How To Set Goals You'll Actually Reach
Ever set a goal for yourself and not reach it? Yeah, me too.
Each time we set a goal for ourselves and then don't reach it we risk increasing our belief that it's not possible for us.
The thing is, it is possible. Whether your goal is to lose weight, eat better, workout more, run a 5K, finish a triathlon, or just feel better, it is absolutely, 100% possible for you.
However, not all goals are created equal and this is where we can get into trouble.
So, how do we set goals that we'll actually reach? Here are a few things to consider that you might not have heard before that can help you set amazing goals that you'll actually reach.
Set Goals Based on Desire, Not “Shoulds”.
Too often we set goals based on "shoulds".
"I "should" get up earlier, I "should" drink more water, I "should" exercise more, I "should" plan better, I "should" eat more veggies, I "should" lose weight, I "should" stop eating sugar..."
But, do you want to?
All of the above goals are great, if you really want to do them. If you don't though...
If you are just doing them because you think you should or some trainer/nutritionist/book/co-worker/family member/friend told you that you should?
Well, I can pretty much guarantee it won't happen. Not because you aren't good enough or don't have willpower but because the most important ingredient to setting good goals? Desire.
The actions themselves don’t mean anything if they are not connected to a greater desire.
Not eating sugar is miserable unless finally fitting in that dress is even more desirable than that cupcake.
Working out can be tough unless feeling fit & stronger is even more desirable than a Netflix binge.
Eating broccoli instead of French fries is not fun unless your desire to be free from food is more powerful than your desire for deep fried goodness.
So, instead of setting arbitrary goals because you “should”, aim to set goals that instantly make you smile. Set goals that make your heart flutter. Set goals that give you butterflies. Set goals that make you whisper to yourself "could I really do that?" and then, get just a get a little giddy at the thought.
Focus on the “What” & “Why”, not the “How”.
Let’s talk about the "how trap". Here is what often happens: We pick a goal and then we start figuring out HOW to reach that goal.
Makes sense, right? It's what we've always been taught to do. "You need a good plan", "proper planning is key", "if you don't have a plan you are planning to fail". Any of these sound familiar?
Now, I'm not saying planning doesn't have its place, sure.
However, what often happens when we jump straight to planning? Our brain kind of freaks out and starts to say things like "it's impossible!", "maybe for others but not for you", "you will fail miserable and make a complete fool of yourself".
I know, the brain kind of seems like a jerk, but, believe it or not, the brain is just trying to help us. It's trying to protect us from the unknown.
The brain is trying to protect us from failing because the brain believes that if we try something new and fail (*gasp*) we might literally die. Or, at least be completely shunned from society which is just as bad (the brain can be a bit dramatic!).
So, instead, don't focus on the how. Or, at least don't worry if you don't know the how.
Keep focusing on the WHAT & the WHY.
Focus on the feeling.
Trust that the how will come to you. Perhaps just one step at a time. That's okay though, you just need to know the next step...and then the next....and then the next. You will figure out the how as you go.
Filter In What’s Helpful
Let’s talk about something called the Reticular Activating System. (Okay, I'm kind of geeking out here because I love to talk about this. I find this to be extremely interesting and helpful!)
There is a LOT to say about the reticular activating system so I'm going to break this down into a few parts.
First, what the heck IS the reticular activating system? It's a part of the brain that is connected to our senses (all but smell) that helps us process and filter information.
Let me give you number that will blow your mind 🤯 (no pun intended). Every second the brain process 4 BILLION (yes, billion) bits of information.
If we were actually aware of all of all the data that is coming at us there is no way we'd be able to function. So, our brain decides what is important and necessary and pushes everything else to the background.
So, what does this have to do with our goals?
Have you ever been in the market for a new car and suddenly you see that car everywhere? That's the RAS working. You've "told" it that this is something important to you and it is "allowing" it into your awareness. Are there really suddenly (& ironically) way more of that car on the road? No! It's just that now you are noticing them.
I want to go back to the fact that we don't always need to know the HOW. Focus on the thing that you really want. Feel the emotion of that goal. The good emotions attached to the goal are letting your RAS know that this is REALLY important to you. Then, trust your brain to filter in the information you will need to figure out the HOW as you need to know it. Sit back, relax, and take it a step at a time.
This short (less than 5 min long) video does a great job of explaining the RAS and how we can use it to help us reach our goals.
The Power Of Positive Self-Talk
So now that we know about the Reticular Activating System, let’s use it to our advantage.
What's interesting is that the RAS does not care if something is actually true, it simple listens to what you tell it and then filters in evidence of that. The brain likes things to be congruent! It wants consistent evidence of what you believe to be true (even in the belief is painful).
Self-talk, then, is incredibly important & can be used as a powerful tool when it comes to reaching our goals.
For example, if you say "I have no self-control, I will never lose weight!", the brain does not argue back. It says "Okay, you have no self-control and will never lose weight. Got it. Here is a bunch of evidence to back up that belief".
If you say things to yourself like "I can't.....(fill in the blank - lose weight, eat healthy, be consistent with a workout routine; run that 5K ... ) regardless of whether it's actually true, your brain will help you find evidence to prove you are right.
So, start to practice saying what you WANT to be true as if it is ALREADY true.
Don't try to swing to an extreme (your brain is smart...I mean, it is your brain.) Instead, try things like "I am consistent with my workout plan" or "I take good care of myself" or "I love to eat foods that fuel me and give me long-lasting energy".
Be careful not to use words like "wish" or "should" or "want". Instead, talk about it like it is already happening, like it is already true.
It might feel funny at first, but keep at it. As you make this a habit your RAS will begin to help you find situations, give you tools, & bring things into your awareness that lead you toward your goals.
Write & Visualize
Let’s discuss a few practical ways that you can keep your goals in focus and help your Reticular Activating System filter in the things that will help you achieve success:
1. Write 'em down!
There is power in writing. I know people who write their goals and look at them daily. I know others who write their goals down on New Year’s day and don’t look at them again until the end of the year.
Either way, there is something powerful about writing them out, pen to paper, to help your brain remember & move towards them.
2. Write a letter from the future.
Write a letter to your current self from the future.
It could be yourself in a year, or two or five. Either way, write about what you hope to happen as if it already has. Feel the emotion and describe what your life is like now that you have achieved your goals.
Give your current self some advice from your future self. What wisdom does she have that can help you know?
For this you can use something like meditation, a vision board or even Pinterest. Either way, spend a few minutes each week (or day) visualizing your ideal self living your ideal life.
Again, focus on the emotion more than the “things”. How do you feel? Calm? Happy? Excited? All of the above? Be specific in what you want and enjoy the indulgence of visualizing it.
To wrap it up, setting good goals is about so much more than just being specific, or realistic, or giving yourself a time-table (although those can help).
It’s important that you connect to your deepest desires, give yourself permission to go for it, trust the path you are on & ultimately become your own biggest fan along the way.