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The Remarkable Benefits of Goal Setting

Written by S.O.

Posted on April 27, 2015 at 6:29 pm

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None of us is perfect. Each one of us has things we’d like to change about ourselves. And while acknowledging our flaws and wanting to change them certainly are necessary in moving beyond our imperfections, how one goes about doing that isn’t exactly easy or clear.

Photo by Angie Torres

That is, our mere desire to want to change often isn’t enough to effect that change.That’s where goals and proper goal setting comes in.

Let’s look at why goal setting is important, and then at some ways to properly go about making those goals a reality.

Why would we want to set goals?

We all have things we want to achieve. From making our lives less stressful, to preparing and completing a marathon, most of us probably look at life, when we get right down to it, as a series of challenges we want to overcome.

How we go about making those kinds of changes, meeting those kinds of challenges, overcoming those kinds of trials, is as important as the change itself. Yet, we all know that, without the proper mindset and plan, our goals can just as easily remain chimera on our never-ending ‘to-do’ lists. Without the proper methods, too often our goals simply stay great ideas instead of the tangible, achievable changes we’d like to make them.

The reason for this is simple: Too often, we put the cart before the horse. That is, while we might be skilled at identifying things we’d like to change, very few of us are very good at setting up those changes, those goals, in ways that make them a authentically attainable.

Thus, we won’t spend much time here thinking about what goals to make – most of us need very little help seeing our own faults. Instead, let’s outline some ways that, having identified a goal you’d like to achieve, we can go about turning intentions into reality.

How to start the goal-setting process

a slim couple

Although there is no wrong way to go about achieving goals, some methods have proven time and time again to be the most effective.

The first step is to find the right mindset. Having the right mindset means having a clear finish line to which you are aspiring. It is not enough to say you want to lose weight; instead, put a ‘price tag’ on what was once a rather amorphous goal. Instead of ‘losing weight’, put a solid number figure on that goal – Tell yourself you’d like to lose X amount of pounds in X amount of time. Not only will doing so give you a clear figure to measure yourself, a clear, unambiguous objective staring you in the face will also keep you in the right direction. Before anything else, be clear with yourself about what you want to achieve. Do not give yourself much wiggle room in this regard.

Another important element of goal making is setting realistic goals. Needless to say, it is much easier to walk for 10 minutes than it is to run a 5k race, and the same is true of goals. While big goals offer a rich payoff in the end, few will reach the top of that mountain if the original goal is unrealistic. If you want to start eating better, don’t on Day 1 drastically change your diet. Instead, slowly weed out your poor food choices in favor of better ones until you get to that goal. It should be the same thing with any of our goals: Don’t pronounce one day that you’d like to go drop 100 pounds, find an attractive mate, and make a million dollars per year. Instead, set realistic, achievable goals at the onset – lose 10 pounds, start dating again, and ask for a raise at work, for example – on your way toward your ultimate goals.

The number one thing that thwarts people from reaching their goals is setting unrealistic goals.

Now, make a list of your goals and the reasons why you want to accomplish them. Write them down on paper instead of typing them into a word processor; that will help engage your mind and create a more robust mental connection to those goals.

If you are having trouble with your list, take time to visualize your goals using all of your senses. For example, see yourself crossing the finish line, hear yourself receiving compliments for the way you went about losing all that weight, or imagine how nice your apartment will smell once you’ve got a handle on the overwhelming mess that is its current state. Doing this may help generate ideas, and will help you pare down your list from flights of fancy to practical and necessary goals. It’s where the rubber meets the road.

Dress for success

Once you’ve listed the realistic goals you’d like to accomplish, the next step is to break those goals down into distinct parts. The benefits of doing so are multifaceted – not only will it make the list appear more manageable, but reaching one or a series of this ‘mini’ goals will trigger your brain’s reward center, causing it to release a variety of feel-good chemicals, chief among them dopamine. It is no accident that dopamine helps raise our concentration, helping us to stay on track and giving us the motivation to start making our way toward the next goal.

Once your list is broken down into manageable pieces, prioritize each one from urgent to a very little importance. Again, doing so will help you outline the steps you’re going to need to take to reach goals. Additionally, your brain’s reward center will likewise reward you for achieving the most urgent things on your list.

The next step is to anticipate the kinds of challenges you might encounter along the way. Are you a procrastinator? Then set up in advance ways you might address that challenge BEFORE you get to it. In this case, the procrastinator, give yourself things to focus on when you start to feel less motivated to act. Ask yourself, ‘When I inevitably feel like procrastinating, what can I do to keep going forward?’

Similar to your goals list, listing problems you think you’ll experience in the process of reaching your goals will help keep you on track. Likewise, list your solutions so that you may refer back to them when trouble strikes.

Once you’ve started reaching for your goals

The goal-setting process doesn’t end once those goals are outlined. These principles can be just as important when you’ve turned your list into actionable intentions.

First off, don’t burn yourself out. Breaks and small divergence from the plan are to be expected and perhaps even encouraged. Burnout is an even greater enemy to your goals than falling off the wagon every now and then. Build into your system days you can cheat on your diet or let up on your workout plan. Without them, you may lose sight of the reasons you decided to make changes in the first place. Embrace small diversions, but get back to your plan once you’re rested and your balance is regained.

Further, while it is nice that you took the time to itemize and incentivize your goal list, don’t be afraid of amending that list if something clearly isn’t working out. If your original approach to a goal has proven problematic, create a new approach that fits better the situation. Also, don’t be afraid to ask a friend or mentor for help, especially when you experience bumps in the road. Having someone to talk to is almost always beneficial, and getting an alternative perspective may just be the spark you need to make it through a particularly rough patch.

When these rough patches present themselves, remember to remind yourself why you started the goal process. Not only will doing so help keep your goals in your mind and in front of your mental vision, it will go a long way toward dispelling thoughts that may lead you astray.

Look at the big picture!

That is, look again at your list and recognize how far you’ve come. Oftentimes, this act will help you conclude that giving up would mean wasting all the time and energy you’ve already put into it.

Making changes is never easy. It’s no mistake that we often find ourselves suddenly surprised at where we’ve ended up in life. But, with the proper mindset and goal-setting skills, not only can you now make the changes you want, you will have the skills necessary to reach even higher goals in the future.

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