How to Set Goals Intelligently

I have spent the past two and a half years living with my parents as a single woman in her early twenties, and this situation has given me ample time to experiment with different self-improvement strategies, all in an effort to get back on my own two feet again. The following tips have all been derived from my own experience, as I have done little research. However, you may have seen these tips before.

January is a good time of the year to reevaluate various aspects of your life. You want this year to be better than last year. You want the body/occupation/relationship of your dreams, so you set goals to achieve these things. And what happens? Well, you know. Life. Life happens. But even though life continues throwing stones at you at unpredictable moments, it is possible to improve something in you or in your life anyhow, by heeding these simple pieces of advice:

Jumping right into…

Tip #1: FOCUS ON WHAT YOU CAN CONTROL

Is a certain part of your life falling apart, like your relationship with your spouse? Is your house a disaster, and you would like to change that? What part of these things can you control?

Your part.

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The only thing in life you can actually control is yourself. If your relationships are failing, set goals focused entirely on you. What are you contributing to the disaster? What personality traits do you possess that are impeding progress or worsening the situation? Do you like winning arguments? Do you thrive off conflict? Are you passive aggressive? Do you throw your socks on the floor?

Time for some deep self-reflection. If you throw socks on the floor, you can make a goal to throw them in the laundry hamper instead. If you like arguing with your spouse, try listening more than speaking during the next debate. Baby steps.

I cannot always control how clean my bedroom is, since I share it with my sister. I am orderly, while she is disorderly. I would wear myself down cleaning up after her all the time, so I choose to ignore the mess on her side of the room for the most part. If I allowed my obsessiveness to drive my every action, I would end up resenting my sister. Instead, I set a few goals: (1) do not mention the mess, especially in a passive-aggressive manner, (2) focus on my side of the room, which is always spotless, and (3) pick up my sister’s things only on Cleaning Day, which is every other week. By pursuing these goals, I have run into far fewer conflicts with my little sister, compared to when I shared a room with my big sister, which ended with me throwing her stuff into the hallway, and her throwing it back at my face, splitting my lip. Good times.

You can always change yourself. Do not set goals to change anyone else.

Tip #2: START SMALL

You’ve heard people say that you shouldn’t set vague, lofty goals, such as: save $1,000 by May, or lose 50 pounds before summer begins. No, your goals must be the steps it will take for you to achieve what you ultimately want. If you want to save $1,000 in five months, you should learn to budget and make a plan that includes setting aside $200 every month. In the process, you could reduce how much money you spend on frivolous garbage or luxuries and cease spending money you don’t have.

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For weight loss, you don’t have to attempt everything at once. You could start with intermittent fasting, for example, and add exercise later. Or start with mild exercise, like walking, and cut your carb intake by half. Or even a third. Avoid crash diets, juice cleanses, and moving too hard, too fast. Set goals that you can maintain in the long term, and work your way toward them gradually. One minor adjustment at a time. Most importantly, do proper research and do not fall for fads or clickbait. I have suffered for nearly two years because of what I see recommended on Youtube. Now, after eighteen months of experimentation, I know myself and my body well enough to forge my own path ahead that should sustain me the rest of my life.

Set goals for the short term, and see improvement in the long term.

Tip #3: LEARN TO SELF-MOTIVATE

Some people can rely on buddies to motivate them during the toughest periods of their journey. I have a great family, but I could never rely on them 100% to meet my goals. No matter how supportive someone is, sometimes life will just be too hard for you to continue pursuing your aspirations without a little motivation from within.

However, I realize you cannot pull motivation out of a hat, and when times are tough, you can’t just will motivation into existence. You must work for it.

  1. Start by setting goals you REALLY, REALLY want to accomplish. Like, you would rather die than not see them fulfilled. This could narrow your goals down quite a bit, as many people make resolutions based on what other people think they should improve about themselves. Don’t make that mistake if you lack motivation. You will fall flat on your face after a month. [Personally, I would rather die than spend the rest of my life flabby, bloated, and self-loathing, hence why I have relied entirely on myself to get into better shape, develop a healthy diet I can love, and learn to hate myself less.]
  2. Modify your strategy as needed if you are going through a rough patch (i.e. you’re sick, a family member is sick, or you suffer another sort of tragedy). For example, I am prepared not to crumble and deteriorate if I lose someone I care about. As a part of my health goals, I have already determined I will not become a shell of myself even if my worst fear becomes reality. This has taken a long time to instill in my brain, but it has been long enough that it is set in stone. Life will go on without them, so I will make it my mission (if such a terrible thing occurs), to live life as it should be lived regardless. Say you set a goal to work out at the gym three days a week, and suddenly you contract the flu. Are you going to allow this setback to set you back, or are you going to be wise and rest as much as you can so you can get back to the gym ASAP? You must decide now, before you get sick.
  3. Improve yourself for YOU, in the beginning. This is a sort of selfishness that feeds self-motivation. If you are trying to improve yourself for the sake of someone else, you may fail the moment they say something distasteful, or otherwise do something to your disliking. Spite will bloom, and you might think: why should I improve myself when they could do [this] and [this] better, making both of our lives easier? On the other hand, you should harbor a true, harrowing fear of whom you could become if you listen to the spiteful voice and let yourself go. Run from that fear toward a version of yourself you could admire, for your sake… and your loved ones’.
  4. On that note, IMAGINE A PERFECT YOU. What kind of person do you most want to be? What is the number 1 thing you wish to achieve in this short, mortal existence? Nothing motivates me more than the idea of becoming the wife, mother, and author I have always wanted to be. Every goal I have ever set was conceived with my ideal self — my ideal future — in mind. Your ideal is the mother of self-motivation. You will get nowhere without a clear vision of how you truly wish you could be.
  5. Do not punish yourself. Don’t be your own life coach from hell. If you fall, start again. You still have the rest of your life, and you may have something to learn from your failures. Nothing will kill your motivation faster than a self-loathing, belittling attitude.

Writing is hard. Exercising every day is hard. Eating healthy food is hard, at first. Life in general is hard, folks. But are you going to make it better or worse? As 2020 unfurls, I think we should all aim to make the world better, starting with ourselves. No matter what happens outside of our control, no matter what tragedies, big or small, befall us, we will always be able to control our own thoughts and actions.

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Happy new year. May we collectively strive to move toward, rather than away, from our ideals. It is within our power. Grab the reins and don’t let go. This will be quite a ride.

What are your goals for 2020? Read more about mine here. 🙂

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