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How to Set Goals That Work

Here's what we can learn from the latest research on setting goals.


By Ann Park, M.D.
Westend61/Getty Images
Westend61/Getty Images
92 percent.

That is the average percentage of us who will not follow through with our goals this year, according to a study done at the University of Scranton. But you may have instinctively guessed that. Many of us have a few new resolutions each year, and it’s a fairly common experience to not get through them all.

Yet did you know there’s an entire field of study devoted to setting goals effectively? The pioneer of the field, Dr. Edward Locke based at the University of Maryland, has studied upwards of 40,000 subjects over 25 years.

Based on his research and real-life outcomes from my practice, here are ways to make your 2019 goals — should you choose to accept them – even more likely to come to fruition.

1. Be specific
If a goal is too general, it can quickly become big, undefined, and unmanageable. By creating a specific written, specific plan, you can identify actionable, measurable steps. Let’s say you’d like to be more productive this year. You can ask yourself:

In what areas of life would I like to be more productive?
What does that specifically look like?

What is the most important step I need to take towards that goal?
Are there any metrics I can use to let myself know I’ve arrived?
Instead of an amorphous idea, you’ve created concrete guideposts to keep yourself on track.

2. Find the sweet spot
Goals should be neither too easy nor too overwhelming. If barely any effort is required, you may quickly lose interest. Conversely if a goal is staggeringly difficult, you may lose hope and simply give up.The sweet spot occurs when you set a goal that lies just beyond your comfortable reach. It feels challenging, in a good way.

3. Give it time
You add muscle power to your goals when you give them a defined time frame. This is another important way to take a goal from an idea to a concrete act that can be accomplished in steps. Once you have a realistic time frame, you can work backwards in time and break the goal down into doable chunks. The time frame follows the same concept as the prior step: Give yourself a manageable amount of time to accomplish your plans, but not so far into the distant future that your fire begins to wane. Be reasonably timely about it.

4. The secret sauce
Finally, get accountable. We know that it’s a lot easier to turn up at the gym or get that walk/run in when people are waiting for us. The same chemistry holds when we are trying to get to our goals. Find another person who also wants to achieve a dream of their own, and set up a regular time to check in with each other. Studies show that when we are accountable to someone else, the likelihood of following through on a task is significantly greater than if we’re going it alone.

Now you have an extra boost for your 2019 New Year’s goals.

(Thrive Global)

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