It’s a familiar story. You slip into the New Year with a champagne toast and the conviction that you’re going to do something HUGE this year with that shiny, clean slate of yours. You’re going to lose weight and travel more often and write that novel. You’re going to finally reconnect with all those friends you’ve been meaning to see.
You step into January with energy and vim, convinced that this is your year—the year you’re going to nail all your goals. And you might…at first. You might hit the gym seven days in a row or eat a salad for three straight dinners or write a thousand words every day.
Until you don’t.
Until you slip-up one day. Then, another. Then, one more. You try desperately to right yourself, but you’re too far gone now. Your goals are looking fuzzy, distant. You’re falling back into the quicksand of your bad habits and it’s easier to sink in than resist.
Shame. It’s only February 2nd.
Oh well. Maybe next year will be your year.
STOP. Let’s rewrite that story. It doesn’t have to be this way. It IS possible to nail your goals this year—all it takes is a little planning.
The truth is, there’s usually nothing wrong with people’s conviction. The motivation might be there in full force, but if there’s no plan to back up that motivation, it quickly becomes difficult to maintain the same energy and pace. However, not just ANY plan will cut the mustard. Your plan has to have teeth.
The secret to creating a plan that sticks? Building it conscientiously to include specific milestones and accountability.
Maybe you’ve heard of an accountability partner—someone who regularly checks in on you to ensure you’re meeting your goals. If you’re writing a book, this may be someone from a writing group. If you’re trying to gain more muscle, this may be a personal trainer from your gym. An accountability partner should be merciless and unforgiving—they should expect the world from you and be disappointed when you only deliver the Western Hemisphere. They should make you want to do everything in your power to not fail.
But an accountability partner is only one piece of your fool-proof plan. The other piece is laying out your plan brick by brick and constantly testing its efficacy by asking “How?”
How is a powerful question because instead of concentrating on WHAT you’d like to accomplish, the focus shifts to the practical aspects—the HOW.
Here’s our step-by-step guide for writing goal-setting plan that leans on “your How:”
1. Define Your Goal
Write one, clear sentence that includes WHAT you want to accomplish and the TIME FRAME in which you’d like to accomplish it. For example: I want to write the first draft of my book by the end of September this year.
2. Identify Your “Why”
Why is this goal important to you? What are the driving factors? To riff off the previous example: I want to write my book’s first draft because I have valuable information I want to share with others and I’ve been putting it off for far too long.
3. Break Down Your Goal
It’s easier to digest your goal when it’s broken down into bite-sized pieces. Reflect on your goal and determine some of the milestones you’ll hit along the way to goal obtainment. When would you like to reach those milestones? Use a good ol’ paper calendar and mark when you’d like to hit each significant marker (it’s useful to have at least one thing to work towards every month). Example: I’d like to write my first three chapters by the end of the month OR I’d like to hit 10,000 words by February 15th.
4. Ask Yourself How, How, How
Figure out how you’re going to hit your goals by asking yourself “How?” David Horsager, professional speaker and author of The Trust Edge believes that no plan can be accomplished without breaking it down into specific actions. He says, “I have found that most people must ask, ‘How?’ at least three times before they are clear enough...Don’t stop asking ‘How’ until you have decided on a specific action that will be taken starting today or tomorrow.”
Use this advice to strengthen your plan. State what you’d like to do, and then ask yourself, “How?” Here’s how this might shake out…
GOAL: I want to write the first draft of a novel within nine months.
I’ll write 8,000 to 10,000 words each month.
I’ll get up every morning and write 250 to 350 words.
I’ll set an alarm and I’ll hold myself accountable by telling my spouse my plan. Plus, I’ll keep track of my progress with a word count tracker.
…Now we’re getting somewhere!
5. Use Motivators
Different people are motivated by different things. You might be the type who is driven by rewards (a nice bottle of wine, a dinner date, a trip to the beach), or you may be pushed by the fear of punishment (no TV until your next goal is reached, no desserts for a week, you must give $20 to a friend if you don’t reach the next milestone, etc.). Beyond rewards and punishments, other motivators might include:
Peer pressure (an accountability partner)
Social pressure (announce your goal to many people; could occur on social media)
An established routine (waking at 5 a.m. every day to write)
High stakes (you’d like to send your manuscript to a literary agent by the end of the year)
You know yourself and how you function. Determine your motivators and how you’ll use them. If you’re driven by rewards/punishments, define what kind of reward you will receive when you hit a milestone AND what will happen if you fail. Write these rewards/punishments next to each milestone on your calendar.
6. Post Your Plan
Post your plan and your milestone calendar in a place that you’ll see every day. Look at it often. Use it to drive and inspire you.
7. Rework If Necessary
Sometimes, unexpected life events happen. Don’t let them derail you! Instead, admit that the original plan isn’t going to hold up and go about reframing it. Reevaluate your goals, set new deadlines, and renew your commitment to your big-picture plan. It’s not a failure, it’s a setback.
8. Have Fun With It
If you’re a visual person, draw out your timeline or add images to your accountability calendar. If you’re rewards-driven, hang pictures of little rewards you’ll give yourself when you hit your milestones. If you’re a numbers person, set a countdown timer to motivate yourself to get in gear.
Make an iron-clad plan. Commit to it. Take this year by the horns and show it who’s boss.
(We believe in you!)