Why Your Long-Term Goals Are Going Nowhere

Forget long-term goal setting. Develop good habits instead. Turn your goals into habits to make them more achievable.

For years, I’ve had a wooden giraffe statue on my office bookshelf. A birthday gift from my father, the giraffe was a reminder of a long-term goal I’ve had since I was 25 years old: to go on an African safari.

I'm not alone, these sorts of visual reminders—photos of destinations you wish to travel to, images of Olympic athletes whose toned physiques you strive to emulate, or a sales figure you hope to crack this year—have become a common form of long-term goal setting.

But there may be a better way to turn long-term goals into reality. According executive coaches Senia Maymin and Margaret Greenberg, authors of Profit from the Positive the key to reaching your goals is not to visualize the end (the safari, the fit body and the sales figure) but to turn these goals into actionable habits.

They describe a study in a recent Forbes article that sought to find out what would help students get a good grade on an exam five to seven days away.

The researchers divided the students into three groups. One group was to visualize the good study habits (such as reviewing class notes every evening) that could lead to a good grade. Another group were told to visualize the outcome of a good grade (essentially the role my wooden giraffe is currently playing). The third group focused on both. Surprisingly, the group that visualized the good study habits had the best results on the exam.

The reason? Turning goals into actionable habits decreases anxiety and increased planning.

My long-term goal of the African safari will remain a pipe dream unless I start regularly setting money aside and take the time to plan the trip. "We’ve been trained since we were children that goals tend to sound like this: "I’m going to run that race" or "I’m going to finish that project." Rarely do we think of successful goals as sounding like this: "I’m going to exercise at the gym every day at 7:30 a.m." or "This week, I’m going to block off the hour after lunch and close the door to my office to work only on this project," write Maymin and Greenberg.

Breaking down our goals into the daily habits that are required to turn it into a reality not only make the goal more realistic and achievable and reduce our stress and anxiety by making it less overwhelming. By doing these daily habits, we end up experiencing many mini-successes that propel us further, getting us closer to our ultimate goal.

What’s your wooden giraffe? How can you turn your goal into actionable habits?

Hat Tip: Forbes

[Image: Flickr user tableatny]

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  • Great post, Lisa! Some goals can seem daunting, but anything is possible if you leverage your strengths. To Bill's point, it all starts with self awareness. We all have different preferences in shaping the daily habits you mentioned and by knowing these preferences, you are well on your way to thriving with your goals.

  • Reilly Corp

    Thanks for the post Lisa! Breaking down a large goal into smaller attainable goals will keep one moving forward. We write and discuss all of our goals on a daily basis so we have a clear road map for today and for the future. Jackie www.reillycorporation.com

  • Ah! Very much like the value of self awareness. It only helps when the next step is taken; making something different. That's always an action step.

  • Lisa

    Thank you for this important post.You hit the nail on its head when you say 'Breaking down our goals into the daily habits that are required to turn it into a reality not only make the goal more realistic and achievable and reduce our stress and anxiety by making it less overwhelming'

    I have seen this come true time and again for the clients I coach. Habits are indeed powerful.

    Your post also reminded me of a line I read some years ago and that has stayed with me ever since. 'We build our habits and those habits build our destiny'