The countdown to the new year is on. It’s that time when we reflect upon the previous year and set big goals for the year ahead. Maybe you’ve already written down your goals, said them out loud to family and friends, or made a vision board.
While many of us start January 1 with great goals and plans for the year, around mid-February (or earlier), life gets in the way and all those amazing goals start to drift further and further away.
Lara Casey, creator of the Powersheets Intentional Goal Planner, CEO of Cultivate What Matters, and author of Cultivate: A Grace-Filled Guide to Growing an Intentional Life, says many of our New Year’s resolutions fail because the traditional method of goal planning is faulty. Goal setting, says Casey, shouldn’t be a once-a-year event, but should become part of our regular routine.
Here, she shares her tips for incorporating goal setting into your daily life:
1. Create your “big picture”
Say you want to start your own catering company in 2019. Look ahead five or 10 years from now and picture what your life looks like having accomplished this goal. Who are the people in your life? What are you doing? Where do you live? What does your home look like? What does your storefront sign look like? Pick out all the little details and create your big picture.
“So many of us are scared to think of that question. It seems too far away, but when you think big picture, it’s a gut check for today,” says Casey. What you see in the big picture will tell you what really matters to you and what doesn’t, and will help you to determine whether the things you’re doing today and the decisions you make today are pointing you towards achieving the big picture, or away from it.
2. Break your goal into even smaller steps than you think you need
We’ve all heard the goal setting mantra of breaking down a big goal into small steps, but Casey says the steps have to be much smaller than we think. When reaching a wellness goal, for example. The first step can’t be “I’m going to exercise three days a week.” Although that may sound like a small step, the real small step for our brains is putting on our gym shoes. Remember, our brains don’t really like change, so we need to trick our brain into adopting the new habit by breaking things down into small steps that it can handle.
Write down every step as you would a recipe. Purchase gym shoes. Pack gym bag. Put gym bag in the car. Schedule gym time in calendar. Drive to the gym.
Setting all of these small goals also allows you to celebrate the small steps along the way to progress, proving to your brain that you are making progress and putting that goal in closer reach.
3. Surround yourself with your goal every day
If you’ve ever tried to learn a new language, you probably didn’t have much success if you simply read a textbook and put it away on the bookshelf. But if you surround yourself with that language, through conversation, music, and books, you can probably now say that you have a good grasp of the language, if not that you are fluent in it.
The same process applies to goal setting. Surrounding yourself with your goals every day will help you to realize them. Create a vision board or write your goals on a Post-it and leave it on your monitor. Seeing your goals front and center in your everyday life tells your brain that this thing is important and allows you to make decisions that will lead you towards your goal. When faced with a choice–to attend a networking event or to spend money on an online training course, for example–seeing your goal every day will remind you to make the decision that will bring you closer to achieving the things you desire.
4. SMART Plus Heart Goals
We’ve all heard of SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-based), but Casey says SMART goals are missing a secret ingredient that is really the driving force to success–the secret sauce, she calls it. “Our brains really like to be nice and cozy and comfortable and seek out habit and routine,” she says. In order to allow your brain to accept the new habit you want to adopt, Casey says the goal needs to be connected to your big picture, your heart. “When the goal you want to achieve matters to you in the big picture, you will follow through,” she says. “And when you mess up, you’ll get back up, because your HEART is in it.”
“I could set a SMART goal to run a 5K, but if there’s no connection to my values, to my big picture, my brain will go to the couch,” says Casey. Instead of setting the SMART goal “I’m going to run a 5K,” set the HEART goal, “I’m going to run a 5K because I want to live a healthy life and be able to keep up with my kids.”
“If our goals aren’t bigger than us, bigger than our circumstances, bigger than our needs that we have today, your brain won’t be motivated to push through that hard period of change,” says Casey.
5. Schedule 90-day check-ins
“Our brains can’t focus on something intensely for over 90 days,” says Casey. Breaking your goals down into 90-day chunks and revisiting them on a quarterly basis not only helps you to stay on track but allows you to check in with your goals and determine whether they are still in line with your value system or whether something in your life has changed and you now need to alter that goal somehow.
So before you forget about your New Year’s resolution, schedule these check-ins into your calendar, create your vision board, break your goals into small steps, align your goal with your values, close your eyes, and see yourself having achieved this milestone.