How To Set Achievable Goals

Article by My Personal Best volunteer and Freelance Writer, Emily Farley

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Regardless of the season, the media and society compel us to be better versions of ourselves. It’s no longer good enough to lead a contented existence - and although it is true that we all have areas of our lives or within ourselves that could be improved – there is a sense that striving for perfection in every part of our lives has spiralled slightly out of our control.

Whether you’re concerned with school achievements, earning a promotion at work, studying for exams, reaching a fitness goal or improving your personal relationships, now is traditionally the time of year that cultural pre-requisites encourage us to take stock of our successes and failures and re-assess our lives - both personal and professional – in a most critical and dangerous, you-must-be-the-best-version-of-you manner.

80% of new year’s resolutions are dumped before the end of January because maintaining ambitious new years’ resolutions or ‘spring-cleaning’ our lives is challenging enough at the best of times. But now, as we enter a time of blatant economic angst, it’s more than likely that we may begin to feel more frightened about our stability, finances, future careers, our families and our own perceptions of personal self-worth.

Those with perfectionist-tendencies may, consequently, struggle even more with the cultural pressure that comes with these conventions. For instance, Georgia Foster, internationally renowned Hypnotherapist and author of The Stress Less Mind, asserts that whist it may be admirable and healthy to work diligently at school, problems can occur when unrealistic goals are found to be unsustainable and consequently unachievable.

Here’s how to set yourself reasonable goals that will give your ambitions structure and that you can easily achieve.


Be specific

Begin by carefully considering the aspects of your life that you wish to change or enhance and focus upon what you really want to achieve in the long term – remember that long term goals can be broken down into manageable mini-goals once you have decided upon your long-term goal.

Start by making a list. Don’t worry if after five minutes you have a comprehensive mountain of a list. Just be selective and really pin-point the area that you consider the most significant at this time.

For example; you feel that it is vital to achieve more at school so that you can get a place at college next year, but you also want to find yourself a boyfriend or girlfriend. You may be able to do both, but initially, if you concentrate your attention on the priority you may discover that by setting a few mini-goals and taking assertive action, your goal will be easily achievable and you can take some time to try to meet new people or encourage different groups of your friends to mingle a bit more.

The Mind Gym is an excellent resource to use if you feel overwhelmed by your list. It can help you to channel your energies into what you really want to achieve in life. Visit http://www.themindgym.com for more information.


Be realistic

Once you have chosen your priority goal, consider how realistic and achievable that goal is. If your aim is to write an award-winning novel, you may need break it down further to decide on a focused and sensible long-term goal.

For instance; writing a debut novel is likely to be an extremely challenging long term goal that may be set aside and dumped as a result, leading to feelings of failure and a low sense of self-worth.

Refine this goal by reflecting on how this might be achieved. Some cases would require a change of life-style, in terms of fitting in time to write, dedicating yourself to the task whole-heartedly. Perhaps this may even involve learning to fight against negative thoughts or perfectionist inclinations of avoidance that arise due to fear of failure - professional advice from a GP or a mental health specialist is also an option to assist with difficulties such as these.

Long term goals, such as aspiring to write a novel, are certainly valuable goals, but again, focus on your priority – perhaps ask yourself why do I want to achieve this? What do I feel I will get out of this goal?  

A realistic and manageable rendering of this goal could be to set aside an hour or even thirty minutes every day to write. You could join an afterschool club or start a group yourself and invite your friends to join in. You might wish to attend a short writing course in association with your local authority or you might choose to study in your own time with a course from http://www3.open.ac.uk/study/undergraduate/course/a215.htm

You might choose to start by re-reading your favourite novels and analysing what you love about them or have a look at http://www.amazon.co.uk to source a handbook about how to create your plot or characters. You might choose to start by simply exercising your creative talent; writing diary entries, poetry, songs, a play or a short story. You could mix up your activities however you like, so long as you are moving you towards your ultimate purpose then the goals will be fun, flexible and very achievable.


Break down your goal

Start to question what action you need to take in order to achieve the long term goal. These actions will become your mini-goals, which will make your ultimate goal measurable and achievable in the long term.

If you want to challenge negative thoughts, firstly notice when uncomfortable feelings occur and begin to analyse your attitudes and behavioural patterns. Ask yourself what could be causing these emotions. Then perhaps aim to seek medical advice and learn how to adjust your habits in the best way, so that you can be healthy and enjoy your life to the full.

As you begin to tick off each action or mini-goal on the journey towards your ultimate aim, you will start to feel a sense of control over your ambitions. Being able to visually tick off a target on your list will act as a positive affirmation, which will boost your self-esteem and encourage you to persevere.

For example; even if on your first attempt, you don’t get the precise grade that you were aiming for in that essay, the knowledge that you have the will-power and a strategy in place to persist and push your marks up in the long term will empower you to stick with your mini-goals.


Take action

Now that you have your list of actions or mini-goals, don’t hesitate to begin working towards a result. This is an imperative point to be in control and take responsibility for yourself and ownership of your needs.

Dr. Windy Dryden, co-author of Think Your Way to Happiness, emphasises the importance of taking action towards ‘challenging and disputing irrational beliefs [...] and replacing them with more factual, reality-based ideas.’ These factual thoughts and opinions may – for instance- develop from seeking professional advice. Such realistic and direct guidance will prove highly valuable.

Take action, even if you feel you need to break down the goals a little more in order to achieve them. It can sometimes be extremely effective to take some time out and clear your senses so that your thoughts don’t become cloudy. Take some time to enjoy a hobby with friends or family, but try to keep in mind the reasons behind your goal, so that you remain motivated and enthusiastic when you return to the task. But, be careful not to let negative thoughts interrupt your concentration or undermine your authority.

In The Stress Less Mind Georgia Foster warns against the perfectionist’s inclination towards the ‘all or nothing’ attitude. A perfectionist trait ‘within a person can often drive [them] to extreme lengths to achieve their goals’, which is likely to result in failure and self-criticism. Don’t rush to extremes to achieve the goal or the mini-actions, simply take your time but be assertive and do take action.


Be your own mentor

Measure your progress with regular entries in a notebook or diary and keep yourself on track. Louise L. Hay, the author of You Can Heal Your Life, recommends the use of daily affirmations. She says ‘Affirmations that are used consistently become beliefs and will always produce results’.

Finish your progress entry with a positive affirmation. You can use the same affirmation or vary it depending upon how you feel. Louise L. Hay advocates writing out a positive mantra - such as ‘I approve of myself’ or ‘I love myself therefore...’ - several times and then repeating the words aloud with enthusiasm to allow the mantra to resonate with you throughout the day.

You can always refer back to your progress record should you need a boost along the way.


Be flexible

John Kay, author of Obliquity: Why Our Goals Are Best Achieved Indirectly contends that although it may feel that the best way to achieve a goal is to plan everything thoroughly before we begin, in most cases this is impossible because life happens and throws twists and turns into the mix that we can’t foresee.

Kay alternatively advocates a similar philosophy of mini-goals and suggests that by adopting an indirect (or ‘oblique’) approach towards achieving our goals -by taking smaller steps that are vaguely related to the objective - we can reach our ultimate goal via the most successful route because we are able to be flexible and alter our plan as the situation evolves.


Be your own best friend

Maintaining a flexible outlook will also allow you to be kinder to yourself and monitor your needs beyond your goal.

Firstly, be mindful of the process of your achievements and your relationship with your goal; if it begins to feel like a prison, take time to re-assess your mini-goals and try to understand why you feel the way you do.

It could be that you feel that your overall objective is becoming demonstrative and taking up too much of your time from family or friends. Trust your intuition and re-assert control over your actions. Simply make slight alterations to fit in more of the things you enjoy.

Give yourself the freedom to go shopping with a group of friends or to have a lazy Sunday lunch with family. As long as you don’t give up on your long-term goal, you can be flexible about the route to achieving it.


Shake the shame

If you do encounter some difficulties along the journey towards your objective, remember the flexible approach, your inner-strength and those powerful affirmations that you have made. Don’t let negative thought patterns control your sense of achievement or self-worth.

You are the key to controlling any feelings of shame, fear or self-doubt that may occur if things don’t go according to your plan.

Dr. Windy Dryden, the author of Overcoming Guilt distinguishes between –the most common- unhealthy feelings of guilt and attitudes of self-punishment, which derive from fixed dogma about ourselves and our behaviours, and the opposing, more compassionate, healthy attitude of constructive remorse.

Whilst we can learn from constructive suggestions, unhealthy thought patterns of guilt can be highly damaging to our self-esteem. By recognising the characteristics of each, we can replace detrimental patterns of guilt with thoughts of forgiveness and ‘new patterns that will allow us to accept responsibility [...] and repair what we can.’

In Think Your Way to Happiness, Dr. Dryden also states the importance of accepting yourself and others as fallible. ‘If you simply accept yourself unconditionally you will save yourself needless anxiety and be better able to change the things you can change.’ We are all human, nobody is perfect and everyone makes mistakes are those age old axioms that we must remember.

Dr. Dryden suggests distracting yourself with action as a positive method of shaking those feelings of guilt or doubt; ‘See if you can challenge and dispute those irrational ideas which create and sustain your shameful feelings. ’


Get support

Support yourself through this process by treating yourself well; remain positive and mindful about the process and allow yourself an indulgence every now and then.

But, you may need extra support to help you to achieve your goal. Talk to friends and family, ask for their advice and most importantly enjoy the time that you have with them.

Consult a doctor or a psychological professional, dietician, fitness trainer or hypnotherapist if you wish. Seek support from school teachers or college professors, ask for extra tuition or assignments to work on and don’t be shy about sharing your worries with the people who can help you.


Resources

Think Your Way to Happiness by Dr. Windy Dryden and Jack Gordon

Overcoming Guilt by Dr. Windy Dryden

Obliquity: Why Our Goals Are Best Achieved Indirectly by John Kay

You Can Heal Your Life by Louise L. Hay

The Stress Less Mind by Georgia Foster

The Mind Gym, http://www.themindgym.com

http://www.mindtools.com/page6.html

http://www.bbc.co.uk/scotland/brainsmart/success/

http://www.bbc.co.uk/northernireland/schools/11_16/gogetit/gettingthere/planning.shtml

http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Anxiety/Pages/Introduction.aspx

http://www.mind.org.uk/help/diagnoses_and_conditions/anxiety

http://www3.open.ac.uk/study/undergraduate/course/a215.htm

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