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Setting Better Goals

Five Steps To Setting Better Goals

How many times have you set yourself a goal, struggled to achieve it and then given up? You might be wondering why you can’t seem to achieve the things you want to achieve. We can easily blame ourselves when this happens but maybe it’s our goals, not us, that are the problem!

Most of us have ideas of some huge outcomes we’d like to achieve, but it’s difficult to know where to start. We want to lose a large amount of weight, hit some insane lifts in the gym, or achieve lofty aspirations in our careers. It’s good to know what you want to achieve - but do you know how you will achieve it?

Goal setting is crucial for breaking down our long term goals into action steps that we can take on a daily or weekly basis. There are probably a number of ways we could go about achieving our goals, so it’s important to identify specific and actionable goals along the way. This is how we transform our good intentions into behaviours that achieve results.

Before we can set appropriate goals, we need to consider a couple of key goal characteristics.

Outcome vs Process

An outcome is a result you want to achieve, such as ‘I want to lose 5kgs’. It’s great to have an outcome in mind but it doesn’t tell you how to make that happen. It doesn’t give you anything to act on in order to see that result.

What we need to do is consider the process behind the result that we want to achieve. What do we actually need to do each day, or each week, to bring us closer towards our target of losing 5kgs? E.g. Eating 2-3 portions of veg with each meal, going on a short walk each day, including protein at each meal.

Approach vs Avoid

Approach goals help us move toward our desired outcomes, whereas avoidance goals help us move away from undesired outcomes [1]. Approach goals are associated with greater positive emotions, thoughts, and self-evaluations and greater psychological well-being [2]. In contrast, avoidance goals are associated with fewer positive thoughts and greater negative emotions.

We can convert avoidance goals into approach goals by substituting behaviors to avoid with behaviors to promote, e.g. I’m not going to eat any junk food (avoid), vs I’m going to have one piece of fruit per day (approach).

With that in mind, let’s set some goals!

Step One: Get Clear On Your Goal

Not only is it necessary to get clear on what you want to achieve but it helps to really understand why this goal is important to you.

  1. What outcome would you like to achieve?

  2. Why is this important to you?

  3. What would be different about your life if you achieved your goal?

  4. What would your life be like if you didn’t achieve your goal?

Now that we know what you want to achieve, and why, we can break it down into smaller steps. Very often, we may set a goal that seems like it’s a long way off. It helps to break it down into small steps that we can focus on each day.

Identifying Where To Start

Consider your potential target behaviours, and then:

  • What area needs the most improvement? What do you need to prioritise?

  • What small change would make the biggest difference right now?

For example:

  • Goal: Improve energy levels

  • Potential target behaviours: Nutrition, physical activity, stress management, sleep

  • Area needing most improvement: Sleep

  • Small change: Identify a consistent sleep/wake time. Set an alarm to remind myself to wind down.

Then consider: Could I still do this on my worst day? If the answer is no, it could be helpful to set a smaller, more achievable goal, or come up with a contingency plan.

Step Two: Make Your Goals Specific

Now we need to check that your goal is specific enough. Well-defined goals are necessary to help you focus your desires and intentions and create a standard by which success can be measured.

SMART goals are a pretty good way to do this.

  1. Specific: Is your goal clear? What will you do? When? Where?

  2. Measurable: How will you measure and monitor this change?

  3. Achievable: Do you have the skills and resources you need to make the change?

  4. Realistic: Is this realistic for you? How confident do you feel that you can achieve this?

  5. Time-based: When will you get it done?

Let’s use the example of increasing your daily movement.

  1. Specific: I will walk for 20 minutes around the block.

  2. Measurable: I can keep track of my steps on my phone.

  3. Achievable: Yes, I have everything I need to make this happen.

  4. Realistic: Yes, I have time in the morning.

  5. Time-based: I’ll do this each morning at 7:30am.