Small steps on the path of change take the form of goals. Many of us have mixed experiences with goals. Perhaps we have set a goal of “going to the gym” and watched it quickly lose steam. Perhaps we have had one too many New Year’s resolutions fail before Valentine’s Day. This is likely because we did not understand the dynamics of goal setting and goal achievement.
There is a science to goal achievement, and it is to think small, attainable, and accountable.
First, goals should be small and attainable. Rather than saying “This year I will go to the gym 3 times a week,” it is better to say “This week I will go for a 15 minute walk after lunch.” With the latter goal, not only are you choosing a less ambitious goal, but you are choosing a more attainable goal.
If you are not already in the habit of working out, vowing to go to the gym 3 times a week for the rest of the year is unrealistic. Not impossible, but unlikely. Changing the goal from “going to the gym” to “walking” moves the goal closer to what you are already likely to perform.
If you are more likely to carry out the goal, you will succeed. Then you will create positive momentum and build confidence. You will also build a new habit that will someday be just as natural and effortless as your current unhelpful habits.
Remember, success breeds success. Once you have achieved some of your smaller goals, you will begin to feel like you have unlocked the secret to goal achievement and then will want to move onto bigger goals.
Additionally, linking the new goal to an action that is already part of your routine makes it more likely to achieve the goal. Going to lunch will be the trigger for the new behavior (taking a walk). Even better would be to link the new behavior to an already existing behavior that you enjoy. Perhaps you enjoy shopping. You can then add “going for a walk” to each trip to the mall.
The third factor that will aid in goal achievement is accountability. It is helpful to post your goal in as many places as possible:
Set reminders on your phone
Write it on a post-it note and put it everywhere
Enlist the support of this group
Team up with a coach or trainer
Ask for help from your friends and family
You may wonder if such small goals are likely to have a real effect. Perhaps you have one hundred pounds to lose. Can adding a few walks every week really help?
The answer is unequivocally “yes.” See the article on “Systems Thinking 101” to find out why.