Identifying Your Goals | Reset Your Life #1
I don’t know about you, but it seems like I always know what I should change, but never understanding why so many of my goals often failed. Then I realized, through a lot of reading, that knowing what I wanted to change wasn’t enough - I needed to identify something specific about the problem. Identifying your goals and why you want to change is probably the most important step in resetting your life and creating meaningful, lasting change.
Before I get into the first step though, I wanted to let you all know that I took your different learning styles to heart, and am now offering a variety of options on my blog and YouTube for you to follow along. Each week I’ll post a video, talk a bit more in my post, and have a worksheet in case you want to follow along at home
I also just launched a weekly newsletter, so if you want to follow along through little reminders every Wednesday, be sure to subscribe!
Alright, now that housekeeping’s out of the way, let’s start identifying what you want to change!
WHAT ARE YOU TRYING TO CHANGE?
When I realized there was a problem with my lack of money after each paycheck, I thought it was a general spending problem based on research online. All I needed to do was cut out my spending on clothes and personal care, which is where most of my friends spent their money on, and everything would work out.
I thought I had identified the problem.
Another month went by, though, and I was still living paycheck to paycheck. What was going on?
After a more in-depth audit of my expenses, I realized that instead of addressing a problem that was specific to my situation, I assumed my spending habits were like my friends.
If you want to start making changes in your life, you’ll need to get as specific as possible. Applying someone else’s reasons for why you aren’t accomplishing something is a recipe for disaster. Just like a doctor won't diagnose you based on someone else’s medical chart - even if you both end up having the same problem - taking change of your habits should be as individualized as possible.
Chances are, if you’ve found your way to this series, you have a general sense of what you’re trying to change or add in your life. Maybe it’s something as simple as meditating every day, or as complex as dramatically cutting your spending habits to save money. Whatever you’re trying to accomplish, having a starting point is a great first step.
Now I want you to think back on all of the times you’ve started to do something new, and why those new habits worked.
What about picking up needlepoint or running made those goals so successful? Maybe you started running with a group of friends who would hold you accountable, or you enjoy the calm of donning a needle and getting crafty.
Once you’ve identified what made new habits so success, here comes the harder part. Why have some of your new habits failed?
Sticking with the daily meditating goal - what ended up leading to you abandoning the practice? Maybe you really enjoyed meditating, but never seemed to carve out time, and eventually forgot. Maybe you tried meditating, but didn’t know how to consistently stick with it. Or maybe you realized that you just didn’t like meditating, but are still craving some way to destress.
Regardless of what your ultimate goal is, start by identifying either potential or existing barriers that have prevented you from accomplishing what you want to do. This exercise allows you to understand that once we begin to look at our habits, we can start to move onward to our goals.
When we think about it, our lives are nothing more than a string of habits.
We don’t think about which hand we brush our teeth with or which side of the bed we get out of. Habits are our brain’s version of auto-pilot that allows you to multitask without having an existential crisis about how you tie your shoe. These small actions throughout our daily routine don’t seem like they’re all that important, but as you start to identify different barriers, you’ll probably see a pattern emerging.
I have a friend who is always late. Like, when we meet for happy hour or a random catch-up walk, I know not to arrive until at least 30 minutes after our “agreed” meeting time.
She would always talk about how she wanted to break her habit of running late, but had tried everything from alarms to making a to-do list in the evenings, and was still chronically late.
Then I asked my friend to walk me through her morning routine.
It turns out, she didn’t have a problem getting up at the right time, or forgetting what she needed to do, but she was terrible about switching her outfits, misplacing her keys, and always waiting on her slow coffee machine to finish brewing. Five minutes here, fifteen minutes there quickly added up.
Once she realized that her bad habit wasn’t just running late, but it was running late because I’m disorganized, she started making little changes.
Twelve outfit changes were cut down to two outfit choices she had laid out the night before. Her keys now lived on a cute 3M strip wall mount next to her front door. And the coffee machine? She realized how old it was and decided to get a new one.
It’s not earth-shattering, but as soon as my friend started to identify what her own personal shortcomings were - and not what other people said they could potentially be - she started to make progress, and now only has the subways to blame for running late.
To really get to the heart of why identifying something so small ended up leading to bigger changes, we need to understand the psychology of habits. I explain more on this in the video for this week, but at its core, habits fall into a neat little cycle of:
I’ll be talking more about the habit loop in week 3 of the series, but what’s important here for identifying the root problem is that habits have a beginning, middle, and end.
When you wake up and realize you have morning breath (cue), you brush your teeth (routine) to avoid the social stigma of bad breath (reward).
In my friend’s example, she needed to get out the door (cue), but was always disorganized (routine), which led to her silently cheering everytime she wasn’t fired for being late to work (reward).
Regardless of what you want to change, combining an understanding of what you specifically want to change with how that actually fits in to your daily life is critical in making sure you achieve your goal.
I talked about this a few months ago when creating New Year's Resolutions, but making sure your goals follow the S.M.A.R.T. method will really set you up for success.
The SMART criteria, which was originally developed as a tool for corporate management in the early 1980s, stands for:
If you’re really serious about achieving a goal, try to get specific as possible about it.
Instead of saying, I want to get into shape, which offers very little direction or ways to hold yourself accountable, start by asking yourself some of the following questions:
- Why do I want to accomplish this goal?
- How can I accomplish this goal?
- Are there people I know that can have successfully completed this goal?
- What support, if any, do I need from others to set myself up for success?
Once you’ve started to answer a few of these questions, it’s going to be a lot easier to start executing the goal.
These questions allowed my friend go from "leaving the house on time" to “I want to leave the house by 9 AM.” The difference between these two statements is that defining the goal gives you a clear roadmap for following the rest of the SMART criteria.
You also need to make sure these goals are relevant (don't worry, I'll be talking about the rest of the SMART criteria in weeks four and five).
Is this goal even important to you?
This question seems like a no-brainer, but if there’s nothing to ultimately motivate you towards completing this goal, you’re wasting your time. This is why it is so important to create goals that are individualized, at least in some way, to why you’re investing the time, money, and energy in doing it.
Creating a rock solid foundation of why you’re working towards completing a goal makes it easier to set yourself up for success and finish it.
If you’re finding that you’re having trouble answering why this goal is important to you, it may be helpful to go back to the first step and take more time to answer why you’re doing this in the first place.
If you’re having trouble getting specific about what identifying what you need to change, I’ve made this quick worksheet to help guide you along the process. In the worksheet, we start with your larger goal, like running a marathon, and begin to break down why goals have or haven’t worked out so that you understand how to replicate your successes.
Next week I’ll be talking more about the second step, which gets a bit deeper into reflecting on the things you’ve started to identify.
As always, I love to hear feedback from you guys, whether it’s a comment below, an Instagram message, or maybe even a courier pigeon? I’m super excited to finally start this series with y’all, but also want to make sure this is actually helping you, so if there’s anything you’d like to see added or changed about the series, let me know!
See ya next week!