I’m a day late with this post. It was supposed to be published yesterday, but I’ve been really struggling with its focus and couldn’t get the beginning right. What’s ironic is the reason for my writing problems is also the focus on this piece.
My objective is to write and publish this post about goal setting by 10am on Saturday (yesterday). It turns out that while the goal is fairly SMART (it should have been realistic and achievable) the problem was that its not actually about goal setting as such, and that’s why I’ve failed to achieve my goal within the timescale set. Therefore, even with SMART goals, we can still sometimes fail to meet our objectives. The reality is that my post is about having a clear understanding of what we’re doing, what we hope to achieve, and why (our motivation). Sometimes we don’t really understand the true reasons we’re doing something, but if we can tap into the real triggers, it will help us to feed our motivation, keep us on track and achieve our goals.
I’ve discussed previously that setting goals which are SMART is a good practice which will help you be successful, but as I have hopefully demonstrated in discussing my struggles creating this post, we also need to be clear about what we’re doing.
Why do we set goals?
We set goals as we have an aim in mind, our goals are the tasks we will carry out to get there. Our goals will be better, more effective if we have a clear idea of what we are trying to do and why. Additionally, we also need to understand what is pushing us so we can ensure that we maintain our motivation. Typically our aims are not achieved through a single SMART goal, but by a series of them. Just as I won’t have a successful blog by writing a single post, there needs to be many more. Think of your goals as stepping stones to achieving your main goal or aim (each post published is a step towards success). Instead of saying “I’m going to go to the gym 5 times a week”, start off going once a week, and maybe try to increase your general activity by 20 minutes every day – sometimes I put on the tv and walk on the spot to meet that particular target if I’ve been busy and not managed to get outside. Be honest with yourself about what you will do, what is realistic for you.
However, to get to the stage of setting our objectives, we need to understand what exactly it is we want to do and why we want to do it.
What do I want to achieve?
It is important to take some time to really understand what you want to do. Taking the example of getting fit, you should be clear about what it is you want:
- To be fit
- To have more muscle
- To look good
- To be more flexible
- to run a marathon
- to lose weight
Targetting fitness may lead to any or all of the above, but its important that you understand whether you just want to be fit, or is it a means to an end – you want to be fit so you can be more attractive. Once you’ve identified your true focus, it will be easier for you to tap into this as a driver to push and motivate yourself. For me, I have a lifestyle in mind where I’m fit and healthy. So when I think about that lifestyle, when I visualise myself living that life, it helps to keep me focused and motivated (putting the biscuit back in the jar). By identifying my real reason, I found that the goals I need to set are wider than just fitness, and my blogging also feeds into that.
The key thing is to take some time, to ask yourself questions which will help you identify your core purpose.
Why do I want to do this?
Linked to understanding what you want, and asking the questions to get you there, is also to ask yourself why do you want to get fit (continuing with the example)? Why do I want the lifestyle I’m picturing. Digging to find these answers to your why questions should help you establish:
- Why these things are important?
- Who or what is driving you?
Why are these things important?
By exploring why these things are important you will also more clearly and specifically define your purpose, but you will also be able to identify how to motivate yourself because after this activity you will know what’s important to you.
To ensure you’ve dug as deep as possible, keep asking yourself “why?” for each answer until you don’t have any answers left – its only at that point that you will have identified your true reasons and motivators.
Who or what is driving you?
This is, or should be fairly easy to answer and what you say will likely have a significant impact on your motivation levels and success.
- Are you doing this for yourself, or someone else?
- Are you being driven by internal or external factors?
Thinking about why you want to get fit, there are many reasons we could cite, and I suspect that my lengthy list is not exhaustive:
- I want to run a 5k/10k/marathon
- I want to lose weight
- I want to be more attractive
- Heath Scares/Health Reasons
- Someone else told me to (could be doctor/family member/employer etc)
- I want to be able to eat what I want
- I want to feel better/move better
- I want to have a better quality of life
- I want to have a good quality of life when I’m older
- It seems like a good thing to do
- Someone else is doing it (friend/family), so thought I’d come along
Looking at my list, we can see that there is a mix of drivers that are self-driven and driven by others. Think about which ones are going to motivate you more – something you want to do for yourself “I want to feel better” or where you’ve been told to exercise – eg, your doctor has told you to exercise and given you a gym referral. I’d also argue that some of these reasons (the last two) are probably quite weak, so I’d definitely encourage anyone saying these to dig a bit deeper to see if this is really something they want to do and will stick with.
When we do something for ourselves, where we’ve been involved in making the decision and setting the goals, we are more successful as opposed to situations where we’ve been forced or told to do something. Last year I was told by my GP to give up caffeine (cold turkey) as he believed coffee and chocolate were responsible for my migraines. Giving up coffee, chocolate, tea etc was really hard and it would have been easy to fail. However, what kept me motivated and on track was my belief that the GP was wrong. My motivation to continue was to prove him wrong. I had 3 weeks of hell with constant migraines and sleeping less with poorer quality. It would have been easy to give in and drink coffee, but that wouldn’t have provided the evidence to back up my belief that coffee/caffeine wasn’t the trigger. I kept a diary tracking everything for those three weeks; the migraines had not improved, and as such, I was able to prove that caffeine does not contribute to my migraines, that my stubborn determination to prove the doctor wrong provided my motivation and kept me on track.
We will be more successful if we want to achieve something ourselves rather than where someone else is setting the goal for us.
How can we turn goals set by others to our advantage?
As I’ve said above, goals or targets set by others for us will be less effective than those we set for ourselves, so it would seem sensible to explore if its possible to refocus these for ourselves. I guess my coffee example demonstrates this, but I wouldn’t necessarily encourage going against your doctor’s advice – although I did do what I was told, but not for the same reasons – so the key thing is to find your own angle.
I’d take the advice and consider if there are any other reasons you should exercise. I believed the removal of caffeine wouldn’t work for my migraines, but I do know other things do help, so now I try to exercise to reduce their frequency and intensity so that is now one of my reasons to exercise, my motivator is the prevention of migraines. I sat down with my GP, who was reluctant to prescribe any stronger medications because of the side effects, instead, together we talked through what other things I could do and I came up with exercise, and with some suggestions from the doctor, was able to create some goals that work for me.
Look at your goal/what you’re being told to do and consider if there are any reasons that you can get behind it, putting you in the driving seat, rather than someone else. Taking ownership of our goals means we increase the likelihood of success.
Are internal or external motivators better?
Looking back at my list of reasons to exercise, some of these are external – other people, health scares etc – while some of these may be good reasons to exercise and will motivate some people, generally we are more motivated when the drivers are what we call intrinsic motivators – they are the reasons linked to our emotions and desires. I want to feel better; I want to have a better quality of life are intrinsic (internal) motivators.
This is where asking ‘why’ over and over will help you to go beyond the basic reasons for doing something and help you identify your true reasons for acting – your purpose. It will let you identify how important something really is to you and should mean you’re spending your time focused on the things that are most significant in your life. By doing this and understanding what motivates you, you can set strong SMART goals and tap into your motivation for success.
Read 8 Types of Motivation to help you achieve your goals for more on intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and
How to set goals and achieve them for additional information about setting the right goals
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