Goal-setting helps you choose where you want to go, and also maps the path to get you there. Take the plunge with wellbeing coach, Noni Boon.

Goal setting helps you to organise your time and resources so that you can be more productive and achieve success. Working towards a goal can be motivating, but it can also be de-motivating; there are moments when you charge along enthusiastically like Bodacious The Bull, and others when you feel like a tortoise. Why? Often it’s because people set their goal as one large block which take a long time to achieve, rather than breaking it down into smaller, attainable increments, or sub-goals. My friend Senia Maymin, PhD, author of Profit from the Positive, has identified three definite steps to successful goal-setting.

1. Break it down

Say you have a large project, like writing a book; are you better off aiming to complete it within one year, or setting smaller sub-goals, such as writing five pages every week? Research definitely shows that the latter approach is the better one. Goals that are projected too far into the future, or ‘distal goals’, require too much sustained motivation and are less likely to be achieved than short-term, or ‘proximal’ goals. The 12-month goal looms large and monstrous and the reward or achievement will not be realised until way into the future - for less-than-patient people, it can feel like an eternity away. However, setting that 12-month goal, but also setting sub-goals for what has to happen each month and sub-sub-goals for what needs to happen each week, is far more likely to inspire you in the long-term. Proximal goals provide immediate incentives and guides for performance, plus the opportunity for smaller rewards, while distal goals are too far removed to effectively mobilise your efforts in the here and now. Focusing on the distant future also makes it too easy to temporise and slack off, like our friend the tortoise.

2. Use rituals to create habits

Rituals are an important and enduring aspect of human existence. They help you to feel comfortable and peaceful in knowing what to expect around a certain activity. So, still using the example of writing a book, creating a ritual around this might involve choosing a regular time and location for writing, to develop the habit of doing it consistently: repeatedly showing up at the time and place locks in the basis of the habit. You could also use other processes and habits to create a sense of ritual – a five-minute meditation before you begin, a special cup for hot tea on your desk, a celebration with something sweet when you finish those five pages. These things not only set you up for success, but help you to enjoy performing the habit.

3. Focus on the process, not the outcome

Saying you are going to write a book, no matter how sincere you are, won’t get it published: focusing on the outcome does not generate a process or lay down the steps required to get there. A first step might be to gather inspiration by researching current books in the genre you have chosen. You could then move on to drawing up a mud map of chapters, characters, and content. Finally, you need to devise a plan of how it all comes together.

Interestingly, researchers have discovered that students who focus on good study habits (the process) as opposed to getting a good mark (the outcome), actually get better grades. In one study, girls were taught how to throw darts; half were taught to focus on the process, being the final two movements in each throw of the forearm motion and the finger extension towards a target, while the other half was told to focus on the outcome of getting the highest possible score. Those girls who focused on the process of the dart-throwing technique consistently outperformed the others.

When thinking about personal goals, start with what you might want to achieve over a five-year period to give you a broad overview and help you to create a vision for your future. As you identify the major goals, break them down into smaller, incremental goals under each category so that it is easy to plan. For example, consider your career goals - you may want to change jobs or industries within five years, start your own business or even retire. Visualising your ‘big picture’ five-year future provides the broad overview you need to start naming your goals. Then, naming the smaller increments comes into play.

Developing smaller steps will help you to stay motivated, measure your performance and mark your progress in concrete terms, and give you opportunities to celebrate your many successes along the way. This in turn ensures a growing sense of efficiency, progress, and achievement that will further fuel your motivation and determination. Developing the habit of working on sub-goals makes it easier to stay focused and to form reliable patterns of how to achieve success. Focusing on the process rather than fixating on the outcome also enhances enjoyment in the present moment by enhancing persistence and generating interest in each step, which ultimately moves you closer to the glorious end result.

Noni Boon is Wellbeing Coach on, and creator of SHARE, a 20-hour program that helps people to change themselves and their lives.
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