjust your approach slightly. Try ten minutes a day, for example. Pare down your goals by dividing them into smaller, doable chunks, and you’ll be back on track once again. Don’t be too proud. The intelligent goal-setter is a flexible goal-setter. Be willing to go back and revise both your goal and your method of approaching it.
Don’t Make Your Goals too Easy
No one is motivated to achieve something that offers no challenge at all. While goals should not be so hard that they frustrate you, neither should they be so easy that you can’t muster up the excitement you need to pursue them. Goals that are too easy offer no sense of satisfaction once you achieve them. In addition to that, you are more likely to get bored if the goal you set for yourself can be achieved easily by anybody. Research shows that the real achievers enjoy taking on some risk and responsibility in order to achieve their goals. You will get a greater sense of personal satisfaction and increased confidence when you achieve goals that required some effort. That goal, once achieved, will also mean more to you.
Don’t Forget Your Higher Goals
We all know that basic human needs—like food, clothing, shelter, friends, and esteem—are vital to our well-being. But many people, in the hustle and bustle of trying to satisfy those needs forget that the soul needs to be nourished too. When is the last time you took the time to meditate, attend an inspiring sermon, spent an hour with a notebook to clarify what gives your life meaning? Have you blocked out some time in your schedule for play time, for adventure, for drinking in art and music and letting their universal message inspire you? Since going to a museum is not nearly as urgent as making sure you’ve had a meal today, many of us think that feeding the soul is not important. But neglecting this aspect of yourself can throw your entire life off balance, and leave you with a restless feeling that is hard to identify. When setting your goals, make sure you attend to all areas that need tending to—from your physical, to your emotional, to your financial, to your spiritual needs. All of them work together to keep you in the zone of balanced well-being.