How To Stick With Your Goals In "Real Life"

An array of desk supplies including a filled out planner with a hand holding a pen

Maybe it’s the magical vibes of the winter holidays or the optimism we feel at the start of a new year, but when January 1st rolls around, we boldly set out to achieve big, life changing goals.

We sign up for gym memberships. Download language apps. Block out entire weekends to write our novel. 

But then, something happens… 

We push aside our creative projects to punch out some work emails. We cancel our gym membership because it’s too cold to leave the house. We quit our language apps because we’re just too tired to learn anything. The hectic pace of reality sets in. It’s no wonder that by the time February rolls around, many of us abandon our goals. In fact, some people even quit their goals by mid-January

So what can we do? How do we stick to our goals when our good intentions get away from us? In other words, how do we achieve our goals when real life gets in the way? 

The good news is that plenty of people successfully reach their goals. And that it’s not necessarily a matter of working harder or longer, but about being more strategic with your time and energy. 

We can’t predict the future or prevent the roadblocks that get in the way. But we can learn to plan better so that we stay committed to our goals. 

Below are tips and techniques you can use to help you achieve your new year’s goals–even when life gets crazy. 

Do an assessment of your previous goals

One way to make sure we don't make the same mistakes year after year is to do an assessment of our previous goals and understand why they fell off track.

No one enjoys thinking about their failures or shortcomings, but an honest assessment can give you valuable insight into your patterns and behavior. This will better inform your goal planning strategy for the new year. 

Ask yourself: Were the previous goals too big? Too vague? Then set out to make better goals using the SMART Method

Was it a time management issue? Then review your schedule and make a realistic timeline for your goals. 

With a candid reflection of your previous goals, you’ll be able to learn from them and make sure this year’s goals are a slam dunk.

Create a low-pressure schedule

It’s easy to become overly ambitious at the start of a new goal. But remember: the key to maintaining a goal is consistency. It’s about putting in the time and effort over the course of a year. We need to be realistic about our commitments so that we don’t run out of steam. 

So take a look at your schedule and block out a reasonable amount of time for your goal. 

On the days when you have a lot going on, be realistic about how much you can commit. Do a streamlined version of your goal. 

Instead of setting out to exercise everyday, try committing to working out 3x a week.

Instead of setting out to write for two hours, try writing for 10 minutes. 

Always have a Plan B 

When life gets busy, make sure to have a back up plan for your goals.

One of the reasons that we lose interest in our goals is that we don’t plan for obstacles or real life. That’s why a Plan B or even a Plan C can come in handy.

Think about your back-up plans ahead of time so that you can employ them as soon as an obstacle arises.

  • Plan A: Go for a run 3 times this week
  • Plan B for rainy or low energy days: Do a workout video on YouTube
  • Plan A: Meal prep healthy meals for the week
  • Plan B for low-energy days: Meal prep and freeze healthy meals ahead of time so that you can reheat them 

Set quarterly targets

It’s hard to stay laser focused on your goals year-round. A great way to maintain motivation is to set quarterly targets around your big goal.

Why are quarterly goals so effective? A year can seem like a lifetime away. It’s much easier to wrap our head around a 3-month time frame. And 3 months is enough time to collect intel on your progress. You can see what’s working, what’s not, and then course correct. 

Every quarter, identify 2-3 targets that will get you closer to your overall goal. So if you’re looking to write a novel, then set a quarterly goal to write an outline or 100 pages. If you’re looking to run a marathon, set a quarterly goal to run a 5K or run for 30 minutes without stopping.  

Remove things from your schedule

If real life is getting in the way of your goals, then it’s time to start removing things that are not supporting your priorities.

It’s like that mantra: work smarter, not harder. 

What are ways that you can be strategic about your time and energy? How can you ensure that you work smarter, not harder? 

Maybe it means not making dinner from scratch on days that you’re committed to learning a new language. 

Or delegating meetings to others so that you have more time to work on your presentation.

Or learning to say no to social plans when you want a weekend to devote to your art. 

When it comes to accommodating our goals in real life, we need to be realistic about how much we can handle. That means removing things, not adding more. 

Set aside time to be inspired

We’re not always going to feel motivated about our goals. And that’s okay! We’re only human and it’s natural to lose interest in our projects from time to time.

On those days when you’re feeling uninspired or even stuck, try doing something that will re-invigorate you.

Maybe it’s watching an inspiring movie or reading a memoir by someone you respect. Taking in the experiences and life lessons of others will inspire you to go for your dreams.

Or maybe write in your journal about why this goal is a big deal to you. Sometimes we forget the reasons behind why we’re pursuing a goal in the first place. Maybe running a 5K will help you feel stronger. Or maybe a mediation practice helps you feel more calm and present for your loved ones. Or maybe creative writing helps you express yourself. 

Reconnecting with why we’re pursuing a goal can re-inspire us and spark our internal motivation to keep going for it.

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