Losing weight, saving money, getting fit, quitting smoking… Haven’t you ever gotten excited about your New Year’s goals?
You’re not alone. Unfortunately, as studies show, most resolutions don’t go beyond the wishful thinking stage. A staggering 92 people out of 100 fail to achieve their New Year’s goals.1
When the “fresh start effect” fades away, motivation falters and the first bump on the road often signals the end of the journey. We end up the following year with the exact same goals, again and again –as if we were stuck in life.
There may be many reasons why people end up giving up on our goals. Here are some of the most common ones:
- Picking up the wrong objectives;
- Not setting the goal properly;
- Setting the bar too high and feel overwhelmed;
- Lacking guidance and support;
- Not planning strategies for overcoming obstacles; etc.
But there is another one, a more obvious one, so obvious that most seem to forget about it: if we want to achieve a goal, we need to follow through. Setting the objective is a good start –but it’s only the beginning of the journey.
A lot of people have the misconception that when they have set a goal, they will be able to achieve it. It’s definitely not enough. We can’t expect success when we don’t follow through.
I have been setting and tracking goals for about 20 years now. It started after a deep teenager crisis which left my life as a mess. Setting goals was a way to rebuild myself, set eyes on a new horizon and move forward. Find out more about my story in another article I’ve written: How I Bounced Back From a Fiasco
Goals stayed with me since that day. When I started to work in investment banking a few years later, having goals helped me maintain a work-life balance and stay healthy in a high-pressure environment.
My approach to goals evolved over time. It started with a pen and a blank piece of paper; then an Excel spreadsheet; and finally, I built a goal-setting app called GOALMAP.
In total, I have set hundreds of goals and tracked hundreds of thousands of steps towards reaching them. If there is one secret I have learned and would like to share with you, it’s this one: tracking is the key. So let me try and explain how you can unlock the power of goal-tracking to build your dream life:
1. Be a S.T.A.R.
There is a lot of stress put on setting goals, but setting goals is just one of the phases of the overall success loop. If you want to achieve your goals and engage in a meaningful personal growth process, you need to take a broader approach.
I have a name for that. I call it the S.T.A.R. method: Set goals, Track progress, Analyze results, and Reset your goals. It’s a loop, a dynamic process.
2. Make your goals trackable
First things first, most objectives are bound to failure simply because they are not clearly defined. If your resolution is too vague, you can’t measure success and you can’t define a proper plan of action. It’s like saying “I want to go somewhere nice” to your GPS: it probably won’t help you.
Set your goal properly using the S.M.A.R.T. goal technique:
- Specific: Your goals should be precise. You can’t hit the bull’s-eye if there is none. Don’t say “I want to lose weight” but rather “I want to lose 4 kilos by year-end”.
- Measurable: Your goal should be quantified so that you know at any point in time whether you are on track or not. This will enable you to follow your progress on a regular basis.
- Achievable: Don’t over-plan, be realistic, your objective must be within reach. If it’s too big, then try and break it into smaller manageable goals that you can achieve step by step.
- Relevant: Your goals must be relevant to you, connected to your deepest aspirations and aligned with your personal values.
- Time-bound: Your goal should have a deadline, or a recurrence (x times per day, y hours per week).
“A goal is a dream with a deadline.” Napoleon Hill
Read for more tips about setting a SMART goal: How To Make Ambitious And Achievable Goals For Great Success
3. Focus on habits
One day, I checked my goals and tried to determine what the difference was between those I achieved rather easily and those for which I seemed to struggle or procrastinate. I found a clear pattern.
I had a few long term goals, like maintaining a certain weight, or getting a new degree before I reach 40. I was doing well with the first one, less so with the second one.
Why did I seem to have a two-speed motivation? I was not less motivated by the new degree. But I had nowhere to start from, while my weight goal instead was linked to habits, such as eating five servings of fruits or vegetables per day, eating fish twice a week, exercising at least four times a week, etc.
These daily and weekly habits helped me reach the long term objective. They made it easy to track progress. I had not set any corresponding habit for my degree goal. And I was not going to achieve it just by looking at it.
“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.” Robert Louis Stevenson
Have a vision for who you want to be in the long run, and focus on the little habits that will get you there. We tend to underestimate how far we can go by taking small steps in the same direction day after day. Be great in the small things. “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”
4. Keep track
“A goal properly set is halfway reached” Abraham Lincoln.
The second half is all about tracking. Okay, you have entered a proper address in your GPS instead of “somewhere nice”, but what is the point if you then switch it off?
Track your progress in a consistent and structured manner; i.e., not just in your head. Use an app, write in your journal, etc. Make it so that you can easily follow your evolution and compare with previous periods.
A study of nearly 1,700 participants in a weight-loss program showed that those who kept daily food records lost twice as much weight as those who kept no records.2 Tracking fosters self-awareness. When you understand yourself better, it becomes much easier to change.
Tracking is also motivating in itself. It gives you immediate feedback on how you are performing. It provides you with a sense of achievement. Instead of a never-ending to-do-list which sometimes demoralizes you, you visualize the things you have already completed in your done list and get motivated. Find out more about the benefits of done list here: Why To-Do Lists Don’t Work and Done Lists Do
5. Reward yourself
Another benefit of tracking is that it allows you to define milestones, break down progress, and reinforce the habit loop by rewarding yourself for reaching certain milestones.
We all know that we are more motivated to do something when there is a reward at stake. The pleasure induced by a reward reinforces the activity which helped get the reward. This is called extrinsic motivation. It can be helpful to kick-start the process when intrinsic motivation is a bit low.
A simple way to introduce rewards is to plan/get/offer the rewards yourself. You need to set the bar properly. You need to do a decent effort to get it. It can’t be too difficult, or else you may end up feeling discouraged. It can’t be too easy, or else you’ll get the reward without the need for motivation.
You also need to define a reward that makes sense. Eating junk food for a week if you manage to lose three kilos is probably not the best choice! Ideally, the reward and the effort should be somehow aligned in nature. This will help create a virtuous circle.
Buying a smaller-size dress when you lose a few kilos or getting a massage after a few weeks of physical training are good examples. These rewards help you build milestones on your path to a better you. They become the symbols of your positive behavior change.
6. Analyze your results and adjust your goals
Goals are not meant to be cast in stone. They must be alive and reassessed regularly. Monotony is a big motivation killer, so tracking gives you everything you need to stay motivated smartly.
When you track your progress, you can easily compare your actual results with the targets you had set. It is then time to take a step back and reset your goals. Here are a few examples:
- Adjust down: “Hitting the gym three times a week was too ambitious. I manage to go once a week, two sometimes. I’ll change my target to twice a week instead and build up from there.”
- Adjust up: “I have consistently hit my target of reading two hours per week. I enjoyed reading that much and learned a lot. Let’s increase the target to two and a half hours.”
- Stop tracking: “I used to drink too much coffee some days when I hadn’t slept enough the previous night but over time, I managed to ingrain a new habit. I don’t drink more than two cups a day anymore. I can probably stop tracking this goal now.”
- Give up: “I liked the idea of practicing martial arts but I fail on this goal week after week. I realize that I don’t enjoy the process as much as I liked the idea. It’s time to switch to another sport.”
Once a month, or every other month, try and take an “appointment with yourself” and review your goals. Assess what works well, what works less well, update the targets, add, remove, refine, etc. This will help you keep it interesting and inspiring.
Track it till you make it
A goal you don’t keep track of is doomed to fail. Setting it is not enough. Actually, setting goals is only about making them trackable and actionable.
By keeping track of your goals, you will engage in a virtuous personal growth circle. It will allow you to analyze your results, get motivated, improve, set better goals, and so on.
Ready, set, track!