Goal Setting to Make Your Best Year Ever
Setting goals – when done right - puts you on the path to creating a more desired life. Align your goals with your highest values, your life’s mission, and your sense of purpose.
If you commit to the process, you shift your perspective. By breaking your big goals down into mini-goals, you achieve small wins that build your confidence, grow your knowledge, and keep you on an upward spiral. Each success sparks another, and the impossible starts to become possible, if not probable.
In goal setting, do not make the finish line the main thing or lose sight of the journey. Goals are spotlights pointing you in a certain direction. Your destination point can change as you navigate the process.
Your goals are not strict conditions for when you get to feel accomplished or happy. This sets you up for failure and misery. You must prepare to change course or course correct in response to conditions that arise.
Avoid win-or-lose or all-or-nothing situations when you set goals. If a goal will cause you to neglect crucial parts of your life, you need to reframe it. Consider alternative goals that will offer similar effects. There are multiple paths to get you where you want to be.
Welcome to The Incrementalist. My name is Dyan Williams and I’m your productivity coach who will help you make big changes in small steps.
You can be motivated by extrinsic goals, like winning a certain award, getting promoted to a certain position, or reaching a certain income level. Quite often, these are just theories of what you think will make a happier or better life. Even when you achieve an extrinsic goal, it can leave you feeling empty if it did not tap into your true desires. External goals are for testing ideas and meeting preferences that come and go. Intrinsic goals are based on time-tested principles and core motivations.
Focus on goals where you have control, like your daily habits and actions. Set intrinsic goals that excite you and are meaningful to you. This may include exploring your potential, increasing your mental agility, gaining physical fitness, forming close relationships, or enjoying a hobby. Chunk down these big goals into smaller, specific and actionable steps.
A process-oriented approach to goal setting leads to more resilience, flexibility and curiosity. You’re not totally knocked off course with every setback, delay and competing priority. If the journey is inherently satisfying, it’s much easier to get back on track and keep working toward a desired outcome. You can then experience a different reality and explore new territory with more courage and less anxiety.
Measure your progress by thinking about the gains rather than the gaps. In their book, The Gap and The Gain, authors Benjamin Hardy and Dan Sullivan explain that gap-thinking is focusing on the gap between where you are now and where you want to be. Gain-thinking is focusing on the gain between where you are now compared to where you were before.
The goal is about the gap and the gain is about the process. A gap mindset makes you rely on external factors, while a gain mindset keeps you intrinsically motivated.
Comparing yourself to others can be demotivating and is not a reliable way to measure your progress. Instead, maintain a daily log or journal to track your own activities and how well you’re hitting your own targets.
Measure backward by reflecting on the past and the gains you’ve made in the present. In 2023, I had set a goal to publish at least 1 video or podcast episode each month on The Incrementalist. I made 6, which is a 50% gap from where I planned to be. But this is also a 50% gain from where I was at the start of the year.
Measuring the gain builds immunity to the hedonic treadmill. Hedonic adaptation is when you return to baseline after experiencing a short-term high from achieving a goal. This leads to ongoing dissatisfaction with your current life and present self. But if you focus on the gains, you can appreciate where you’re already at.
Embrace failure as a chance to learn, instead of a negative experience to avoid at all costs. Ray Dalio’s principle of Pain + Reflection = Progress is a powerful equation for goal-setting. He says you can readily set audacious goals if you know how to recover from and learn from failures through deliberate reflection.
The pain dissolves and fuels growth when you check in with yourself and reflect on what went wrong and what you could improve next time. Drop the ego, solicit feedback, and review your performance objectively. Changing your inputs does not necessarily mean the outcome will be positive. But you still need to avoid unforced errors.
Even when you didn’t reach the destination, you acquire knowledge, insights and experiences that you would not have without the journey. When you are fully aware of the factors that led to success or failure, you can make better goals and better choices in the future.
Choose or design the ideal environment to make the goal easier to reach. Dr. Marshall Goldsmith, business educator and author of “Triggers,” notes, “If we do not create and control our environment, our environment creates and controls us.” If you set goals that rely too much on your discipline and drive and fail to account for external conditions, you’re less likely to trigger positive behavior.
Do a reality check. Consider the season of your life, natural rhythm, and personal circumstances in your goal setting. Plan how, where and when you will perform tasks and activities that move you toward desired results. Set the ideal stage to make your work more fun or automatic to do. I have a cup of hot tea on my desk for writing projects. I sometimes listen to brain.fm’s focus music as part of my writing process. I reserve time blocks to focus on writing only, rather than wait to feel inspired. I also have time blocks for rest and recovery, which is when I have my most creative ideas.
In his book, Willpower Doesn’t Work, Dr. Benjamin Hardy explains that willpower is not enough to overcome a bad environment. Instead, we must make wise choices to create a good environment that supports our intentions, commitments and goals. If you want to stop drinking alcohol, you stop going out to bars and being around people who drink lots of alcohol. Where you hang out and who you spend your time with shape who you are and who you become.
Know that fear of hope is a root cause for why we resist change. Hope is not the same as optimism, which is the belief that you will get the desired result. When you hope for a certain thing, you yearn for it, but you have no idea if you’ll get it, says Dr. Ross Ellenhorn, author of the book How we Change (And Ten Reasons We Don’t). He says hope must be coupled with courage to set and pursue goals. He notes that when we make a change, we expose ourselves to existential accountability, and if we don’t believe in our ability to rise to higher expectations and higher goals, we stay in our bunkers and play possum as a defense system.
Setting a goal means you will need to invest time, resources, energy and efforts into the hope for it to become a reality. If we feel helpless and ineffective, we fear hope because it can lead to disappointment. And if we have high hope and high fear of hope, this makes us more vulnerable to pain, frustration, anger, sadness and rumination over bad outcomes. So, when setting goals, you need to have faith in your own self-efficacy to achieve things and the courage to move through changes.
Taking an incremental approach helps you to build trust in yourself and to know that you can respond well to any situation. Each challenge makes you operate from a higher baseline and raise the floor, if you don’t let failures and setbacks break you. With micro steps, the successes and gains might be smaller, but so are the failures and setbacks. Through the compound effect, you get big results with easier efforts and without the intense pressure of big goals.
Use your doubts and lack of confidence to your advantage by being open to learning and improving. Even when there are real constraints, you start with what’s possible. Step by step, you strengthen your actual abilities and your belief that you can reach your highest goals. Every action leads to more opportunities, wins and lessons, which add to hope and courage to move in a positive direction.
It makes sense to quit when you have an unwinnable situation. Sheer grit won’t get you there. But when you’re in the realm of possibility, you can use the Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan method. This mental contrasting strategy by Dr. Gabrielle Oettingen is known as WOOP. You start with a wish (the goal). Then you imagine a desired outcome (the feeling you want when you reach the goal). Next, you think of the obstacles (the internal hurdles and personal weaknesses that will stop you from reaching the goal).
Finally, you design a plan (the action steps you will take to overcome the obstacles).
With if-then implementation intentions, you think, If X happens, I’ll deal with it by doing Y. This makes you less likely to quit pursuing difficult but realistic and important goals. See WOOP Method: Achieving Your Own Goals - IONOS
Dr. Ellenhorn says, “From faith, comes hope, and from hope comes a sense that it’s possible to dream again about a fulfilling and meaningful future.”
For more on how to set and achieve goals that align with your priorities, check out my book, The Incrementalist. You can find it on Amazon and leanbpub. The links are in the show notes.
I’m also creating an online course that I plan to roll out later in the year. It’s currently titled, The Busyness Trap: How to Escape Overload and Focus on What Matters. To get updates on the course launch and registration process, subscribe to my enewsletter at dyanwilliams.com or The Incrementalist YouTube channel or podcast.
To dive deeper on the incrementalist approach to productive living, you may reach out to me for coaching or speaking events.
If you have feedback or topic ideas, drop them in the comments section of the YouTube channel or send me an email at email@example.com.
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