The 5 Step Process for Making Your Goals Stick

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“Success will never be a big step in the future; success is a small step taken just now.”
– Jonatan Mårtensson

I remember reading a statistic a number of years ago that 3% of Harvard MBA graduates made ten times as much as the other 97% combined.

This statistic was from the book ‘What They Don’t Teach You in the Harvard Business School’ by Mark McCormack.

The above statistic came from a study that was conducted in the 1970’s and 1980’s that measured the success of the Harvard MBA graduates from this period. The interviewers asked a simple question:

“Have you set clear, written goals for your future and made plans to accomplish them?”

The answers revealed that:

  • 84% had no specific goals at all
  • 13% had goals but they were not committed to paper
  • 3% had clear, written goals and plans to accomplish them

Firstly, as I was reading this I was actually amazed at the statistic that 84% of people (particularly being Harvard MBA graduates) had no specific goals!

10 years later, the same interviewers followed-up on the success of these graduates by looking into the incomes earned amongst this group. Again, the results were amazing.

  • The 13% of the class who had goals were earning, on average, twice as much as the 84 percent who had no goals at all.
  • Even more staggering – the three percent who had clear, written goals were earning, on average, ten times as much as the other 97 percent put together.

Even before reading this book I had known that goals were important to have because everyone said they were. As I have grown, read, experienced and learned I have come to understand just how impactful goal-setting can actually be. So impactful in fact that goals have provided the focus and direction in helping me achieve things I never thought possible.

I remember when I was in primary school (between 6-12 years old) I always had the dream of making it to the State Athletics Championship. This was my first real experience of conscious goal-setting that I can remember.

When I first started, the athletes I was racing against at my local club were beating me regularly in every single event. I came close on a few occasions, but never enough to win. To me, there was just something extremely important about being able to win and to prove to myself that I could do it (competitive nature in me!).

I trained, trained, ate, trained and as the years went by I started winning my races at the local club. In fact, I broke some records! I made it to district level where I realized my local club was actually really good. My fellow club members and I all seemed to progress easily to the next level – the Region.

The Regional carnival was amazing. I broke the Regional record for the 200m sprint. I had momentum flying like I had never felt before and I remember so clearly a fundamental shift in my beliefs. Now that I knew I had made it to the State level, my goals shifted. I wanted to not only attend, but to win.

We flew across to New Zealand where the carnival was taking place. Before the 200m final, my heart was racing, probably the perfect balance between excitement and nerves. My run was absolutely amazing and I crossed the line… in 6th position.

The above experience taught me a very valuable lesson. Sometimes the biggest hurdles are the ones we face immediately. I had no idea that my club members were some of the best in the Region. I couldn’t see farther than my own club-level.

In life, we’re often faced with immediate barriers, one of those being high-levels of doubt. I faced my doubt (that I couldn’t beat these guys) and I set a clear goal and started working hard towards it. With each step (literally), I could see my doubt transforming into capability and confidence.

This experience was a major influence in my thinking about goals.

Goal-setting has provided me the ability to be able to see exactly where I am going to be in the future. It’s like creating your own crystal ball and showing yourself who you are in a years’ time. The simple act of setting goals has led me on a journey of travelling the world, meeting amazing people, starting my own businesses and building a healthy career and lifestyle.

I can’t possibly describe how much that goal-setting has changed my life.

Now that we are about to enter 2014, this is the perfect time to set goals. The start of the New Year brings the start of another year of possibility. The start of the New Year brings the opportunity to create and shape the next 12 months for you to do whatever it is you want to do.

When it comes to goal-setting and making them stick, I have come to realize what processes do and don’t work. From my experience, there are 5 key steps for creating positive change that has proven to work.

1. Reflect

The first thing to do is reflect on where you are. Reflect on the year that was. How was this year? What did you learn? What were your best experiences? What relationships did you develop? What did you enjoy the most and dislike the most?

Reflection will help you gain clarity on who and where you are, helping to shape the direction of where you want to go.

2. Dream Longer-Term

Dream of where you see yourself in 5, 10 and 20 years from now. How is your life different and what are you doing?

Make sure you ask yourself the questions ‘why’ and ‘what for’. Understanding these will help you build intrinsic motivation and commitment for pursuing what it is that you want to do.

 3. Set Your Goals

Goal-setting is not done alone. You need to reflect and also look at the bigger picture before you can start setting your goals. You want your goals to be truly aligned to who you are and where you want to go and you want them to be realistic. Setting goals for 12 months is a great idea. It’s the perfect amount of time to bring about significant change in your life without it feeling too big or out of your reach.

Make sure you are one of the 3%. Commit your goals to paper and ensure they are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound.

4. Create your Action Plan

This is another important step that people often miss. Many people set goals at the start of the year such as ‘to lose 5kg by the 1st July’, however most people forget to create and commit to their action plan of how this is going to happen. Break down your goal into clear, actionable steps that you can regularly achieve and measure your progress.

 5. Review and Revise

Keep track of your progress towards your goals. Do you have a system in place to support your progress? Reviewing will help you determine if your actions are progressing you towards your goal and whether the needle needs to be shifted.

Goals can change over time. The key is to remember that external influences always happen. Your goals should be flexible enough to accommodate such needs as they arise, but don’t lose sight of the bigger picture you set for yourself in step 2.

Goal-setting has changed my life for the better and I will always continue to set goals. Without them, there is a lack of direction or purpose.

With 12 months ahead of us in 2014, what goals are you going to set yourself and how is your life going to look different at the end of the year?

Photo by Ben Smith

Brendan Baker

Brendan Baker helps people who feel stuck doing work they don’t like start to make a difference and an income doing what they love. He writes over at The Start of Happiness and has created the Launch Your Life Academy to support people take action to live the life they have always desired to live.

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