How to Set Goals to Achieve Anything

There’s nothing like a new year to inspire some enthusiastic goal-setting. Sure, we can start any new goal at any time, but we tend to feel extra motivated to get started at the beginning of a new year, a new month or even a new week. Like hitting the refresh button, we get to start over with a clean slate. Finally, we feel, this is the year that we’re going to get shit done.

Why My Goals Used to Fail

Correction, let’s just say that they were not fully achieved. I hate the word fail. It’s so discouraging. It undermines the often-extreme effort that we put into trying. Besides, success is so often subjective. I believe that we only fail if we don’t try. So here is how I used to try to achieve my goals, until recently.

I would ask myself where I would like to be in 5, 10 or 15 years. And how I would plan to get there. Next, I would set out a long list of career, finance, fitness, travel and personal improvement goals. Why set one when you can set 20! Brainstorming my goals was by far the easiest part of achieving the new me and I was killing it. I wanted to set goals to improve all areas of my life. Oops! This would be my first goal-setting mistake.

Perhaps I had been a little overambitious. Well, that’s an understatement. Not surprisingly, my plan to meditate, exercise, journal, cook, clean, read and socialize daily didn’t survive week 1. In hindsight, I may have loaded a bit too much on my plate. So naturally, when things quickly became too challenging, I would get discouraged and put all of my new goals on the backburner until I felt the next pang of enthusiasm (or amnesia) to set goals again. Each time a similar list, cleverly repackaged in a pretty new notebook.

Becoming a Goal-Achieving Gamechanger

After many (many) years of not sticking to my New Year’s resolutions and other lofty goals, I’ve started to find my way. Don’t get me wrong, in life overall, I’ve always done just fine. I’m a hard-worker and I’ve always done well in school and at work. It’s all of the other stuff that’s been a struggle, like exercising more or reducing my screen time.

I’m the first to admit that the one thing my unachieved goals have in common is, well, me. Guilty as charged. But I also think that a large part of achieving goals is having a good game plan. A roadmap, so to speak, of how to break them down into smaller, achievable, short-term to-dos, reinforced by a good support system of tools.

Creating a Goal-Achieving Strategy

Now that I approach goal-setting from a different angle, I’ve quickly started to experience a much greater success rate. That overwhelming feeling of self-imposed pressure has all but disappeared, and when it does temporarily pop up, I know that it’s time to re-evaluate my strategy to create something more manageable.

As we enter a new year and a new decade, I’m eager to pass along the invaluable wisdom and tools that have been such a game-changer in goal-setting for me. Nothing kills our vibe more than feeling like a failure. These strategies have made all the difference for me. Hopefully they will support a positive shift in your futures as well. Here’s to a new decade filled with radiating self-confidence and fierce determination.

A day planner for tracking the progress of your goals

Introducing New Goals One at a Time

Full credit for this recommendation goes to The Slow Home Podcast, which is fantastic by the way, and definitely worth checking out if you haven’t already. A few years ago, the podcast introduced a series of monthly challenges or “experiments”, that would be tested out and accompanied by weekly feedback by the lovely hosts, Brooke and Ben McAlery. Each month they would set themselves one challenge. Something that they would try to stick to every single day for 30 days. One month it could be a daily yoga practice, the next they could be journaling, decluttering or going plastic-free.

Eventually, I decided to give myself a one-month experiment too – to cut out sugar. It was not always easy, and like Brooke and Ben, there were days when I didn’t fully make it, but I sure did a lot better at this challenge than any in the past. For the first time, I felt empowered to stick with my mission.

This experience taught me that we have a much higher chance of achieving our goals if we introduce one single, reasonably attainable challenge over a specific period of time, not twenty. Something that we can realistically achieve with some effort. Try running for two minutes each day this week instead of signing up for a marathon. Then work your way up from there.

Creating Monthly Challenges

We want a goal to become part of our daily routine. Each new experiment needs time to sink in and become a habit. It’s important to look back at our improvements throughout the weeks, no matter how big or small, with pride and a sense of accomplishment. Ten push-ups are better than 9. Saving $20 is better than saving $0. So keep at it, you’re doing great!

Then, only when you’re ready, pick a new experiment to introduce into your existing routine. You can be pretty dang proud of yourself at the end of a year when you’ve successfully implemented and stuck to a handful of new goals.

The benefits of setting ourselves a monthly challenge:

  • Monthly goals can be broken down into smaller, weekly challenges that progress with time, such as sit-ups, repaying a student loan or cutting back on coffee.
  • In 30 days we’re well on your way to developing a long-term habit.
  • Each new challenge lasts for one month, not a lifetime. And it’s only an experiment. If we decide not to continue with a challenge after 30 days (because we didn’t enjoy it, didn’t have time for it or didn’t find a way to executive it properly), that’s ok too. We have given it a proper chance and can make a conscious decision to stop without feeling guilty about it.
  • Finishing a monthly challenge is an excellent way to boost our self-confidence in the goal-achieving department. It will motivate us to continue with our existing goals and to work towards new ones in the future.
  • Habit-generating experiments are also a great way to implement small changes, like flossing before bed, standing up straight or recycling plastics, into our daily lives.

Taking Advantage of Goal Setting Tools

Having the right set of tools and supports in place can be instrumental in following-through and achieving many of our goals. Whether we’re crossing off the days on our calendars to mark our progress, tracking our weekly growth on an app or working through a checklist, the right tools offer a road map that will guide us through those days when we feel less motivated, and help us to stay enthusiastic by reminding us of our progress as we work towards each goal.

We can record our daily squats as a reminder of how far we’ve come since Day 1. Or we can follow a 30-day yoga challenge on YouTube (I love doing these on the Yoga with Adriene channel). Trying to save up for a special holiday? Setup a spreadsheet in Excel to track your savings and your side hustles.

Taking Advantage of Free Resources

In our “never-enough” culture, a simple reminder of how far we’ve come can be the encouragement we need to keep moving forward. It’s when we don’t realise our accomplishments that we feel unmotivated and lose interest. There are so many excellent and free resources available online to help us stay focused.

We can also look to our communities to offer some much-needed support. Similar to the gym buddy, having a friend to share a challenge with (and keep us accountable) is another great tool to incorporate when goal-setting. Eating vegetarian at lunch could be a joint-mission between you and a co-worker. Home-related goals such as composting, eliminating sweets or decluttering are heaps easier when the entire family participates. Challenges are easiest when we don’t have to face them alone, so offer to share your experiments with those around you. You might just inspire others to take their goals to the next level as well.

Goal setting notebook inspiration

Giving Yourself a Break

Addictions aside, I’m not a fan of quitting things cold-turkey. Ditto for enforcing strict 24/7 regimens for myself to adhere to. Diets don’t work and self-deprivation usually sucks. When I decided to cut back on eating sugar two years ago, I told myself that I would still be allowed to eat a nice dessert once (or twice…!) a week.

With my considerable sweet tooth, I had to approach this strategically. Had it been an all-out ban, I wouldn’t have lasted three days. Instead I stopped stocking cookies, candies and sugary sauces at home, in favor of high cocoa chocolate and tasty fruits. A reasonable trade that would still satisfy my sugar cravings on most days, plus the occasional sweet indulgence here and there. It’s easier to give up something we love when we know that we’re not giving it up forever. We will be able to enjoy it again soon – in moderation of course.

Incorporating Cheat Days

Now, when there’s a habit I would like to introduce into my daily routine, especially something I don’t love doing, I incorporate “days off”. They could be weekends, Wednesdays, or any 2 days of my choosing in a week. Take flossing for example. I don’t like doing it, but I am a big believe in dental hygiene. So I give myself 2 nights off a week for when I’m extra tired, having a late night out or just feeling too darn lazy. But it’s 2 days max. Never 3. Once they’re used up for the week, I’m out of luck. No excuses.

What works for me may not always work for you, but this strategy of granting myself “off days” as a small reward has made sticking to goals so much easier. Off days literally take the pressure off. Forget an all or nothing approach. We’re going for empowering, consistent progress. And because cheat days are already built into our goal game plan, we don’t feel bad about taking a day off here and there. It’s all part of our journey.

Evaluating and Praising Progress

By incorporating tools that track our progress, we can review our growth at any time throughout our challenge. We can objectively look at the facts and see just how far we have come since getting started. Big or small, every move in a positive direction deserves to be acknowledged.

Rewards (like that pastry on cheat day) are also welcome along the journey. When we tell-off our can’t-do inner voices, and remind ourselves of how much we have already accomplished, we gain confidence. We become enthusiastic to keep going. We’re empowered to reach the next level in our challenge, or to work towards a new goal when we have reached the previous one.

Unicorn piggy bank for saving money

Setting Money Goals

Probably my biggest challenge at the moment is balancing my long-term dream of financial freedom (save girl, save!), and my short-term urges to spend. I still love eating out, decorating my home, buying nice clothes and traveling. Living on a limited budget, I have to remind myself that, although I can still have a lot, I can’t have it all. Sacrifices must be made today for tomorrow. It’s the only way I will ever be able to save enough money to reach my financial independence goals and retire early.

If you’re like me, reducing my spend hasn’t always been easy. But I’m happy to report that it doesn’t have to be that difficult either. Over the past 5 years I’ve scrupulously tracked my monthly income and spending, like the money nerd that I am. In doing so I’ve discovered that I can still live an awesome life on a small budget, and put the rest of my earnings aside into investments. I’ve given myself a strict monthly budget to follow and I’ve stuck to it (well, most of the time!).

By incorporating the tools and tricks I’ve mentioned above, living on less has become a heck of a lot easier. Instead of indulging myself in my every whim, I decided early on to cut out impulse purchases and short-term gratifications. Today I spend only on the things I value most. Think quality over quantity. Rather than ordering in once a week, I prefer to spend the money on a beautiful 3-course meal once a month. Zara hauls have been replaced with the occasional investment piece, like a cashmere sweater or a silk dress. It rarely feels like I’m missing out. In fact, my lifestyle is more aligned with my values than ever.

Introducing the Savings Empowerment Chart

As I dive into a new decade, one with even more ambitious financial goals, I’ve decided to upgrade my personal finance spreadsheet to guide and track my money-saving progress. This detailed budget is easy to use and breaks down saving into a format that anyone can use to pursue their own money goals.

Suitably named the Savings Empowerment Chart, and hosted in Google Sheets, this tool allows anyone to budget not only for their most important regular expenses, such as rent and food, but also for those special little extras, like restaurants and holidays. You may not be able to enjoy Michelin stars every weekend, but you do get to budget for your priorities. If you allocate $100 a month to dining out, it’s your choice if you want to spend that money on take-away, happy hour cocktails or a fine dining experience.

Using the Chart to Set Goals

Like I said, we can’t have it all, but we can still have a lot. Give this savings chart a try. You have nothing to lose. Play around with the spreadsheet and discover what kind of budget works best for you based on your income, your passions and your savings goals. I’ve created the template, all you need to do is fill in the numbers. For some tips on how to spend less without sacrificing on quality, check out my series about my fabulous frugal mom, documenting her best kept strategies around shopping for food and for luxury items.

Next, update your spreadsheet each month with what you’ve actually spent. You will see if you have made your savings goal and where you may have over or under spent. You will be surprised by how much you will learn about yourself and your spending habits in the process. By having this tool as a roadmap for your money goals, you will also be able to identify your biggest pain points, adjust for them accordingly, and observe your success month by month as you work towards your targets. This is the decade where we take back control of our finances, get out of the rat race and begin living according to our own rules.

Set goals and begin coffee mug on a wooden table

2020, Here We Come!

We have exciting new goals and now we also have a strategy. We’ve created a system of checks and balances that will keep us motivated and help us to stay on track. Last but definitely not least, we’ve learned to applaud our victories and allow ourselves to be rewarded. We have everything we need for a mission accomplished.

Warrior cries a-ready! 2020 is ours for the taking.

The Savings Empowerment Chart is my very first downloadable, and one of many free financial resources to come. As always, I welcome suggestions for upcoming content. And if you have any personal goal-setting tips that have worked well for you in the past, please share them in the comments below.

COMMENTS

  1. My fave part: “If you allocate $100 a month to dining out, it’s your choice if you want to spend that money on take-away, happy hour cocktails or a fine dining experience” 👌🏼👌🏼

    My second fave part is about the flossing – I hate it too!

  2. Alexis

    Thanks for reading and sharing your feedback! Happy you enjoyed the piece 🙂 PS. Flossing is the worst lol

  3. Great tips, Alexis. I’m also trying to cut back on sugar but it’s soooo hard! Yay for days off! 😉

    I’ll try your savings chart for the new year. Happy 2020!

  4. Alexis

    Thanks!! It sure is difficult…I have to admit I’ve also given myself the holidays off this year too 😜

  5. Kristina

    Thanks for sharing all of your practical and realistic advice and tools for accomplishing your personal goals! I appreciate the simplicity and I am encouraged to try the savings empowerment chart. Thank you!

  6. Alexis

    Thanks for reading! I’m glad it could offer something new to you xxxx

  7. I am going through ups and downs. Your advices are great. I ll use all those in my practical life as well. Thank you for those words.

  8. Alexis

    You are not alone. Hope these ideas will help! Thank you for reading 🙂

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