Need Help Setting Goals and Sticking to Them?

goal setting

Story at-a-glance -

  • People who wrote down their goals on a regular basis were 42 percent more likely to achieve them than those who did not
  • It’s important to define why your goals are so important and what will happen in your life once you achieve them as well as have faith in yourself to achieve them
  • Work toward your goal consistently and deliberately practice it, challenging yourself to become greater
  • When you feel stuck or like you want to give up, the Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) can be invaluable in helping you to get back on track

By Dr. Mercola

It’s said that about 80 percent of New Year’s resolutions are abandoned by the second week of February.1 This means if you made one for 2018, there’s a good chance it may already have failed. There’s also a sizable number of people who set no goals at all, New Year’s resolutions or otherwise, in part because they may not realize the importance of goal setting and in part because they may not know how to do it.2

There are other reasons why you may avoid goal setting as well, like a fear of failure, rejection or even success, yet setting goals — and sticking to them — is very much a learned behavior. Similar to how you can choose to be happy, you can choose to stick to your goals and be successful. Life coach and author Tony Robbins believes success is “80 percent psychological and 20 percent strategic,”3 which is empowering because it means you can harness the power of your mind to make your goals a reality.

The sad fact is that many people are not exposed to goal setting during their formative years and simply continue on without goals throughout their adulthood. Motivational speaker and author Brian Tracy explains, “One of the greatest tragedies of our educational system is that you can receive 15 to 18 years of education in our schools and never once receive a single hour of instruction on how to set goals.” He adds:4

“Yet we find that in certain schools where goal-setting programs have been introduced since first grade, young people become excited about goal-setting — even if the goal is only to increase the scores by 5 or 10 percent over the course of the semester, or to be on time every day in the course of a month.

Children become so excited about achieving goals that by the third or fourth grade, they love to go to school. They get the best grades. They are seldom absent. They are excited about themselves and about their lives.”

The First Step to Achieving Your Goals? Write Them Down

It sounds incredibly simplistic, but the straightforward act of writing down your goals is perhaps the most important on your goal-setting journey. Case in point, do you know what your goals are? You may have a general idea or a vague desire, but until those ideas are down on paper, they’re more abstract than anything. And your goals should be written on paper (not on a computer) for best results. Robbins explains in a blog post on how to get what you want:5

“There’s something that happens when we write something down. You become a creator when you write down your goals. And you are acknowledging both to your conscious and subconscious minds that where you are right now is not where you want to be. Your brain then makes this distinction and becomes dissatisfied.

One of the strongest motivators is a sense of dissatisfaction. When you’re totally comfortable and relaxed, you’re not going to be motivated to do whatever it takes to make things happen. Dissatisfaction is a power that you want. There is real drive when you find some things that you want to move away from. Tension and pressure can serve as powerful drivers of our actions. Use this as a tool to influence yourself so you can start to take actionable steps toward your success.”

Simply grab a journal, notebook or even a piece of scratch paper and get serious about spelling out your goals. In a study conducted by Gail Matthews, a Dominican University of California psychology professor, it was revealed that people who wrote down their goals on a regular basis were 42 percent more likely to achieve them than those who did not.6 Those who sent weekly updates to a friend, which provides accountability, also had a higher success rate than those who kept their goals to themselves.7

On a side note, the latter point about sharing your goals should be done with caution and discretion. Fear of rejection is a major hurdle that many must overcome to achieving their goals, and if you share your goals with someone who is unsupportive, it may backfire. “Many people hold back from setting worthwhile goals because they have found that every time they do set a goal, somebody steps up and tells them that they can’t achieve it, or that they will lose their money or waste their time,” Tracy says.8

Because of this, Tracy actually recommends keeping your goals confidential and not sharing them with anyone, except for this important caveat: “Share your goals only with others who are committed to achieving goals of their own and who really want you to be successful and achieve your goals as well. Other than that, don’t tell anybody about your goals, so no one is in a position to criticize you, or to discourage you from setting your goals.”9

Set Goals With Clarity, Certainty and ‘Hunger’

Remember that achieving your goals is largely a psychological effort, so in setting them you’ll want to have mental clarity and resolve. Once you’ve established your goals, ask yourself why they’re so important and what will happen in your life once you achieve them. “By getting absolutely clear as to why you must achieve your goal, you will find your purpose. And purpose is stronger than outcome. The purpose of a goal is not so you can get the result; it’s what the end result will make you as a person,” Robbins says.10

Toward that end, while it’s not necessary that you figure out all the details on how to achieve your goals in this moment, it is necessary that you have faith in yourself to achieve them. Some, like in the video above, may call it “hunger.” Others may describe it as perseverance, drive, grit or dedication. Whatever you call it, it’s the manifestation of believing in yourself, no matter what. Robbins suggests:11

“Frame your goals with absolute certainty — that no matter what, you will find a way to make it happen. Even if it seems impossible to you now, you know in your core that you can pull it off. When you have that fundamental belief, you will be taking back control of your life. So even though you may not be able to control the outside world or the challenges that come your way, you know that you will persevere and overcome.”

Practice Makes Perfect

Another variable of any success story is practice. “If you want to master anything you have to ingrain it into your system. And practice is a key part of that. Remember, consistent practice, constant focus – this is what will result in a profound and lasting impact on your life,” Robbins says,12 although according to Anders Ericsson, a professor of psychology at Florida State University, there’s even more to it than that.

Ericsson studies the “acquisition of expert performance through deliberate practice,” which is a step beyond typical practice. Deliberate practice involves practicing outside of your comfort zone, typically with the guide of a skilled teacher who will push you to learn new things and continually challenge yourself to be greater.

“It’s not just a matter of accumulating hours. If you’re doing your job, and you’re just doing more and more of the same, you’re not actually going to get better. There’s a lot of research to really prove that,” Ericsson said in an interview with Wharton University Business Radio.13

Hallmarks of deliberate practice include focused, intense practice on your own, done consistently (but not necessarily for long periods), along with the ability to identify areas that need improvement and act on them. Ericsson believes that becoming an expert at virtually any topic can become a reality if you put in enough deliberate practice.

He and colleagues wrote in the journal Psychological Review, “Individual differences, even among elite performers, are closely related to assessed amounts of deliberate practice. Many characteristics once believed to reflect innate talent are actually the result of intense practice extended for a minimum of 10 years.”14

While there are those who disagree, arguing that innate ability and intelligence also play a role, you can certainly increase your own level of deliberate practice in working toward your goal; it can’t hurt and it just may help.

Set SMART Goals

Creating SMART goals is a popular strategy for business and workplace goals, but it can really be applied to anything. When writing down your goals, evaluate them to see if they meet the SMART criteria:15

  • Specific: Your goal should clearly define what it is you plan to achieve.
  • Measurable: You should be able to monitor progress toward your goal in a concrete, objective way.
  • Attainable: You should be able, and believe in your ability, to make your goal a reality. You needn’t be able to attain it right this instant, but you should be able to figure out, and complete, the set of steps necessary to do so.
  • Relevant: Your goal should be relevant to your life, which goes back to clarity and asking yourself what you want to achieve out of this goal and how it will change your life when you get it.
  • Time-based: Your goal should have a time frame to create a sense of urgency, or at least make you feel dissatisfied or a sense of tension with your current reality until the goal is achieved.

Now that you’ve written down your goals and developed a sense of clarity and hunger for them, keep them top of mind by making them visible in your daily life. While you may have written down your goals in a notebook that’s stored in a desk drawer, putting your goals on display will enmesh them into your life further. As noted by former brand, marketing and innovation consultant Annabel Acton in Forbes:16

“Though it might sound juvenile, sit with color markers, crayons or paint and write them out in a way you might if you were back in school. This activates a different part of your brain, and as it will be wildly different to your working style, will help cement your goals in your mind. The creative process will also help you see in terms of what is possible and not get stuck in rational thinking.”

Acton also recommends imagining what it will feel like to achieve your goals and acting like you already have. This will give you the confidence to continue moving forward. Further, it’s important to take steps toward achieving your goal immediately. It doesn’t have to be monumental right off the bat; even small steps count. “Momentum begets momentum,” Acton says, “and by kick-starting your goal writing process with a tangible action, you will immediately create a sense of progress.”17

Feel Like Giving Up? Use EFT to Tap for Setting Goals and Sticking to Them

It’s relatively easy to get excited about setting goals and even act on them for the first month or so. But after that you may find your motivation is waning, you become stuck and unsure of where to go next or, for whatever other reason you’ve stalled on your progress, you are back where you started. It’s the “sticking to them” part that is hardest about goal setting, and this is an area where the Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) can be invaluable.

EFT is a form of psychological acupressure, based on the same energy meridians used in traditional acupuncture for more than 5,000 years to treat physical and emotional ailments, but without the invasiveness of needles. Instead, simple tapping with the fingertips is used to input kinetic energy onto specific meridians on your head and chest while you think about your specific problem and voice positive affirmations.

This combination of tapping the energy meridians and voicing positive affirmation works to clear the "short-circuit" — the emotional block — from your body's bioenergy system, thus restoring your mind and body's balance, which is essential for optimal health and the healing of physical disease, as well as overcoming the psychological barriers to achieving your goals.

If you’re starting to feel discouraged that you haven’t made the progress you set out to toward reaching your goals, your inner dialogue can become negative, causing your self-worth to plummet and leading to a vicious cycle of failure and self-loathing. When you’re really feeling like giving up, the video above, featuring EFT practitioner Julie Schiffman, can help.

The video below has some additional tapping and affirmation examples that you can use in those times when you feel like giving up. EFT can help you to accept the progress you’ve made and the place you’re at right now, so ultimately you can move forward and make your goals a reality.