The importance of having goals in life cannot be stressed out enough, especially when considering that goals effectively help us to remain motivated throughout the journey of life. Unfortunately, many neglect the goal setting process, or do not even consider setting themselves ambitious aims for their professional and personal life. However, just by looking at the amazing biographies of many successful people you will notice that every one of them had a clear purpose in life and clearly set goals, visions, and desires that they wanted to achieve throughout their lives.
“People with goals succeed because they know where they are going. It’s as simply as that.”
~ Earl Nightingale
In the following I will show you exactly how to effectively set up excellent goals that motivate you, increase your perseverance and what you need to take into account in order to avoid common goal setting mistakes.
Effective Goal Setting Techniques
I. Write your goals down
When you set your goals, make sure to have a piece of paper (alternatively a notepad on your computer) and a pen at the ready, as the single most important step is to actually write your goals down. The following instructions will show you what else is important to avoid common goal setting mistakes.
II. Common phrasing errors to avoid
a) The brain ignores negations
Did you know that our brains are not able to recognize negations, but instead ignore it? Therefore, it is the biggest mistake to use negations, when setting a goal, such as, “I don’t want to eat more junk food anymore!” Having this or similar goals is counter-productive, as your brain will not comprehend the above-named aim but understand, “I do want to eat more junk food,” instead. Pretty astonishing, isn’t it? And a fatal mistake, as you just set yourself subconsciously the goal to eat even more junk food. Luckily, once you know the “don’ts of goal setting” you can easily avoid this mistake by replacing, “… no more junk food,” with a sentence without negation, such as, “I want to eat more healthy food!”
Still, I haven’t proven to you that the brain cannot recognize negations, so would you please do not think about a red Ferrari, please?
By the way, that was a little test, and I’m pretty sure you just thought about a red colored Ferrari, didn’t you? So much about the fact that our brain cannot recognize negations and hopefully a good example for you why it is so important to phrase your goals positively!
Another critical goal setting mistake that I find important to mention is vagueness and generality. When formulating a goal you should have the SMART rule https://www.planetofsuccess.com/blog/2010/powerful-goal-setting/ in mind, that says that goals should be formulated as specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timed. Without being as specific as possible, you cannot measure yourself and prohibit yourself from forming a clear image of the intended goal.
Avoid negations and vagueness by any means and try to include into the phrasing of your goal what you actually want to achieve, and not what you want to change or stop.
III. Achievability and complexity
It’s a law of nature that you can only accomplish goals that are achievable and that you would most likely be wasting your time if your goal is to fly as a bird, without any facilities. Furthermore, it is important that you don’t set yourself goals that are all too complex but to rather divide them into several sub-goals, that you can concentrate on one after another.
“I want to have a ripped body, just like [enter name]”
“I will achieve a thoroughly-fit and ripped body, just as [name]. In order to reach my goal I will accomplish the following:
a) I will join a gym within the next month
b) I will eat more healthy food and change my eating behavior
c) I will work out 3 times a week, focused and persistent
d) etc. etc.
IV. Add intentions to your goal formulation
You might have noticed in the above, that I did not only phrase a goal (“ripped body”) but that I also added a plan on how I intended to achieve that goal (“join a gym,” etc). Besides having just a goal, I find it even better to add your intentions on how you plan to accomplish the given aim.
“I’m going to eat healthy by creating a grocery list that contains fresh food like fruits, vegetables and other ingredients for some really delicious meals that I will cook from now on.”
Additionally, you can also phrase your goal as if you would already have achieved it, but I only recommend this to the more experienced “goal-setters.”
“I eat healthy! I have a thoughtful grocery list that contains a lot of fresh comestible (…).”
Affected by this little phrasing trick you will support your mind in thinking that you already accomplished the goal. However, I also think that it is for beginners a little bit tricky, so you can ignore the last goal setting strategy (“phrase goals as if you would already have achieved them”).
The art of visualization is a fantastic technique that professional athletes’ and tremendously successful people apply, on a daily basis. I once read an amazing article about a surgeon, who often used the technique of visualization in order to be prepared as effectively for a complicated surgery as possible. Something that I find really interesting is that nearly every one of us is visualizing daily, but that we, unfortunately, visualize solicitudes, problems and our negative thoughts about the future. Therefore, it is important to replace negative visualizations with positive ones – those that include our goals.
Visualizing is no rocket science, as the main goal of it is to associate positive feelings and emotions with your intended goal, through vivid imagination and imaginary experience of accomplishing your goal. Once again we can trick our mind, as it is difficult (or nearly impossible) for our subconscious to distinguish between a real situation and a really intensively imagined visualization.
You can make use of visualizations for nearly all goals, may they be long-term or short-term, but also as an effective tool to get prepared for upcoming situations, such as job interviews. If you’re unfamiliar with visualization in general, I’d recommend you to write down a short manuscript, preferably with a detailed description of the situation when you accomplish your goal. You can also add how it will feel once you achieved the aim and what future changes will arise from this point onwards.
For the visualization itself, you can sit on a comfortable chair or lay on your bed, wherever you can relax. Once you closed your eyes, you can start imagining a short film within your mind, where you are the main character, which means that you feel, see and hear everything like in reality. You can – in your mind’s eye – go through all the things you need to do in order to accomplish your goal and skip forward to the precise moment where you have achieved your objective. Your visualization should feel as realistic as possible so that you truly believe it is a real situation. How does it feel like when being sure you have achieved it? What do you see, hear and say in this moment? What kind of thoughts are shooting through your head?
The more intensively you can connect your visualization with strong emotions and feelings, the stronger the pictures of your imagined success will be directed into your subconscious and inspire you to continue to perform.
Visualization will enable you to have your motivation permanently on a high level, once you started to perform this process daily. You will recognize that it will become easier to imagine your goals the more often you already realized the visualization. Over the time you will also notice that this process lasts just a few minutes and can be even performed in the morning or sometime before going to bed, especially when considering that your subconscious is very absorptive in these hours.
VI. Avoid necessities
Finally, the last goal setting tip of this article is to avoid necessities by any means. No one really likes to pursue goals that we must pursue of necessity – so avoid them in order to tackle your goals as motivated as possible. The goal that you aim at should be associated with joy, delight, and fun. The more positive feelings you are able to associate with your goal, the better the effect on your incentive and your inner willingness to do whatever it takes. Furthermore, you should avoid negatively associated words such as, “must,” “have to,” and “shall,” while phrasing a goal.
Unfortunately, every one of us has to perform – every once in a while – certain tasks that are unpleasant to us and nearly impossible to associate positive emotions with. Therefore, I’ve added one final goal setting strategy, that will literally boost all your efforts to accomplish a given goal, no matter if you like the task associated with the goal or not.
The following might sound rather dull, but it is one of the most effective goal setting technique that I have ever come across, even if it isn’t necessarily a “goal setting technique” by itself: “Reward yourself whenever you have achieved a specific goal.” It’s that simple but so effective. By rewarding yourself you elicit positive emotions and train your brain into thinking or knowing that “effort=reward,” which means that your willingness to make an expenditure in order to accomplish a goal increases, as you have the possibility of a gratification in mind. A simple, yet effective, technique that shouldn’t only be applied to train drug-sniffing dogs, but also in order to increase your motivation to achieve a goal.
Furthermore, I would recommend you to consider a possible reward after formulating a goal, in order to connect your aim with beautiful gratifications that will help you to maintain your motivation and incentive.
Notice however that this whole technique is counterproductive if you set yourself a simple goal like “I want to get up an hour earlier” and reward yourself with a bar of chocolate. You should always apply the rule: “big goal = big reward”, “small/simple goal = normal/small reward”.
What are your favorite goalsetting strategies and why are they so effective?