Pamela D. Garcy Ph.D.

Fearless You

How to Set and Accomplish Your Goal:  11 Steps To Success!

These psychology hacks will help you set your goal and stay determined!

Posted May 11, 2019

Free image with editing by author, obtained from Canva
Want to live your dreams? Learn to set and accomplish your goals!
Source: Free image with editing by author, obtained from Canva

What if you didn't learn to set and accomplish goals?  Don't despair!  This isn't a permanent condition!  It's simply a skill set that you can learn and master!

In fact, there are just a few steps to follow to get you started in the journey of setting and accomplishing your goals!

Once you achieve a goal, you'll want to reapply this formula!

Below is a plan I use and share with my clients!  Adopt a flexible mindset and tweak this according to what's best for you!

Here are 11 steps to use to set and accomplish your goal:

1.  Make sure your goal is a "want to" rather than a "should".  Why do you want to reach your goal?  Find all of the beneficial reasons that YOU truly want to achieve it.  Placing your goal into the category of powerful choice may help you eliminate that sense that it's a stressful obligation.  Want to add some fuel to that?  Elicit positive imagery that accompanies the choice component by asking yourself these questions, "What would I do if I knew I would ultimately succeed?"  or "What would I do if there was no way to permanently fail?"

2.  Write your goal clearly.  Make sure that it is stated using SMART terms:  specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time bound.  What is the goal in behavioral terms?  Would another person be able to objectively measure it?  Is the goal possibly achievable, even if you might need to learn skills, obtain coaching, optimize your environment, etc.?  Is there a deadline that you can use to stay focused and motivated (not stressed, but motivated)?  Specific and time based goals tend to help you stay motivated to reach your goals, according to work on goal setting theory.3

3.  Break your goal into smaller steps.  Commit to implementing 1 to 5 small goal-taking steps a day.

4.  Set aside time in your calendar to implement each step.  Remember that if you take little steps every day, and you respond to feedback through course-correction, you'll be well on your way before you know it!

5.  Create accountability for the goal.  This step can superpower you, leading to greater consistency!  Will you create accountability through enrolling in work with a psychologist or a lifecoach?  Will you join or create a mastermind group?  Will you enlist the buddy system by using an accountability partner? (Here's an example of accountability partnering.)

6.  Create a contingency plan.  Remember B.F. Skinner?  A key to "making it happen" is to leverage your goal using rewards and consequences. 

  • Here's how:  If you accomplish your step for the day, reward yourself (for example, let yourself read your favorite book, call a friend, take a walk or listen to a favorite song).  
  • If you don't accomplish your step for the day, invoke a consequence such as refraining from the reward; for an even more powerful consequence, use a response cost (for example putting $10 in a jar that you must donate to something you don't want to donate to).

7.  Practice persistence.  Persistence means that you "keep on keepin' on", which means if you should fail to accomplish your step for the day, you simply recommit to the same or a smaller step the next day!

8.  Practice self-compassion.  Create a list of compassionate things to say to yourself before, during, and after you do your step for the day. Here are 3 self-compassionate statements you might use. Before:  It's good that I'm preparing to do something that I want to do.  During:  Even though it is a challenge, it's good that I'm taking time to achieve my goal.  The results will be satisfying.  After:  I'm glad that I worked hard to accomplish my step for the day!  I feel happy and satisfied!  This is loosely based on methods of Self-Instruction Training by Dr. Donald Meichenbaum and Dr. Matt Jaremko.

9.  Use tactics to inspire yourself.  For example, you can meditate and follow this by visualizing yourself reaching your goal.  You can also create an affirmation that you use to cue yourself about working toward your goal.  Some people like to use affirmations about working on the goal (I am happily completing the baby step toward my goal today), while others prefer to affirm reaching the goal (I am happily celebrating the completion of my goal with awesome friends).  According to research on self-affirmation, it can counteract ego-depletion.1  Positively imagining yourself reaching a goal using visualization strategies might be of benefit in creating a sense of optimism.2

  • Other ways to attain self-inspiration?  Read inspiring literature and regularly listen to music which uplifts you.  
  • Modeling:  Social learning theory suggests that you look toward role models who've achieved goals that you admire, whether in the same category or not.

10. Adopt a growth mindset.  Recall Carol Dwek's work on growth mindset, and use the word YET when you begin to see you haven't gotten to the goal.  For example:  I haven't reached my goal YET, and I'll continue to work at it!

11. Celebrate often at milestone markers as well as when you achieve your goal!  Positive reinforcement will increase the likelihood that you will follow through on future goals.  In addition, it is enjoyable to celebrate one's efforts!

Some questions that commonly arise:
(a) Should I tell others about my goal and what I'm working on accomplishing?  It is more likely that you will attain support if you tell supportive others what you're working on.  However, if you don't want to do so, it isn't a pre-requisite for working on your goal.
(b) What if I fail to achieve my goal? The fear of failure, while extremely common, doesn't have to be a reason to hold yourself back.  One strategy that helps:  reframing.  For example you can define success through your efforts rather than your results.  (I'm proud of myself for trying and learning.)  You can also redefine failure as stopping on the way to the goal, rather than as experiencing a setback that feels defeating. (Just because I didn't achieve it yet, doesn't mean I have to stop.)  Remember to label behavior rather than your SELF. (For example: A failed attempt doesn't mean I'm a failure.)
(c) What if I don't think it's possible?  Obtain more information because you might be mistaken.  If others have achieved it, it might be possible for you too!  You might  consider joining with others who are working on achieving something similar or consulting with a mentor or coach.  Remember, just because you don't know how to accomplish it yet, doesn't mean you can't ever do it.
(d) What if I'm afraid?  Remember that fear is largely due to what you tell yourself and then imagine using catastrophic imagery.  Some use the acronym Fantasized Experiences Appearing Real.  You can also start to implement the power of anastrophic imagery, which is imagery in fantasy that includes a successful outcome at the end.  If so, you can revise and replace the old acronym into a new one:  Face Everything And Rise!

Best wishes to you on the way to accomplishing your goal!

What other questions do you have?  Please write them in the comment section and I'm happy to answer them!

Also, my book The Power of Inner Guidance: Seven Steps To Tune In And Turn On (available on amazon) contains methods to help you tap into your inner wisdom along the way.

References

BJ Schmeichel, K Vohs (2009).   Self-affirmation and self-control: affirming core values counteracts ego depletion.  Journal of personality and social psychology.

Madelon L. Peters, Ida K. Flink, Katja Boersma & Steven J. Linton (2010) Manipulating optimism: Can imagining a best possible self be used to increase positive future expectancies?, The Journal of Positive Psychology, 5:3, 204-211, DOI: 10.1080/17439761003790963

Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (1990). A theory of goal setting & task performance. Englewood Cliffs, NJ, US: Prentice-Hall, Inc.