This Year, Think BIGGER: 5 Essential Steps for How to Achieve Your Goals
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Working toward BIG goals is a proven to way to feel happy and satisfied. Here are 5 crucial steps for how to achieve your goals (your BIGGEST goals!)
“What if….” has long been one of my favorite questions.
Even when I'm exhausted, weary, and overwhelmed and wish the world would stop turning for just. one. day., that question has the power to rekindle hope, rekindle joy, and give me the energy (and the courage) to take at least one more step forward.
At Nourishing Joy, we talk A LOT about nourished, healthy, non-toxic living, as well as how to be INTENTIONAL with our lives. And what can be more intentional than spending time contemplating how to serve your family, pursue your dreams, and make a difference in the world, all while accomplishing OTHER big things that are truly important too?
The ability to dream about achieving something amazing is a wonderful part of the human condition – but it can be equally frustrating when we feel stuck in whatever situation we're in.
Stuck in debt.
Stuck in bad habits.
Stuck in situations beyond our control.
But what if things COULD be different?
This year, I challenge you to think BIGGER.
This year, think BIGGER.
Have you ever asked yourself the question, “If time and money were no object, what would I spend my time doing?”
It's not a perfect starting point, but it CAN be an effective question to audit how you use your time, as well as to reveal your heart's deepest desires. (In fact, we even start with a similar question at the very beginning of our THRIVE Healthy Life Management Program to help you get clear on your sense of vision, purpose, and vocation.)
But knowing WHAT you want to accomplish doesn't exactly help you move the needle TOWARD any of those things you listed. If nothing else, it can simply feel like they're pie-in-the-sky dreams, always out of reach, leaving you feeling an empty longing for unrealized dreams.
But what if I told you that those things are closer to being in reach than you think?
WHAT IF this year you actually earned that degree, took that trip, ran that marathon, rebuilt that relationship, saved enough money to give up your job (or landed that other dream job), put $10,000 into savings, erased your debt, or finally lost that 50 pounds?
See? “What if….” is a powerful question!
And it's “What if…” questions that cause us to set goals that make us stretch – and see what we're really capable of.
Smart Goal Setting: Are goals worth setting?
Before we get to the amazingness of stretch goals, however, we need to sidestep just a little, because there's one thing that's missing in many conversations about goal-setting, and I want to make sure we give it it's proper place in the discussion.
The process I lay out here in this article CAN help you accomplish ANYTHING – truly – once you have your eye set on an end goal.
But – and this is a big BUT – we must ask the question: Do we really need a goal to pursue? Are goals really worth setting?
The answer is certainly a resounding YES, as we'll continue to discuss in a moment, BUT there are certainly times in life when we need to pause, to contemplate, to mull, and to simply BE.
Because working toward goals takes effort. Good effort. Worthy effort. Effort that is the kind of hard that makes us into better people by the doing of it.
But sometimes, we need to pause.
Maybe it's because we're not sure which direction to go in next and we need time to discern the next steps in our journey.
Maybe it's because we need to heal – physically or emotionally – from what has come just before.
Or maybe it's because we've just accomplished something amazing and we simply need to REST before we launch into the next amazing thing. As we discuss multiple times in the THRIVE program, rest is an essential part of vibrant productivity.
Being fully present in whatever we're doing REQUIRES that we not hurry or rush headlong into it.
And don't forget, WHO we are as people is even more important than WHAT we accomplish.
Taking time to pray and meditate over our callings and vocations is as worthy a task as accomplishing something amazing.
Taking a season to unplug from busyness can be a holy endeavor that gives you greater clarity.
Or taking a season to see where life takes you can be utterly refreshing. As a myriad of bumper stickers say, “All who wander are not lost.”
So, before we launch into stretch goals and why they are so essential to our lives, I urge you to give yourself permission to take a season of contemplation if that is what you most need at this time.
But if you're itching and ready to do BIG THINGS, or simply have one specific thing that really needs to be accomplished, you're in exactly the right place. What I promised to show you is how to achieve your goals, no matter how big or how small, and no matter whether they're life goals or work goals or service goals or community goals or simply something that needs to be done.
I want to make it EASY for you to achieve anything you set your mind to!
When you think big and plan small, you can move mountains (quite literally, as you are about to see).
Why We Need Stretch Goals
I used to think of “stretch goals” as goals that seemed just out of reach. We set a reasonable goal, then we see if we can stretch just a little bit farther and do just a little bit better. It might require a bit of extra effort, but it was still within the realm of “reasonable.”
Then I read this story and realized stretch goals could be SO. MUCH. MORE.
In the 1950s, during the lingering wake of the devastation of the Second World War, Japan was intensely focused on growing the nation’s economy.
A large portion of the country’s population lived in or between the cities of Tokyo and Osaka, which were separated by just 320 miles of train track. Every day, tens of thousands of people traveled between the cities. Vast amounts of raw industrial materials were transported on those rail lines. But the Japanese topography was so mountainous and the railway system so outdated that the trip could take as long as twenty hours.
So, in 1955, the head of the Japanese railway system issued a challenge to the nation’s finest engineers: invent a faster train.
Six months later, a team unveiled a prototype locomotive capable of going 65 miles per hour—a speed that, at the time, made it among the fastest passenger trains in the world. Not good enough, the head of the railway system said. He wanted 120 miles per hour.
The engineers explained that was not realistic. At those speeds, if a train turned too sharply, the centrifugal force would derail the cars. Seventy miles an hour was more realistic—perhaps 75. Any faster and the trains would crash.
Why do the trains need to turn? the railway head asked. There were numerous mountains between the cities, the engineers replied.
Why not make tunnels, then? The labor required to tunnel through that much territory could equal the cost of rebuilding Tokyo after World War II.
Three months later, the engineers unveiled an engine capable of going 75 miles per hour. The railway chief lambasted the designs. Seventy-five miles per hour, he said, had no chance of transforming the nation. Incremental improvements would only yield incremental economic growth. The only way to overhaul the nation’s transportation system was to rebuild every aspect of how trains functioned.
Over the next two years, the engineers experimented: They designed train cars that each had their own motors. They rebuilt gears so they meshed with less friction. They discovered that their new cars were too heavy for Japan’s existing tracks, and so they reinforced the rails, which had the added bonus of increasing stability, which added another half mile per hour to cars’ speed. There were hundreds of innovations, large and small, that each made the trains a little bit faster than before.
In 1964, the Tōkaidō Shinkansen, the world’s first bullet train, left Tokyo along continuously welded rails that passed through tunnels cut into Japan’s mountains. It completed its inaugural trip in three hours and fifty-eight minutes, at an average speed of 120 miles per hour. Hundreds of spectators had waited overnight to see the train arrive in Osaka. Soon other bullet trains were running to other Japanese cities, helping fuel a dizzying economic expansion.
The development of the bullet train, according to a 2014 study, was critical in spurring Japan’s growth well into the 1980s. And within a decade of that innovation, the technologies developed in Japan had given birth to high-speed rail projects in France, Germany, and Australia, and had revolutionized industrial design around the world.From “Smarter, Faster, Better” by Charles Duhigg
A stretch goal is an aim so ambitious that at the outset it's not immediately clear how that goal will be reached.
It's a goal that REQUIRES ingenuity and creativity.
It's a goal that if you CAN see how to make it happen, then it's not a stretch goal.
Stretch goals are where we, as humans, are at our absolute best. That's when we get to put our best creativity, best ingenuity, and best critical thinking skills to work to figure out how to achieve our goals and get the most joy and satisfaction in return.
The problem is, however – as you've probably already guessed – is that how many times have you made a list of things you really want to do or things you dream about? Probably multiple times. How many times have you accomplished the things on that list? Probably zero, otherwise they wouldn't still be on the list.
The thing is that while we absolutely need stretch goals, we ALSO need strategy. Strategy is the difference between “wishful thinking” and “making dreams into reality.”
Here's another way to think about it:
Small Goals = Small Gain
Many of us create to-do lists thinking we're being productive toward a goal. But in reality, we're just creating comfortable goals that are safe and easy to accomplish, because it tickles and satisfies that part of our brains that crave closure and accomplishment. It feels good to check something off a list! It makes us feel like we're making progress.
Plus, so many of us are SO BUSY! How on earth could it be possible to go after a dream or improve our lives if we're also responsible for cooking the meals, cleaning the house, running the kids to music lessons and sports meets, staying healthy, holding down a job, showing up for our families, and all the responsibilities that come with just being an adult?
Dreams and making life improvements – even necessary ones – naturally just seem like an unrealistic pipe-dream!
In his book, Smarter, Faster, Better, Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Charles Duhigg shares study and after study that show for we humans to feel satisfied in our day-to-day life AND feel motivated to tackle our biggest frustrations – or go after our biggest dreams – there are two things (and only two things) that MUST be in place:
- We have to feel that we have control over our actions, and that those actions can easily be completed within a short-time frame.
- We have to feel that we are allowed to be creative when we tackle a problem – and in particular are allowed to put out ANY idea, no matter how crazy it may sound. In other words, there are no limits on brainstorming how to solve a problem, whether that's sitting at our kitchen table or sitting in the boardroom.
Did you see that?
Here's another way to say it:
There are only two things you need to accomplish ANYTHING (aka how to achieve your goals – your BIGGEST goals):
- LITTLE baby steps that can be finished in a short time-frame and give you a sense of progress and satisfaction.
- Being able to see the BIG picture and brainstorm without limitation.
Basically, then, the formula for being able to climb any mountain is to balance the time you spend looking at the end goal (your stretch goal) with putting your focus right on your feet in front of you (your strategy), so that step-by-step, you climb Everest.
Okay, fine, you say, but HOW?
Here are five crucial steps to being able to tackle any goal.
SMART Strategies: 5 Steps for How to Achieve Your Goals
How to Set SMART Goals – with a twist
Note: Even though this list describes setting PERSONAL goals, this process can just as easily be used for business purposes. I have found that for each executive or manager to do this process separately, then come together to decide on the next year's KPI's can be invaluable.
How to Achieve Your Goals Step #1: Brain dump. Name ALL the crazy things.
Set aside a several-hour block to give yourself the mental and physical time you need to give your entire focus to the brainstorming process. Even if it means sacrificing something else – being willing to put the kids in front of a video, asking someone else for help to pick up the kids from school, shifting around other already-schedule meetings – whatever is it you need to do to give yourself time to think, provide that time and space.
Also, set yourself up in a place where your mind can be free. Whether that's a table at your favorite coffee shop or your living room couch cuddled up under cozy blankets, put yourself physically in a place where your mind is free to focus.
Next, write down anything and everything that comes to mind with what you long for.
- Include your dreams, like climbing a mountain or writing a book even though you have five children under the age of seven.
- Include those things that are always in the back of your mind, like adding on a guest room to your home or joining the local volunteer firefighter squadron or starting your own business.
- Include the hardships you want to overcome, like paying off a mountain of debt or dealing with chronic health issues.
- Include ways you want to serve in your community or in the larger world.
If you prefer fill-in-the-blanks rather than a blank page, try writing down various roles or identities you have, such as “parent,” “boss,” or “things I've wanted to do since I was a kid” and populate the list that way.
Even if an idea seems silly or ridiculous, write it down. Remember how one of the criteria for feeling motivated and productive is that you can feel creative without judgment? That includes not judging your own thoughts during this process, and every. single. niggling. idea. deserves a place on the list. You can evaluate them and judge them later.
Also, this will likely be HARD. Not because you don't have ideas, but because you'll likely feel like you're missing some of the most important ones. That's because many of our deepest longings we FEEL – we've never put them into words or even acknowledged them, but we know they're there. Try to think through conversations you've had with friends or your spouse in the last several months. Are there things that have returned to the conversation over and over? Are there unfinished topics? Are there emotions you can't quite put your finger on? Mull over these conversations.
For this reason, allow at least an hour for writing down ideas. This allows you time to dig deeper, to pray, and to allow thoughts to come to the surface in your busy, racing mind.
How to Achieve Your Goals Step #2: Organize & evaluate everything you just named.
Now, look at the list or mindmap you just created. You're going to go through it several times.
First, put a line through any goal that sounds fun or interesting, but that doesn't light a spark of excitement in you.
For example, I would love to learn how to drive an 18-wheeler and get hired as a long-haul trucker. But in the large scheme of things? Learning to drive truck doesn't light a fire in my belly with excitement, even though I know I'd enjoy it. So I'd put a line through it.
CAVEAT: Don't cross out any goals that have to do with tackling a hurdle or a problem. For example, the goal of “getting out of debt” may not light a fire in your belly or sound exciting, but it's a life-changing goal, so it's important.
Next, write a “T” beside any item that is more like a task or a project. These are items that can usually be accomplished in less than a month.
For example, on my own personal list, “Organize the guest room” falls under this category. I really, really want to make that room into the welcoming and tidy space I dream for it to be, but ultimately, I know exactly what needs to be done, it will only take me a few days here and there, and it's just a task that needs to be checked off my to-do list. It's not a goal – it's a task/project.
Now, put an asterisk beside any goal that feels important and that you'd be excited to get started on, and you know that with a bit of research, you'd be able to figure out how to tackle the goal or find a method or system for how someone else has tackled this goal in the past. These goals typically are exciting, a little bit challenging, and make you feel just a little bit of trepidation.
Last, use a highlighter to highlight any goal that is truly audacious, pie-in-the-sky, and you have no clue how it would be possible to make it happen. These are the goals that feel deeply important, the goals where you feel a call to serve, and even if they're terrifying, you know they will make the biggest difference. These are the ones where you're flat-out sure you'd completely fail if you tried and you're not even sure why you wrote it down in the first place. But these also often feel vastly important or thrillingly exciting and they're ones where you know it would change your life and the lives of your loved ones if they became reality.
If there are any goals left on your list that are unmarked, go back and evaluate them again until every single goal is either crossed out, marked with a “T”, asterisked, or highlighted.
How to Achieve Your Goals Step #3: Choose three goals. Period.
Now choose ONE goal from each of the last three categories to work on this year. (Skip the ones you crossed out, at least for now.)
ONE. Yes, ONE.
When you have too many goals to work on simultaneously, your focus and energy gets divided. Tackle only one type of goal at a time and when you successfully complete each goal, come back to the list and choose another goal from that same category.
In weighing each idea, I urge you to choose goals that will make the biggest impact on your own life or the life of your family or community. Not only will this help you stay motivated, but it will – well – make the most impact.
It can be because the goal is urgent, or it can be because the goal is important, or it can be simply because you get crazy-excited at getting the chance to actually work toward that goal.
How to Achieve Your Goals Step #4: Break big into bite-sized.
So, now that you've chosen your goals, it's time to define and implement your strategy. Remember, strategy is the backbone and the foundation of making your goal a reality.
Even in the fifth century, the Chinese philosopher Confucius espoused the value of creating strategy to meet audacious goals. “When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached,” he taught, “don't adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.”
First, get specific with your goal, as the most effective strategy will be one that is specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and time-bound.
For example, if your stretch goal is “Get a Ph.D.” – that's not specific nor is it time-bound. However, “Get a Ph.D. in Children's Literature examining the role literature has played in defining children's social mores between the ages of 8-12 in each of the last 10 decades” is specific (in fact, super-super-specific) and “Get a Ph.D. by December 31, 2027” is time-bound.
Another example would be if your stretch goal is to “Cut out sugar.” That's a fantastic goal, but again, it's not specific, even though it's concrete. “Remove refined sugar from my diet AND for everyone in my family by this July” is specific, actionable, and time-bound. In order for it to be measureable, you need to define what counts as “refined sugar” (e.g. do evaporated cane sugar and coconut sugar count as “refined sugar”? do grains that get metabolized as sugar count as “refined sugar”? if so, what kinds of grains?), as well as the rate at which you will remove refined sugar from your home and what you will allow in its place.
And it's okay if the actual GOAL ITSELF doesn't feel “realistic,” like we discussed above as the nature of stretch goals, but the steps you take to get there should be.
Thus, you want to make sure each part of your strategy fits those five criteria. (This is why they're commonly called SMART goals):
In our THRIVE program, we expand this even further so you don't just create SMART goals, but you create even SMARTER goals.
Now, on a new sheet of paper, write your goal at the top of the page.
Next, make a list of things that you can measure monthly to move toward that goal.
For example, if your stretch goal is to put $10,000 into savings by the end of the year, a measurable monthly sub-goal would be to put $835 into savings each month. (Remember – this is a stretch goal! $835 sounds a whole lot more do-able than $10,000, but you're still likely completely unsure of how you'll find $835 each month to move to savings. That's what makes it a stretch goal, as to really, truly make that a reality, it will require creativity and ingenuity – how can you earn extra income? would it require changing jobs altogether? should you start a side business specifically to earn that amount? It's likely your whole life will bend and adapt in order to meet that goal. Again, that's what makes it a stretch goal!)
If your stretch goal is to be ready to run a marathon in one year, you might want to increase your training regimen by one mile every two weeks, so your measurable monthly sub-goal would be verifying that you've added two miles to your running regimen by the end of each month and an additional sub-goal would be that you've added at least one different type of terrain into your route each quarter.
If your stretch goal is the Ph.D. example we used above, one month's sub-TASK would be to create a spreadsheet of all the universities where you could apply or the professors with whom you'd like to study. The sub-GOAL would be to set aside $2000 each month for the next three years in order to be able to afford working on the Ph.D. without needing to also work full-time. That sub-goal might also require an additional tracking goal of extra income earned into order to put into savings.
See – you've got complete creative control over how you approach working toward your goal, but it's important to make each step measurable within a short time-frame (such as a week or a month) so you can easily stay motivated, course-correct when necessary, and quickly see and measure your progress.
Which leads us to Step 5…
How to Achieve Your Goals Step #5: Set a rhythm for daily and weekly planning
Now that you've got what you are going to measure (and accomplish!) each month, it's time to provide yourself with the tools you need to actually make it happen.
The single most effective tool I've found is setting aside 5-10 minutes in either the evening or first thing in the morning to plan your day (like in our free 7-Day Reset action plan) and doing check-in and power planning once a week. Both of these give you the opportunity to evaluate what's working well, what's not, and what needs to happen next.
Our Daily Power Planner is a full year's planner to help you track your goals and make them fit in with your busy life, but you can use any method you desire for planning your day, making sure to ask yourself the two questions, “What is the most important thing I need to accomplish today?” and “What task am I doing today that will move me toward my monthly subgoal?”
So, there you have it. The five steps you need to achieve your goals :
- Brain dump. Name ALL the crazy things.
- Sort your goals (and potential goals).
- Choose three goals. Period.
- Break big into bite-sized.
- Set a rhythm for daily and weekly planning
And remember, the formula for accomplishing your biggest dreams and conquering your biggest hurdles is simply two-fold:
- Get creative, both when you dream big and in your problem-solving, AND
- Get specific, so step-by-step you can climb mountains.
As the old adage says, “If you aim for nothing, you'll hit it every time.”