- Setting goals that are SMART—specific, meaningful, achievable, realistic, and trackable—can help you achieve them.
- Have a plan for how to handle the inevitable problems that will arise and follow through.
- Have some self-compassion and being willing to adjust to the unexpected make it more likely that you will achieve your goals.
If you’ve got a dream you’re hoping to bring to life or an idea that you want to manifest, hopefully, the tips below can help. If some of the steps don’t feel like a good fit for you, that’s OK. Feel free to take what’s helpful and ignore the rest.
1. Set smart goals.
SMART goals are Specific, Meaningful, Achievable, Realistic, and Trackable. If our goal is not SMART, it may be harder to take action. For example, if our goal is not specific enough, we might not know what to do to reach it. Or, if our goal is not meaningful enough, then we might have a hard time staying motivated enough to do it.
So, before taking action, ask yourself these “SMART” questions:
- What exactly is your goal?
- Why does this goal matter to you?
- Who is involved in this goal?
- How will you achieve this goal?
- What specific times will you work on this goal?
2. Write down your action steps.
Once you know your goal, write down the steps you plan to take to reach it. The more detail you can include, the better. For example, if you want to write a book, make a plan for exactly how many pages you plan to write per hour, day, week, or month. Note any other related tasks that will need to be done as well so that you know what needs to be accomplished to reach your goal.
3. Schedule your action steps.
Once you have your action steps, schedule each of them in your calendar. Block out enough time for each action step. As you are getting started, you might not estimate quite right, so it’s OK to modify this at any point.
Another helpful tip is to try and schedule a blank time to catch up on things you missed or anything that took longer than expected. In time, you’ll be able to estimate task time more easily.
4. Commit to your action steps.
If you have a realistic plan with clear action steps, then you’re ready to commit to your goal. By making a commitment—either a written or verbal commitment will do—we actually make it more likely that we’ll do something. One way to do this can be to write up a statement of the efforts you agree to complete and then sign it. Post it somewhere where you’ll see it frequently.
5. Link potential problems to goal-directed actions.
Once you’ve gotten started taking actions to manifest your goal, you’ll eventually encounter challenges, even if just small ones. This is why it can be helpful to create implementation intentions (Gollwitzer, 1999). Implementation intentions are simple cause-and-effect: If problem situation X happens, then I will do Y. They help us to be more prepared when things go awry.
Here is an example from my life: My well-being survey broke randomly and fixing it took up time I had set aside to write articles. Luckily, I have an implementation intention to make sure I complete my writing each week.
Specifically, it is: If “I am unable to complete my articles during the week,” then “I will finish up on Saturday morning.” I have a few hours blocked out on my calendar on Saturday morning just in case of emergencies.
6. Don’t be too hard on yourself.
Taking action on your goals should push you out of your comfort zone a bit. But if taking action towards your goals means that you’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed out, then it is likely not sustainable. Here are some tips to avoid overwhelm:
Set your success rate.
Rather than trying to aim for 100 percent all the time, set a secondary goal to complete your action steps some percentage of the time. Eighty percent feels right to me. Missing your goals sometimes is totally normal, so being realistic about it can help you practice more self-compassion.
Give yourself a “get out of jail free card.”
It can actually be helpful to let yourself off the hook every now and then. Especially for those perfectionists out there, a break will probably do you more good than you realize.
Re-evaluate as needed.
Sometimes we set goals that are too easy, sometimes they are too hard, and sometimes they need to be changed to be effective moving forward. Remember, it’s OK to change your plan.
Taking action is an essential part of reaching any goal. But it is often the hardest part. Hopefully, these resources will help you feel more confident that you can successfully take action and reach your goals.
Adapted from an article published by The Berkeley Well-Being Institute.
References Gollwitzer, P. M. (1999). Implementation intentions: strong effects of simple plans. American psychologist, 54(7), 493.
This post was previously published on Psychology Today.
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