mental health

How to set goals and stick to them

 Often I hear a disappointed person say something along the lines of “well, I planned to but it didn’t happen” or “I’ll get around to it, I just haven’t had the time yet.”

The thing about goals, whether big or small, is that they really can help you achieve more and experience greater happiness.  Setting, working towards, and accomplishing goals is not always easy and our lives sometimes do get in the way. This is part of what it means to be human, and part of what it means to be a member of an ever-changing community. We need to be adaptable in order to flourish (Darwinism, anyone?)


When we set goals we may need to revisit or alter them along the way. This is okay. This is good! It does not mean we have failed or have not “stuck to the goal.” Rather, it means we are adapting and making decisions that make sense for our busy and often complicated lives.


Let’s break down the process of setting and working on goals in a realistic, manageable and effective way.


1.             Establish your goal. This seems obvious, but so many people have a goal that is too abstract to be clearly identifiable and understood, let alone carried out. Decide what it is you want to work on or work towards. Be clear and be specific.

2.            Write.Down.Your.Goal. “But if it’s important to me, I won’t forget.” Right. You probably won’t forget, but it also might not be front and center in your mind. Life gets in the way. Work, family and responsibility take up your time and energy and you are left with little of each available to work on your goal. When you write down your goal, you have a much greater chance to actually achieve it. What will it feel like to reach your goal? Will you feel proud, or happy, or like you have added value to your life? Chances are that you will experience a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. You will likely to feel motivated to continue establishing and working towards goals. I recommend you be specific. It’s not just “I want to clean out my house” or “I want to lose weight.” It’s much more detailed and specific than that.

Remember, thoughts become things, so put out into the universe exactly what you want! “I want to remove the extra clutter from the storage closet and create an organizational solution for my shoes.” Or “I want to lose 5 lbs so that I will feel more comfortable in my skin.” Whatever your goal is, be specific.


3.           Make your goal manageable. If your goal is large, or has many steps/parts to it, break it down into smaller more manageable goals. This will keep you excited and motivated, rather than stressed, overwhelmed, or worried about failure. “I want to organize my house better.” Great. Is this something you can do in 1 day? Probably not. But you can in 1 day: Organize your closet, fridge or your child’s play space.


What about the weight loss goal? “I want to lose 30 lbs because my doctor said I am overweight and I want to be healthier for my children.” It’s great that you want to be healthier for yourself/your family / to feel stronger or feel more confident. That goal will take time and dedication. You don’t want to feel discouraged or let down if you don’t reach your goal as quickly as you hoped or planned. If you break it down into smaller, more manageable goals not only will you be more likely to follow through, but also you will experience a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment with each piece of the goal you reach! You will be proud of yourself for the work you put in and be determined to continue. In sticking with this example, maybe you set 5 lb goals. 30 lbs is daunting. But 5 lbs? That’s not so intimidating. Losing the first 5 will feel like a great success and a check mark on your progress. Onto the next 5!


4.            Do not give up. It is normal to feel that working towards goals is slow and tedious, maybe even challenging and frustrating. Ideally, you want to be excited by your goal. But sometimes the emotions kick in. We are only human. When you find yourself feeling frustrated or like it’s taking too long to reach your goal, remind yourself why you started. Look back at that note you shoved in your desk drawer or taped to the fridge or stored in your cell phone. Why did you set this goal? How will it feel to accomplish your goal? Keep going.


If you need to brainstorm again or re-work your plan because your current plan is not yielding the results you hoped for, that is great. Do it! This is the whole point of adapting. If your goal becomes hard, don’t give up. You’ll regret it. Find a new approach or a new way of thinking to give yourself the motivation to keep going. Maybe you talk to your friend (or your therapist?) about the feelings or struggles you are experiencing. Opening up to someone you trust is very powerful and can certainly help give you the encouragement to keep going.


5.             Enjoy the result and reflect on your process. You have eliminated the clutter from your home and now you feel more peaceful in your space. You have lost the excess weight your doctor recommended and feel healthier, happier and more able to enjoy your life. Incredible!!


Whatever your goal was, you should be very proud of yourself. Improving yourself and your life is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself. Enjoy it. Relish in it. Remember this feeling of satisfaction (write it down?) so when it is time to establish and work on your next goal you will have personal experience and growth to guide you and self-given encouragement as your greatest cheerleader.