The Only Goal-Setting Advice You’ll Ever Need

Most people quit their goals soon after they set them. Here’s how to stick to yours.

1. Don’t make a list. If you need to write a list of goals, it means you are trying to do too much at a time. That’s where most people go wrong and end up quitting a few weeks into their journey. It’s overwhelming.
We approach goal-setting like a wishlist when we should think of it as a budget. We have limited time, energy, and willpower to work on all our projects and new habits.

When we take on too many goals at once, we deplete our willpower, disperse our focus, and slow our progress. It’s counterproductive. Instead, we need to pick a few goals and focus on those before adding more to the list.

2. Set only three goals at a time. If you achieve one quickly, add another one. But don’t work on more than three at a time. I know you want to work on all your other goals, and you will, but you’ll do it progressively, three at a time.

Same applies to habits. Work on three at a time. Creating habits requires consistent effort in the beginning, but once established, they demand little mental energy. So once you’ve solidified a habit, start working on another. But never try to build too many at the same time.

The three big goals you choose may have subgoals and action steps. If they do, apply the same concept, work on three subgoals or action steps at a time. As you complete them add more to get it back to three.

You can also use this rule for daily activities. Set up the three most important tasks of the day and focus on completing them. You can then add another 3 or use the rest of the day for other projects. Working this way gives you clarity of mind and reduces stress. You’ll also be more aware of your progress—which will motivate you to keep moving forward.

3. Work on each goal consistently. It’s better to work on your goals often, even if it’s for a short time than working on them for long hours every couple of weeks.

Ideally, you should work on our goals daily; it is consistent action that will bring you closer to them. Intense work now and then may feel good in the moment—because we see immediate progress—but consistency will do more for you in the long term.

If you can combine consistency and intensity, excellent, but most of the time, we can only do one or the other. In that case, go for consistency. Our most important goals in life are not achieved through periodic explosions of energy, but through a consistent, slow burn over weeks, months, or years.

4. Fail-Proof your goals. Right after the initial excitement of starting to work on our goals, the novelty begins to wear off. We are not as consistent anymore, and begin to take days off. If we are not careful, those minor setbacks can snowball into quitting our goals altogether. Let’s make sure we stay on track.
Here’s a 3 part plan to prepare for setbacks and fail-proof our goals.

  • Prevention: A plan to minimize the chances of going off track.
  • Reaction: A plan to limit to stop a downward spiral if we do get off track.
  • Recovery: A plan to get back on track.

In the book Switch: How to change things when change is hard, Chip and Dan Heat give a great example of those three steps applied for avoiding car accidents and people getting injured in them. It will serve us as an analogy for our goals.

Most of the time, we are relatively safe driving on the road, but accidents do happen, and people get injured. We want to bring those numbers to a minimum, so we’ll plan for things going wrong at every step.

Our first line of defense is prevention. We want to avoid car accidents from happening in the first place. To achieve this, we light up the streets, make signs on the road clear and visible, we set speed limits, and we require people to take driving lessons before they are allowed on the road.

Despite all the preventive measures, accidents will still happen. So, we come up with reactive safety features to minimize the consequences. These include Airbags, seatbelts, safety glass windshields, etc. They are there to lower the chances of getting killed or seriously injured.

Now we’ll take it one step further. Accidents happen, and sometimes the safety features on the road and in the car won’t be enough to avoid injuries. To deal with those situations, we create emergency response systems—ambulances, police, and hospitals.

Prevention, Reaction, Recovery. That’s the model we’ll use for fail-proofing our goals.

Here is an example for someone wanting to go for a run every weekday in the morning.
Prevention: Go to bed early the nights before, so you don’t feel tired and want to skip your run in the morning.
Reaction: If you went to bed late and felt tired the next morning, make an effort to go for a run even if it’s for less time than usual.
Recovery: If you were too tired and you skipped your run, schedule extra time for the next day or an extra day over the weekend to make up for the day you missed.

Here’s an example for someone wanting to eat healthy.
Prevention: Avoid going to a fast-food restaurant even if your friends are going.
Reaction: If you end up at a fast-food restaurant for any reason, start with a salad, so you don’t overeat junk.
Recovery: If you couldn’t help yourself and ate a lot of fast-food, add an extra gym day to your week or don’t do a cheat day that week.

Setting goals is easy; working on them when we feel like it is easy; what stops most people from going the distance is staying consistent. They don’t prepare for setbacks and don’t have a plan to get back on track.

The prevention, reaction, recovery model is the best way to fail-proof our goals and make sure we stay with them until we reach them.

Everyone is writing their New Year’s resolutions and setting up their goals in this time of the year. New beginnings—like a new year, a new job, moving to a new place, etc.—are good opportunities to create habits and make changes in our lives. They can give us motivation and a feel of “a fresh start” to finally achieve our goals.

We should use these “New beginnings” opportunities as they come, but don’t rely on them. We must take the initiative at any time. We should be as motivated to set goals and start new projects on May 15th or September 22nd as we are on January 1st. As they say: don’t wait for the perfect moment, take a moment and make it perfect.

I wish you your best year yet.

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