Setting and sticking to goals can feel overwhelming. If you feel like you “can’t find the motivation”, it’s not you, it’s the goal. If the goal is right, the “motivation” will flow naturally. We should first focus on the smallest possible change we can make to improve things. Here are a few tips to help you create the right goals.
Start small: Goals seem to be synonymous with aiming high but our brain doesn’t always like that. Making a drastic change is tough to start and even tougher to sustain. Identify the smallest change you can make. For example, the end goal may be to study 2 hours a day, that can start by setting a goal to study an extra 5 minutes each day. A tiny change can plant a seed that grows naturally.
Set goals anchored in existing behaviour: For example, every morning you wake up, you shower and you have toast with butter for breakfast. Your goal could be to spread less butter on your toast or to finish your shower with cold water only.
Replace, don’t just erase: Instead of setting a goal to eliminate bad habits, replace them with alternative habits. For example, ‘drink tea instead of red bull’ is easier on the mind than the “just stop” approach.
Habit goals vs achievement goals: A habit goal does not have a finish line (spend more time with positive people) while achievement goals do have finish lines (get 85% in my maths exam). Your brain might like the idea of a habit goal more than an achievement goal or vice versa.
It doesn’t have to be behavioural based: Some of the most powerful goals are focused on reshaping your thinking. For example, I want to be more accepting of people’s differences in opinions.
Identity goals: When setting a goal, it helps to focus on who you want to be (and/or don’t want to be), not just what you want to achieve or change. For example, I want to be the person that is polite and friendly to others - I don’t want to be the person that lies, cheats and steals. Ask yourself, who do I want to be and who don’t I want to be, and your behaviour will mould around that.
Strength based vs deficit based: A strength-based goal looks at promoting positive behaviours (eat a healthy meal once a day) while deficit based is more focused on eliminating negative behaviour (stop eating unhealthy meals). When possible, lean towards creating strength based goals because our brains don’t always like the idea of loss, it creates stress.
Four questions to consider: What can I start doing, stop doing, do more of or do less of?
Make it rewarding: A goal should feel rewarding. It helps to have a bit of a challenge (to avoid boredom) and a surprise element to the reward, for example ‘if I do this then who knows how much it could improve my life’. The surprise element enhances the release of dopamine. The reward doesn’t have to be material, it can be a future version of yourself e.g. I will become a calmer individual.
Co-create and share a goal with a friend: It helps to go on the journey with a friend. Friends can provide comfort and hold each other accountable.
Track effort, not success: You control your effort, you don’t control the outcome. Goals focused on outcomes can cause stress e.g. win ‘insert event’. Tracking a binary did/did not complete the goal outcome can also create stress by way of excessive responsibility. All you can do is control the effort you put in.
Limit how many goals you set: Having one or two goals creates focus.
Yearly reviews: Have you noticed any changes in your life or anything that is better? If yes, what is it and how did you make that happen? If you haven’t, is there anything that has kept things the same? Reconsider your goals and keep going!
We hope these tips help! If you need inspiration for goals, here is a list of goal suggestions from Skodel.