Goal-setting also involves planning for the future. In a related study, Andrew MacLeod found that setting goals and creating skill-focused planning improved well-being for those who participated. Thinking positively about your future improves your ability to create goals and take the actions required to achieve them.
Eliminate your goals
There is a psychological concept called “goal competition”, which refers to your goals competing with each other for your attention and time. When you put your energy into a new goal, you have less energy for other goals.
One of the best ways to make progress on your goals is to focus on one at a time — simply pressing pause on less important goals. When you feel you’re not progressing, step back and review the priority you’ve assigned your goals. Review and reorganize your priorities, and resume with full focus on your highest ones.
Normally when we don’t reach our goals, we feel that something was wrong with our approach, or with the goal itself. We make excuses, like “if only I had more hours in the day!” These excuses blur the bigger issue. The problem is not in the goal-setting, but in the goal selection — you don’t need more time; you need to decide.
It’s natural for new goals to come into our lives and for us to get excited about these new opportunities. We need to have the courage to cut some of our goals to create room for new ones. Editing out goals creates the space needed to execute on remaining ones.
Warren Buffett’s ‘20 Slot’ Rule
Warren Buffett, one of the world’s well-known investors, developed one method of eliminating goals. When Buffett lectures at business schools, he says:
“I could improve your ultimate financial welfare by giving you a ticket with only 20 slots in it so that you had 20 punches — representing all the investments that you got to make in a lifetime. And once you’d punched through the card, you couldn’t make any more investments at all.
Under those rules, you’d really think carefully about what you did, and you’d be forced to load up on what you’d really thought about. So, you’d do so much better.”
Warren Buffett’s “20-Slot Rule” isn’t just useful for selecting financial investments — it’s a good approach for goal management. Your chances of success improve when you are forced to spend all your time and energy on fewer tasks.
If you want to succeed in something, you must be selective with your time. Eliminate good ideas to make room for great ones.
Rather than pouring themselves into a goal for a long time, most people only scratch the surface — they choose yet another college major, a new exercise routine, a new diet, a new career path. They keep it up for weeks or months before moving on to something else.
Unlike the financial investments in Buffett’s rule, your “life punch card” is going to be punched whether you like it or not. Time will pass either way, so don’t waste the next slot on your card. Think carefully about where you want to succeed, decide, and go all-in. Don’t just kind of go for it — the results you get reflect the commitment you put in.
Link goals to a time and place
It is proven that you are two or three times more likely to stick with your goals if you specify when, where, and how your will act on them. In one study focusing on physical exercise, scientists asked people to fill out this sentence:
“During the next week, I will partake in at least 20 minutes of vigorous exercise on [DAY] at [TIME OF DAY] at/in [PLACE].”
This study showed that people filling in this sentence were two to three times more likely to actually exercise in comparison to the control group, who did not make plans about future behavior. This is referred to as “implementation intentions.” Similar results came from studies focusing on recycling, completing studies, and even quitting smoking.
You can implement this for yourself when you set personal goals. By getting specific, you create a small plan for when, where, and how you will implement your goals. Try to link this to habits you already have in your life. For example:
FROM “Start exercising” TO “Before my daily evening shower, I will do 20 push-ups and 10 sit-ups”
FROM “Start meditating” TO “After breakfast, I will meditate for 5 minutes”
Implementation comes easier as you link new goals to existing systems in your life. It helps to transition goals from vague ideas in our mind to a real routine.
Write goals that align with your values
If you want meaningful personal goals, it’s important that they are value-based. This means aligning goals around your core values. Your core values should guide your behavior — even if you are not aware of it — and act the lens through which you see the world and your place in it.
Value-based goals lead to more purpose. They help you stay productive, create inner excitement and motivate you to do hard work. Achieving personal goals that align with your core values will lead to a higher sense of satisfaction and fulfillment.
Have you ever chased a personal goal, then realized you don’t really want it after all? Or have you ever wondered why you weren’t happier after achieving a goal you set for yourself? These goals were likely not value based.
Don’t let society or others influence the goals you set for yourself. You’ll have a higher sense of fulfillment when you set — and achieve — personal goals in line with your core values.
Make your goals positive
Reframe negative goals into more positive terms. For example:
FROM “I want to stop laying on the couch half of the time” TO “I want to exercise at least three times per week”
FROM “I want to stop eating junk food” TO “I want to eat healthy”
With negatively phrased goals, the initial motivation comes from a place of negativity. These negative undertones can lead to de-motivation and self-criticism.
When you fail in your chase of a positively phrased goal, you’ll initially feel a sense of failure — but you’ll still have a good feeling about the fact that you made an effort. You’ll be more motivated and have a higher chance of getting back on track.
Make sure your goals are within control
Chasing unrealistic goals is a surefire way to feel unhappy and disappointed. It’s important to set goals that are practical and within your reach.
If you are single, for example, setting a personal goal to fall in love within a year is setting yourself up for failure. Although it could happen, it is completely outside of your power.
It’s good to acknowledge that you have a desire to fall in love. Set a goal to go on a minimum number of dates per month. Then create tasks and actions around this goal to make it happen — like setting up a profile on an online dating app or signing up for speed-date sessions.
Acknowledging your big wishes and desires is a good starting point when mapping out a plan for your life. But the goals you set should be measurable and empower you to take action to make them happen.
Set goals you enjoy working on
Harvard Business School research tells us that what separates goals you achieve from those you don’t is enjoyment and immediate benefit.
Setting a goal is a good step toward achieving the result you want. But chances are you will not get immediate results or intermediate joy while chasing these goals. By making the experience of the chase more rewarding, you improve your chances of success.
Many of our goals are things we must work on continuously. That means that the satisfaction you get from accomplishing a goal is delayed. As the Harvard study says, it’s hard to follow through on long-term goals when you don’t enjoy the process.
To increase your chances of persevering, you’ve got to find immediate positive benefits. Connecting enjoyable experiences and pleasant moments with your goals will improve the likelihood of success.
Amy Cuddy, in research for Harvard Business School, said that “the biggest mistake a lot of people make in setting goals for themselves is that they focus only on the outcome, not the process.”
This article is an excerpt from my book. Interested in reading more?