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How to Write Realistic Goals You Can Actually Accomplish

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I’m here to hold you accountable.

In the post, “My readers told me their #1 goal. Then I followed up,” on the blog I Will Teach You to be Rich, author Ramit Sethi starts by saying that “One thing that almost nobody does is hold us accountable.”

In his previous post “Uh, it’s SUPPOSED to be hard”, he asked his readers to tell him their number one goal for that year. Instead of leaving it there, he decided to follow up and see how they were doing with these goals.

I want to do something similar. But instead of asking what your number one goal for the year is, I want to narrow that down to “What is your #1 career goal for the year?”

But WAIT. I don’t want just any goal. I want a realistic goal. I want a goal that you will actually accomplish.

How are you going to create such a goal? By focusing on your language.

Believe it or not, this is one of the biggest factors when it comes to creating successful goals.

1. Size and specificity

In “My readers told me their #1 goal. Then I followed up,” Ramit Sethi discusses why some people were able to accomplish their goals while others were stuck basically in the same place he had left them.

He compares two goals:

The first: “My #1 goal for this year is to be fitter, eat healthier and to tone up. I want to lose 5–10 pounds and consistently work out 3–4 times per week.”

The second: “I’m going to learn Spanish and use it as leverage to get a raise or get a better job.”

Can you guess which goal was accomplished and which was not?

Let’s take a closer look at the details.

Size:

  • Learning a second language is a HUGE goal and was paired with another big goal of getting a better job.

  • Losing 5–10 pounds is a much smaller goal. It’s definitely losing weight, but it’s not a gigantic amount.

Specificity:

  • The first goal used specific numbers, 5–10 pounds and 3–4 workouts per week, which provided a tangible point to work towards.

  • Spanish may be a specific language, but the concept of learning Spanish is much more vague—this goal had no tangible starting point, no time constraint, no deadline, no strategy.

So which goal was accomplished?

Goal number one. The specificity and simplicity of the goal made it much easier to accomplish.

I’m not saying that learning Spanish can’t be a goal. I think that it’s a great goal and being bilingual could very well help you in your career. But, instead of stating your goal as just “learn Spanish to get a better job,” maybe phrase it in a way that sizes it down and specifies exactly what you are looking to accomplish.

You could say something like: “My #1 career goal is to start learning Spanish to expand my network. I will learn 10 vocabulary words a week and will reach out to at least two co-workers who are fluent in Spanish.”

2. The goal vs. the strategy

Levo League published a post called “How to Turn Goals into Strategies.” In this post, life coach Kristen Walker says that we often mistake our strategies for goals.

She defines a goal as “the feeling you ultimately want from the thing you’re seeking.”

The strategy is defined as “the path required to get there. Your strategies could include action steps, milestones, or events that need to happen in order for you to achieve that goal.”

So, when you say your goal is “to make more money,” Walker challenges that and says that your goal is actually “the feeling of security and comfort that comes from making more money.”

The making of the money is actually a part of your strategy towards that goal.

She makes the point that a lot of people accomplish a “goal” and then are left wondering why they don’t feel satisfied. Walker says that this is because they didn’t really accomplish their goal (attain the desired feeling) but instead just completed one action step toward their goal.

Take a look at your goals. Try to re-word them so that they reflect the feelings you are ultimately looking to have.

3. Don’t talk about your goal

I’m changing pace a little here. I’ve spent most of this post telling you about how to phrase your goals. Now I’m going to tell you not to phrase them at all, well at least not out loud. In Derek Sivers’s TED talk [Note: It’s a short one—just three minutes long] he’s arguing that talking about your goals actually lowers the chances of them being reached.

We set goals and achieve them in order to gain a feeling of accomplishment. The problem with talking about our goals is the fact that the amazing, wondrous brain can make us feel the satisfaction of accomplishing a goal just by having our words acknowledged by someone else.

Sivers offers some proof of this sensation in his TED talk.

  • In 1926, a man named Kurt Lewin was already talking about this phenomenon and called it “substitution.”

  • In 1933 psychologist Wera Mahler discovered that talking about a goal eases the “tension” placed on that goal and so the satisfaction of accomplishing something feels very real in the mind.

  • In 1982, Peter Gollwitzer wrote an entire book on this subject.

  • In 2009 Gollwitzer continued his study by doing some new tests. All participants were asked to write down their goals. Once they had written their goals, half were asked to say their goals out loud while the other half were asked to keep their goals to themselves. Afterwards, all participants were then given 45 minutes of work that would benefit their goals. Those who had kept their aspirations to themselves worked the entire 45 minutes and afterwards still felt they had a long way to go toward completing their goals. Those who had expressed their goals out loud worked, on average, 33 of those 45 minutes and afterwards said they felt much closer to achieving their goal.

Saying our goals out loud offers us an early feeling of satisfaction and so affects the amount of work we put into accomplishing those goals. Sivers suggests that if we must tell someone our goals, we should say them in a way that does not give our minds the chance to feel we’ve made any progress. His example is, “I really want to run this marathon so I need to train five times a week, so kick my ass if I don’t, okay?”

Goal Time!

Okay. It’s time for you to do some work. I want you to think of your #1 Career Goal for this year.

Even if you pick and choose from the different goal tips in this post, I want you to (at the very least) write your goal in the comments section below. In a recent post by the Undercover Recruiter “How to Set and Achieve Your Personal Goals,” Jorgen Sundberg talks about how writing a goal down (especially by hand) will grind it into your subconscious. So, write it down by hand and then reinforce that goal by typing it into the comment section below.

Then get to work on it.

I’m going to hold you accountable.

I’ll be checking up on you in a few weeks to see how all of your career goals are progressing so be ready.

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2 Responses to “How to Write Realistic Goals You Can Actually Accomplish”

  1. Lena

    Great post! Also – SMART Goals:

    Specific
    Measurable
    Attainable
    Realistic
    Timely

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SMART_criteria

    Reply

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