We strive for improvement in just about every area of our lives, be it in our careers or in our relationships with others. We set goals for those areas we aim to enhance because we recognize them as a prerequisite for our growth and success.
Yet despite our natural propensity for goal setting, many of us find it difficult to make tangible progress. We expend enormous amounts of effort on endeavours that are barely passable; because in our minds, we equate success with hard work and struggle. Yet we have precious little to show for that struggle.
Sometimes, our lack of progress leads us to question whether our goals are attainable. We become discouraged, perhaps even embittered; and seek scapegoats for our woes.
Other times, we simply temper our ambitions – we believe that you can’t have it all and have it work. It’s that false notion that you have to choose between big goals, such as career success and a great personal life; and that to pursue one inevitably means that the other has to suffer. Women in particular are prone to this belief.
Sadly, there are also those of us who just give up. We convince ourselves that our dreams were silly to begin with, because it seems less taxing to settle for average.
That’s because few of us know how to effectively set and achieve our goals. Success is not a matter of trial and error – research conducted into goal setting proves this.
What’s more, attaining our goals doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, the cardinal principle to remember is: life is supposed to be easy. Despite what we’ve managed to convince ourselves to the contrary, that people who don’t struggle are lazy, the people who are achieving the greatest success are doing so with little or no struggle.
While it’s true that reaching our goals can only ever be preceded by action, there’s a big difference between struggle and inspired action.
When we push ourselves to pursue goals that we hope will garner other people’s approval, we end up struggling. I was a perfect example of this.
At university, I chose options like commercial law and tax law, instead of the protection of civil liberties and human rights law, despite my innate interest in the latter.
They were viewed as ‘soft options’ that didn’t require academic rigour or prowess. Not wanting to be perceived as an intellectual lightweight, I chose subjects I had no interest in; and that year was an inevitable struggle. I have the results to prove it.
Contrast that to inspired action, which feels good; comes easily to us; and feels like the next logical step. We receive constant inspiration towards this type of action from our souls but many of us fail to listen. We make our lives harder than they need to be.
Today, resolve to set authentic goals that will make you fall in love with your life. It’s the most powerful way of motivating yourself to greater success. Do this by setting SMART goals, which are S-pecific, M-easurable, A-ttainable, R-elevant, and T-ime-bound.
For example, instead of stating, I will own a new house, set the goal: I will own a new house by December 2011.
Be specific about your goal so that you have something clear to work towards. Similarly, cultivate big dreams but remember, you don’t have to achieve them all at once. Set attainable goals that will serve as stepping stones towards those dreams. This greatly increases your chances of success.
Unrealistic goals will leave you feeling discouraged; like you’re a failure, when it’s more likely you simply don’t have the resources to meet your goal – yet. How do you know you’re being unrealistic?
If the goal feels overwhelming, or you feel trepidatious and anxious when you think about; and you don’t feel good about the action you’re about to take towards it, then you probably need to break it down into smaller steps.
On the other hand, goals which are too easy, that don’t provide you with a sufficient challenge, will not motivate you.
Research carried out by Dr. Edwin Locke in the 1960s found that difficult but specific goals actually lead to better performance than vague or easy goals.
Also key to goal attainment is commitment – don’t give up after encountering the first few obstacles. Grit, that perseverance and passion for long-term goals, is crucial to your success.
But if you find yourself tempted to struggle in a certain direction; and you inevitably feel bad about it, pause and ask yourself, what would feel better right now? Identify the less resistant action and take it.
Feeling joy while you pursue your goals will make you more likely to stick with them.
Also paramount to your success is your self-efficacy; or belief in yourself. Our beliefs about our own competence tend to be self-fulfilling. Psychologists agree that while belief in our competence is no guarantee of success, it makes it more likely. James Maddux writes that “believing you can accomplish what you want is perhaps the most important ingredient for success.”
Self-efficacy develops over time and through experience; and is formed in a number of ways including through our performance, or success at reaching certain targets; and verbal persuasion, such as the opinions of others about our capabilities. Moreover, vicarious experiences, such as seeing people similar to us succeed in their goals also contribute to self-efficacy; just as visualising ourselves as successful in given situations does.
Finally, another essential component of goal attainment is hope. Hope assists us to conceptualise clearer goals, see numerous paths towards them and summon the energy and commitment to reach them.
Establish hopeful relationships with family and friends; they will propel you towards success.
From now on, set SMART goals and regularly imagine yourself as successful. Spend time with successful, hopeful people who encourage you.
Commit to your goals; and maintain positive feelings while you pursue them.
Now go out and conquer the world!