Sometimes we have those big goals that just seem to defy our usual goal-setting strategies.
We think they’re unattainable or overwhelming or even unimaginable at first. And we’re afraid that we’ll sound crazy or even be ex-communicated from friends and family if we even say this goal out loud.
Whether it’s wanting to travel around the world or starting a new business or pursuing something creative, we’ve all yearned for these big goals, but societal pressures or personal obligations or just plain old mental blocks keep us from doing anything.
Well, the good thing about big goals is that no one has to give you permission to pursue them. And big goals can always be resized and broken down. Like with all goals, the key to tackling big goals is to take small, practical steps and do them consistently.
And if you’re afraid of failure or rejection, that’s completely normal and even healthy--that means you’re taking this goal seriously. And part of what makes goal setting so exciting is the opportunity to stretch ourselves and get out of our comfort zones. As human beings, we like to have a sense of purpose and we also enjoy challenging ourselves. Goals can help us feel fulfilled in that sense.
Whether you’re someone who likes to set goals years in advance or someone who goes through life flying by the seat of their pants, you’ll benefit from our goal setting techniques and action plan. So break out your favorite planner and let’s break down this big goal.
Take stock of your present situation
Before you create a plan for your new goals, you’ll want to analyze your current situation first.
A mini “life audit” will give you a better idea of where you are and where you’ll want to end up.
And in doing this exercise, you might even realize that certain tools or processes are no longer working for you. Hate waking up early to write? Don’t really enjoy running all that much? Then cut those activities from your new goal setting plan, and focus on things that excite you instead.
And make sure to conduct your audit with compassion and sensitivity, especially if you’re reflecting on tough moments from the past year. As human beings, we are innately flawed. We’re not always going to get the goal or be productive or be good partners and friends. But our past mistakes shouldn’t be a reason to avoid goals. It’s only when we own up to our limitations and flaws, that we can truly open ourselves up for growth and development.
Here are some prompts to help you reflect:
- What accomplishment are you most proud of?
- What didn’t go well? Were there things you wanted to do but didn’t? What happened?
- How will you improve yourself this year? How will this year be better than last year?
By examining your life from different vantage points--the not-so-great parts along with the successes and positive moments, you can gain a sense of closure, which can then help you look forward to the future with more clarity and optimism.
Ask yourself: Where do you want to be in a year?
You might already have a set of goals in mind or you might need help figuring out what you want to do. In either case, a good place to start is to ask yourself two questions:
Where do you want to be at the end of year? This question can be interpreted literally or metaphorically. Do you want to be at a higher position at your job? Do you want to move to a new city? Do you want to be healthier? Do you want to learn a new skill? Do you want to improve one thing?
How do you want to feel at the end of the year? So much of goal setting is about professional goals and external achievement, that we forget to prioritize our emotional well-being. Asking yourself “how do I want to feel” can help you clarify your goals. Do you want to feel happier? Then define all the activities you can do to help get you to that emotional place.
Write down your goal
Now that you’ve clarified how you want to feel and where you want to be at the end of the year, it’s time to define your goal.
Use the SMART Method to create a goal that is specific, measurable, actionable, relevant, and timebound.
Here are some examples of SMART goals.
- I want to write a draft of a screenplay in 3 months
- I want to run a 5K in 6 months
- I want to apply to grad school in a year
- I want to relocate to a new city in two years.
- I want to start a company in three years.
Now here’s the most important part: write down your goal.
Numerous studies have shown that writing down your goal makes you more likely to commit to it. The sheer act of putting pen to paper helps cement the goal in your memory and gives you a clearer picture of your goal. Plus, there’s something to be said for the ritual aspect of writing something down, which makes your goal much more personalized and meaningful.
Break down your goal into mini goals
Let’s say you want to write a screenplay in 3 months. Sound daunting? Don’t worry. Because now you’re going to break it down into tiny, practical steps. This is what we call mini goals.
So if you’re writing a screenplay, what would the mini goals be? Maybe it’s brainstorming characters, developing stories, and drafting an outline. So after you’ve identified your mini goals, you’ll want to give them a timely deadline. Here's an example:
- Write a draft of your script - 3 months from now
- Write an outline - 2 months from now
- Brainstorm characters and story - 1 month from now
Create a daily to-do list
Now that you have your mini goals, it’s time to break them down even further and create daily, actionable tasks. It’s not about the heavy lifting, but the small, consistent steps you take each day to work towards your goals.
Even the CEOs of the world’s biggest companies follow this strategy of breaking things down. In his bestselling memoir “Shoe Dog”, Nike founder Phil Knight brings up the popular Confucian saying, “To move a mountain, begin by carrying away small stones.”
Your goal may seem overwhelming and even surreal at first, but if you just take one small action a day, you’ll make so much progress over time.
So let’s identify those small action steps:
- If your goal is to write a screenplay, write 3 pages each day.
- If your goal is to run a 5k, start off by running for 15 minutes each day.
- If your goal is to eat healthier, eat your favorite healthy snack each day.
The key is to start small so that there’s no way you can fail. Then, as you incorporate this new habit and build progress, you can gradually start adding more time or cranking up the intensity.
You can track your progress with your planner and take note of what’s working and what’s not as you go along. Make sure to reward yourself along the way, because the real victory isn’t necessarily the outcome or the victory, but the work that you’re putting in each day.