Having something to aim for gives us a sense of purpose and helps us feel more in control of our lives. But it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and give up if you set your goals too high. Here are some ways to get moving and stay motivated.
Imagine a set of stepping-stones leading to where you want to be. Each stone is a goal you’ve set for yourself: high enough to challenge you, but not to set you up for a fall. The stones give your life direction and meaning. And the journey is as rewarding as the getting there because you grow and learn with each step.
How to start
Think of something you’d like to work towards and write it down. Decide on one thing you can accomplish each day over one week that takes you towards that overall goal. Use our tips below to help you.
Step 1: Decide what matters
What do you want to work towards? What is really important to you? What gives your life meaning and purpose? Choose the right goals and you’ve more chance of sticking to them.
- Do your goals involve changing things about you?
- Are these changes within your control?
- Are your goals realistic?
- What will your life look like when you’ve achieved your goals?
- What are the pros and cons of achieving your goal?
- How would you know you’ve achieved your goal?
Do it because you want to, not just because you feel you have to or to please someone else.
Step 2: Think it through
Be ready for the downsides as well as the upsides. Look at the advantages and disadvantages of achieving your goal. What could you lose, what could you gain? (e.g. ‘If I stop drinking, I might lose some friends. But I’ll have fewer drunken arguments with people’).
Visualise yourself taking the first steps towards your goal, seeing it through, how it would feel and how others might react. It will give you the momentum you need to move forward.
Step 3: Focus on behaviours not emotions
Make your goal about changing behaviour, rather than the feelings behind it. So instead of saying ‘I want to feel less anxious in social situations’, say, ‘I want to start going to parties and social occasions again’. Similarly, instead of saying ‘I want to feel less stressed at work’, say, ‘I want to manage my work better.’
Sharing your goals can help you stick with them. So tell someone supportive what you’re doing. Then agree to let them know how you get on.
Step 4: Prioritise
Where you have several goals, give each a priority. This stops you feeling overwhelmed by too many goals and helps direct your attention to the most important or the easiest ones first.
Try marking your goals from 1-10 according to how important or easy they are. Then work through them one at a time.
Step 5: Think small
Large goals can feel daunting or overwhelming. Break them down into smaller steps or working goals that you can start working on right away.
State your working goals in terms of what you want to move towards (e.g. go to a party for one hour), rather than what you want to move away from (e.g. stop avoiding parties).
Step 6: Spell it out
Make working goals specific and measurable. You need to be clear about what you need to do and how you’ll know when you’ve achieved it. So instead of saying, ‘I want to drink less when I go out’, say, ‘I’m going to stop at two drinks when I go to the pub after work tomorrow’.
Ask yourself: ‘what?’, ‘when?’, ‘where?’, ‘with whom?’, ‘how many times?’ and ‘for how long?’
Step 7: Be realistic
Aim just high enough. Make your goal challenging enough to give you a sense of achievement, but not so high it sets you up for a fall. And remember, establishing new habits can be hard. So even if it feels a struggle at first, stick with it until it starts to feel more comfortable.
Base goals on what you can achieve, rather than what you want to happen. It puts you in the driving seat, rather than relying on things outside your control.
Step 8: Make it easier on yourself
Think what you can draw on to help you meet your goal. Maybe there are people who could support you; things you’ve done in the past that could help you now; strengths and skills you already have or you could learn.
Also think about what could distract you or block you. It might be certain people or situations; or thoughts or feelings that get in the way. Decide how you can prepare for these. For example, seeing less of certain friends when you’re first cutting back on your drinking or practising ways to manage anxiety when you start facing feared situations.
Planning ahead can help, such as putting your gym clothes out the night before or scheduling your workout in your diary.
Step 9: State your goal
Once you’re all prepared, write out your goals so you’re clear about what you’re working to.
- Overall goal – to manage my social anxiety.
- Working goal – to go to a social or work gathering twice over the next two weeks and speak to someone I don’t know for five minutes while feeling anxious.
Step 10: Keep learning
It may take a few tries to reach a goal, so don’t beat yourself up if things don’t go as planned. Use it as a chance to learn and improve what you’re doing.
Each day review what you’ve done and ask yourself: ‘Is this taking me towards my overall goal? Is it achieving what I want? Could I do anything differently? What have I learned?’
Make the goals you are working to SMART:
Specific: Does your goal clearly and specifically say what you want to achieve?
Measurable: How will you know if you’ve achieved your goal?
Attainable: Is your goal within your control? What might get in your way?
Relevant: Why is achieving your goal important to you? How will it affect your life and others? Does it reflect what most matters to you?
Time-bound: When do you plan to reach your goal?
Sharing your goals with others can help. Why not join our talk about and share one thing you’re going to do each day that will take you in the right direction.
This article is part of our new TogetherAll article series where we highlight content available on the TogetherAll platform. TogetherAll is FREE for all FFWPU-UK members. For more information, please visit: https://familyfedcommunity.co.uk/togetherall/