Have you ever started a diet, only to give up a few days later? Do you keep talking about the book you’re going to write one day, or the business you’re going to run … without ever making any progress?
We all have plenty of good intentions for our lives, but it can be really tough to follow through on these. As soon as the initial motivation wears off, and the hectic nature of day-to-day life gets in the way, we begin to let things slide. Pretty soon, we give up on our goals altogether.
It doesn’t need to be that way. If you’ve struggled to turn your good intentions into real, lasting change in your life, here are the five steps you need to follow to get it right this time:
Step #1: Stick to One or Two Big Goals
Instead of trying to overhaul your whole life, focus on one area. Ideally, you’ll pick just one goal to tackle at a time … but if you’ve got two related goals (like “lose weight” and “exercise regularly”) then it’s fine to stick with both.
I know that it can be frustrating to put some of your goals on hold – but it’s also frustrating to take on too much and end up making no progress.
If you stick to one goal for a couple of months and find yourself making great progress, you can always add in another goal at that point – as you’ll have built up good habits and routines that’ll keep you going.
Do it: Write down the goals that are currently on your mental “to-do” or “should do” list. Decide which one (or two) you’re going to commit to for the next couple of months.
Step #2: Be Clear About What You’re Going to Do
Simply having a goal is a bit like choosing a country to visit on vacation: you’re going to find it tough to reach your destination without a travel plan!
Whatever your goal is, you need to be clear with yourself about what you’re going to do in order to make progress towards it. For instance, if your goal is to lose weight, you might decide to:
- Keep a food diary every day
- Always eat fruit and a healthy cereal for breakfast
- Opt for salad and a low-fat sandwich rather than burger and fries at lunch on workdays
- Cycle to work three times a week
… and so on. Your plan doesn’t necessarily need to give every last detail, or cover every possible aspect of your goal, but it should give you a good framework for building habits that’ll ensure progress.
Do it: Come up with at least three things that you’ll do to help you towards your goal. They might be daily or weekly actions, or something in between.
Step #3: Get Organized for Your Goal(s)
Imagine that you wake up on the first day of your new diet, and there’s no fruit or healthy cereal in the house – just last night’s left-over pizza. Poor organization can kill your progress towards a goal; good organization can help you make the right choices almost effortlessly.
Getting organized might mean:
- Buying equipment or tools that you need (e.g. a notebook for capturing ideas for your novel, or loose-fitting clothes for jogging)
- Clearing space in your house (e.g. so you have a quiet place to write, or to exercise)
- Marking out time in your schedule for your goal
- Removing items from your home (e.g. unhealthy food, cigarettes)
As well as organizing yourself at the start of your journey towards your goal, you’ll need to think ahead on a day-to-day basis. For instance, if you know you often end up skipping breakfast because you’re rushed in the mornings, try putting your clothes ready and packing your bag for work the night before.
Do it: If you’re just starting on your goal, what preparations do you need to make? If you’re already working towards your goal, what can you do today to make tomorrow go more smoothly?
Step #4: Use a Calendar or Diary to Track Your Progress – and Celebrate!
One of the reasons why we give up on goals is because it feels like our hard work just isn’t paying off. With big goals, like losing weight, getting fit, writing a book, starting a business, or even spring cleaning the house, it might seem like we’ve put in hours of work without much progress.
Use a calendar, or a diary, to keep track of your progress. You can do this in several different ways: some people like to put a check mark or an X on their calendar each day that they hit a particular target (e.g. eating 5 portions of fruit and veg). Others like to write in their diary a few details about what they did.
Whatever method you use, make sure you record milestones – like losing your first 5lbs, or writing the first chapter of your novel. It might seem like 5lbs or one chapter is only a tiny amount compared with the whole – but you’ll soon see your progress add up.
Do it: Record and celebrate what you’re achieving. Decide on milestones – and rewards for them – ahead of time. For instance, if you’re losing weight, you might book a short vacation once you’ve successfully lost 20lbs.
However big your goals are, you can achieve them by taking a step-by-step approach. And even if you’ve struggled to make progress in the past, by focusing on turning your good intentions into solid action, you can be confident that it’ll be different this time round.
If you’ve got any tips to share, or if this post has inspired you to refocus on one of your goals, let us know in the comments!
Photo credit: ‘Alpinist‘ by Big Stock