How to Stick to Your Personal Goals
Updated: Jul 23, 2018
The 8 Elements of True Transformation
As a “Type A” person, I’ve set countless goals in my life. All of which I was very serious about. I made an extremely well-researched, detailed action plan. I got really hyped up about it. And I gave it my all.
Until I didn’t.
Something small came up and I got thrown out of my routine. I got sick for a week, an important project at work came up or I was travelling.
And I never got back into my routine again.
Until I set the same goal again. A couple of months later.
I was stuck in a horrible vicious cycle of guilt, frustration and hopelessness.
Until I understood what it really takes to stick to your goals: the 8 elements of true personal transformation:
1. Set your Goals the Right Way
When setting your goals, think about the following two aspects: HOW to choose them and HOW to set them.
How to choose goals:
There is really only one question you should ask yourself when it comes to choosing goals: Is this really what I want?
Be honest with yourself or you will set yourself up for failure right from the start.
Use these two questions to get clarity:
Is this goal aligned with my priorities? Example: Setting a financial saving goal while your actual priorities are travelling the world, going out with friends and investing in your career might not be feasible.
How will it make me feel when I achieve that goal? Are there other ways to achieve that feeling? Example: You want to lose weight because you think it will get you into a romantic relationship. However, you are not really overweight and the actual issue is your self-worth.
How to set goals:
Choosing the right goal is only half of the equation, setting them the right way is the other half. There are countless goal setting strategies out there, but in the end, they all come back to 2 fundamentally different approaches:
Approach 1: Outcome-Oriented Goals like “run a marathon in 3 months” or “lose 10kgs by October 2018” are outcome-oriented. If you pick this type of goal setting, it is best to use the S.M.A.R.T. goal setting technique, because it forces you to define your goals extremely clear in all aspects.
S.M.A.R.T stands for: > Specific: “I want to be rich” is NOT specific. “I want to earn 100K over the next 12 months by offering consulting services” IS. Think about the WHAT, the HOW, the WHERE and the WHEN of your goal! > Measurable: Find a way to measure the progress on your goal. Want to lose weight? Track your weight loss every week! Want to start your own business? Think of concrete milestones you can track to make this goal come true. > Attainable and Relevant: Is achieving this goal realistic and possible? Losing 50kgs in one month might not be attainable, but losing 5kgs in a month seems reasonable. Also, do you really care about this goal? Is it relevant for you? You won’t be motivated to achieve a goal that is not a priority in your life (we already discussed this above)! > Timely: Set a deadline and make a timeline. What do you want to achieve until when? What are the milestones along the way?
Approach 2: State-Oriented Sometimes it is not possible to pick a specific outcome as your goal. Instead, it makes more sense to visualise and describe your ideal state for this area of your life, the person you want to be or how you want to feel.
Here is an example: “I am the type of person who works out 3 times a week even when I am travelling. I feel naturally energised every day without any stimulants. I follow a paleo lifestyle and feel happy and fulfilled without alcohol and cigarettes.”
Final Note: Whichever goal-setting method you choose, make sure you write your goals down!
2. Attach Habits to your Goals
“Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.” — Jim Rohn
Whatever you want to achieve in life, the basis for success is almost always identifying, integrating and sticking to powerful habits.
I like to think of habits as powerful tools to automate the goal achievement process: self-insight (WHAT do I want to change?) and motivation (WHY do I want to change it?) get you started, but habits are what really keep you going.
Of course, different goals require different strategies. But trust me, it is possible to define goal related habits for almost every goal!
Here are a few examples:
Working out 3 times a week — if your goal is to get fitter
Taking an evening per week to search for jobs — if your goal is to change careers
Taking an hour before work to read or learn — if your goal is to learn a new skill or expand your knowledge in a specific field
Whatever your goal is, ask yourself the following:
What habits can you integrate into your daily life that will get you closer to your goal?
3. Train your Brain to Stick to your Habits
Consistency is the holy grail of goal achievement. If you manage to stick to your habits, you will soon see the benefits of compounded effort.
Research shows us a few things we can do to increase our chances to sticking to our habits — and thus, sticking to our goals:
Stick to the same date and time: Don’t just say you want to go running 3 times a week. Pick a date and time for it and mark it in your calendar — for instance, every Tuesday morning. The key here is to be extremely consistent so your brain can get used to the new part of your routine and can actually form a habit. This works even better if you choose a daily habit: if something is part of every single day, it will become like a second nature to you extremely fast.
Set a trigger: Increase your chances of sticking to your habit by creating a powerful trigger that kicks off your habit. This could be your alarm clock, a timely reminder on your phone or an event in your day like arriving at home, getting on the train or waking up.
Stick to it for at least 3 weeks: Research shows that this is how long it takes to form a new habit loop in your brain. Do everything you can NOT to break your habit streak in the first 3 weeks. Show up every day — even if you don’t feel like it, even if your tasks became boring and repetitive, even if you see shiny objects and more interesting things to do, even if you are discouraged by the lack of progress. Show up every day until your habit is part of who you are!
4. Start Small, Don’t Overwhelm Yourself
When we have big goals, we tend to choose big actions to achieve them. In my countless weight loss efforts, I’ve always made grand plans to transform my entire lifestyle over night: workout every day, cook a paleo meal 3 times a day, sleep 8 hrs, meditate every morning for 30 minutes and go to Yoga class twice a week.
But this is not how change actually happens. Real transformation happens through compounding small, daily efforts over time.
If we set our goals to high, we tend to get overwhelmed and end up quitting.
Thus, change ONE habit at a time: Don’t overwhelm your brain and decrease your chances of success. Master one habit and then move onto the next one. And not only that, start with the smallest possible version of that habit: meditate for 5 minutes, run around the block for 15 minutes, start with a healthy breakfast every morning while keeping the other meals the same.
Incremental, compounded effort is what counts!
5. Optimise your Environment
Your environment can make or break your goal achievement efforts. The people around you, your fridge, your workplace and your bedroom — they all have the potential to accelerate your success or hold you back from it.
So the question is:
How can you optimise your environment in a way that makes achieving your goal easy?
Here are a few ideas:
Arrange the things you need to be able to perform your habits and prepare them the day before (get a gym membership, buy running shoes, arrange a meditation corner in your apartment, stock up your fridge with healthy food, etc.).
Surround yourself with people that reflect the goals you want to achieve. Join the healthy lunch group at work and share your goals with your family so they can support you in your goals.
Remove your temptations and triggers. For instance, don’t keep sweets around the house and stop hanging out with people that make you drink and smoke.
6. Track your Progress
Tracking and measuring your progress gives you immediate feedback, a sense of accomplishment and informs you whether your strategy is working or not.
Measuring your progress, however, is not only about tracking your habits, it is also about finding a way to analyse how far you have come on your journey to achieve your goal.
If you are trying to lose weight, make sure you weigh yourself regularly and/or measure your body fat percentage. This way, you will know if your daily habits are effective in reaching your goal. Don’t expect results too fast (see point 8), but make sure to adapt your strategy when you see no progress at all for weeks!
7. Create External Accountability
For some people, habit tracking apps provide enough accountability, for others, stronger forms of external accountability are required.
Here are two ways you can create external accountability:
Get an accountability partner: This could be a friend or a professional like a personal trainer of life coach. The mobile app Coach.Me is a great and inexpensive way to hire a coach to hold you accountable for reaching your goals and support you on your journey. The app offers free habit tracking tools, an engaging community and professional coaches for different areas of your life like getting healthy, getting up early, becoming a great leader etc.
2. Create a pact: Attaching a negative (financial) outcome for not sticking to your goals can be a powerful way to keep you motivated. For instance, the mobile app stickK allows you to create a Commitment Contract for your goals and bet on yourself. If you fail to stick to your goal, they will donate your money to charity, a friend, or even an organisation you oppose!
8. Be Patient
Patience is highly underrated when it comes to achieving our goals. In today’s world we are used to getting things fast: from on-demand food delivery to researching information in the internet — the convenience in our day-to-day life made us a slave to instant gratification.
But anything worth achieving takes time. A long time.
A common mistake is to expect results too fast and get discouraged quickly if it doesn’t happen.
With all these goal setting techniques, habit tracking apps and all the effort you are putting in every day, we often forget about a very important thing: The journey is the destination.
Effort and deliberate practice can be wonderful experiences. If you let go of the outcome and fall in love with the process.
Because it is not just about the goal, it is about the person you become.
So do your best every day, enjoy the ride and celebrate small wins along the way.
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