The power of setting short-term goals

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Most people have long-term goals. They may be large scale, like setting up a business. They may be small scale, like booking an overseas holiday. The problem with long-term goals, though, is that they are often so far away that it’s hard to know where to start, and the goal’s pay-off seems distant and unreachable. For this reason, they will often remain dreams, with nothing ever coming to fruition.

Short-term goals provide a solution to this problem. When properly formulated, they offer a series of milestones – a step-by-step system that paves a path towards your long-term goal. They give you a clear plan to grasp what may otherwise seem impossible.

The benefits

Achievability. This is where short-term and long-term goals differ. Saying to yourself: ‘I’d like to lose 40kgs,’ is far different from saying: ‘I’m going to go for a 10 minute run after work today’. Behavioural psychology tells us that people respond positively to achievement, no matter how small. It spurs them on. It motivates them. If you set short-term goals that are regularly attainable, you’ll be far more likely to stay motivated over time.

Short-term goals also minimise procrastination. They lay down a clear and defined path to success, allowing you to focus on one thing at a time. This focus will not only help you stay motivated, but it will also help your productivity, and have you achieving your long-term goal quicker. Your actions will have a sense of purpose, and you’ll be less likely to get daunted or discouraged. Short-term goals provide the foundation for something greater.

How to set milestones

In order to set short-term goals, you’ll first need to have a clear and defined long-term goal. Let’s take the above 40kg weight loss as an example.

Firstly, you need to break the long-term goal down into actionable parts. In the case of weight loss, you might focus on diet, fitness and lifestyle. You’ll then break each of these parts down into your short-term goals, keeping in mind the acronym SMART – your goals should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely.

A ‘SMART’ short-term goal for fitness might be to run 2km in under 15 minutes. A short-term diet goal might be to combine at least four different vegetables into each night’s dinner. The goal-setting should be driven by what you think is personally achievable.

These goals should be written down, and displayed somewhere that can’t be avoided. Any goals that seem unachievable should be changed, although you do want a nice balance between challenging and achievable.

Overcoming barriers

No matter how well we may have structured our goals, it’s almost inevitable that we sometimes lose motivation, get too busy, or simply forget about them. The best way to deal with obstacles is to prepare for them before they happen, so you can stick to your goals.

Make a list of motivations. Perhaps you want to get fit to avoid health problems later in life. Perhaps you want to look great at the beach or to hike a famous trail overseas. This list can be a great source of inspiration when the going gets tough.

Make another list of reasons that may stop you from achieving your short-term goals. For example, you don’t want to exercise in the cold or rain, you’re too busy at work, or you haven’t got the time to eat healthily. Then list the solutions to these problems: training indoors, minimising overtime for the good of your health, buying groceries online to save on shopping time.

How to progress through your milestones

Taking time out of your week to check and analyse your progress is a great way to retain focus. It offers you the opportunity to pat yourself on the back for your efforts so far, and gives you the chance to change or reset any unrealistic goals. A half an hour at a specific point of every week should be enough to celebrate your successes, reflect, and remind yourself of your plan. This time can also serve to reaffirm your decision to set yourself on this path in the first place.

Whatever form the data takes – a graph showing your athletic improvement, a check box system to keep track of your diet – having a quantifiable source of information is an important part of goal tracking, and ultimately, achievement.

Short-term goals are a means to an end. They’re a vehicle help you achieve greatness. Realising a long-term goal can feel as likely as jumping onto the roof of your house. Setting short-term goals make it far simpler. They’re the rungs of the ladder that allow you to climb, step-by-step, to the top.