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5 Science-Backed Steps to Setting and Achieving Your Goals

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Science backed goal setting

“Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible.”


-Tony Robbins



Don’t let lethargy keep you from getting ahead. Make an effort to learn why long term and short term goals are necessary for a person’s overall success in life.  

Social media posts on success/entrepreneurship/self-help seem to be brimming with the SMART(S-specific, M-measurable, A-attainable, R-realistic, T-target oriented) technique for setting and achieving your goals. Logically, this technique makes a lot of sense, but the concepts are a bit difficult to understand for people who are just learning about “Success.” So, they come across as a bunch of clever sounding words and nothing else.

People who don’t set goals fail most of the time; they just don’t realize it or they rationalize to avoid the pain of being seen as a loser. There are many reasons why someone might live their life without having clear goals in mind. Insecurity, low self-esteem, being surrounded by the wrong people, coming from a low socio-economic class are just some of the common reasons stopping people from thinking clearly.

The never-to-be-forgotten story of Hungarian soldier Karoly Takacs is a classic example of how a burning desire to achieve something coupled with proper planning can lead a person to glory.

During a military training session, Takacs lost his right hand, his shooting hand, when a grenade exploded in his vicinity. Hence, his dream of winning a gold medal in the Olympics was shattered.

Most of his relatives and colleagues consoled him and thought that the poor lad has accepted his fate and moved on. But Takacs continued his practice patiently with his left hand and won two gold medals in the next few years.

5 Steps to Setting and Achieving Your Goals:

1. Define the Goal

Science backed goal setting

Without a clear, written down goal, your desire to achieve something just becomes a wish. You can dream or talk about it all you want, but until you write it down on a piece of paper, it remains a half-hearted attempt.

Likewise, visualization is a great tool that many of us are blessed with. Our ability to step into the shoes of another person and see the world the way they see is what makes us human and separates us from other primates. You don’t have to write down the exact figure that you want to earn this year or make a picture of the girl/guy you want to have in your life. You can start by simply writing down vague, high-level goals first and then revise them as you go.

“A goal, however, is something distinctly different from a wish. It is clear, written, and specific. It can be quickly and easily described to another person. You can measure it, and you know when you have achieved it or not.”  


-Brian Tracy

So, write it down, make a big statement to yourself and get accountability from people around you.

Character traits of a person who sets and achieves goals:

They…

  • are trustworthy
  • live their life with purpose
  • believe in sharing and not taking
  • lead themselves and others
  • help others achieve their goals too
  • give their best whether things are going their way or not

Character traits of someone who doesn’t operate with goals in mind:

They…

  • always look for shortcuts
  • don’t work well with deadlines
  • let people down in high-pressure situations
  • only perform when things are going their way

2. Pay Attention to the “Why”

In his book Start With Why, Simon Sinek explains the significance of “why” in business and life in general. He says if your “why” is clear, the “how-to” will follow. A lot of people get bogged down in finding the right method or technique to get the thing they want but are dishonest about why they want that thing in their lives in the first place.

Without a strong purpose, life becomes meaningless. A lot of people start their venture with a bang, but as things move further, they slowly start to feel demotivated. In the midst of difficulties, they quit because they don’t know what makes them tick.  

“Goals are the fuel in the furnace of achievement. Think on paper and write them down!”


-Brian Tracy

3. Collect Resources

Science backed goal setting

Being a resourceful person is another prerequisite for becoming a winner. A resourceful person has enough personal connections, time and money needed to reach their goal. As a result, they don’t underestimate any of the above mentioned three factors.

Free resources like books, YouTube videos, etc. are available to you all the time if you don’t have the money to invest. Money invested in books and educational training always gives huge returns. Moreover, successful authors like Tony Robbins, Brian Tracy, Robert Greene, etc. put their heart and soul in putting their life’s learnings in a few hundred pages of a book; which costs no more than a few bucks.

Also, attend meetups and socialize to understand the learning curve of other people. For instance, looking outwards and understanding other people’s problems and situations helps in developing empathy. Most people will argue that we are born with empathy and don’t need to develop it, but not everyone has the psychic ability to read others’ minds. Conversely, some of us need to get out of our shell and put ourselves in social situations to learn what we couldn’t develop naturally.

4. Build Momentum

It’s not necessary to do everything right at the beginning of a project. Most people wait for the right moment, or they keep learning; watching videos, reading books, to feel fully confident and deserving of the task they wish to commence. These are all signs of procrastination. In short, the right thing is to just start and improve each day.

Darren Hardy in his book The Compound Effect talks about how seemingly insignificant things we do each day can add up to affect our lives in the long run. You can build enough momentum to succeed if you take a tiny amount of action each day in the direction of your goal.

5. Journal Every Day

Science backed goal setting

You’ve probably noticed that knowing where you have reached in your journey to achieving your goal is very difficult. If only there was a way to measure it. Keeping a daily journal is a great way to keep track of your progress. Let’s take a closer look at how it can help in setting and achieving your goals.

Monitor your thoughts and behaviors by jotting down things that are currently bothering you. Most problems disappear once you bring them into awareness.

Evolutionarily, humans are social creatures. We need comfort and support of others who are on the same path as we are. Do not ignore the human need for accountability.

Being unclear about what needs to be done takes up a lot of time in needless trial and error. Yes, there is a time for trial and error but not when you are on a deadline and under pressure to achieve your goal in a limited time period.

Recent research shows that journaling every day can enhance self-reflection, ability to articulately express feelings and develop critical thinking.

Setting and achieving your goals isn’t just about collecting good resources, building momentum and daily journaling. Recent research suggests that you also model the habits of successful people and practice them until they become second nature to you.

Nobody likes to fail. The person who least deserves to fail is you. So give yourself a chance to succeed.

Goals

Key Principles Of Living A Good Life

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Everyone wants to live a good life and one that is filled with happiness and peace. But the first order of business is to understand what constitutes a good life. A good life is generally the result of right decisions and your character decides what decisions you make on a regular basis. Only after understanding the behaviors a person needs to adopt to improve one’s character, can they truly achieve peace, happiness, and a changed life. In this post, we will look at a few key principles that contribute to a good life.

Have Values

The key principle to having a good life is having good values. With good values, you will have lived life well. You might not have ‘enjoyed’ it, but it will be, at the end, worth it. Since the subject of discussion is how to live a good life, we’ll not focus on how to be happy. The distinction must be made and understood.

For example, when you feel like having junk food, the value of staying healthy prevents you from getting obese as well as contracting related diseases. Often, feelings come in contradiction to values, however, keeping up good values ensures long term fulfillment and even success in life.

Select good values and live accordingly to have a positive impact on yourself, your family, community and the world at large. Prosperity and fulfillment comes with living a life of good values.

“Almost everything wrong in the world comes from people either not having higher moral values or not living by them.” –Dennis Prager

Don’t Be Too Serious About Everything

If you have such a habit, then you should definitely try to stop being serious all the time and lighten up. Having a serious approach towards everything will strip your life of any fun. The first step in removing such tendencies is to understand why you fail to enjoy the things in life. Have you always been serious since childhood or were there events that pushed your humor out?

If any specific traumatic event resulted in your serious outlook towards life, then you need to consult a good psychiatrist who can help you overcome such negative psychological patterns. Another way would be to change your perspective and start seeing the world in its entirety (or at least other angles) rather than only focusing on yourself. When you truly realize that you are nothing but a tiny speck in the vast universe, you will feel more relaxed and will start taking things lightly.

After all, we are only here for a couple of decades at most, and then we got to move on. This is the truth that faces everyone on the planet. So, it’s up to you to make the ride a bit more worthwhile.

Be Okay With Your Fears

Every person has some kind of fear deep inside them. And the greater you are bound by them, the less you will be able to live a good life. Fear influences every decision and blocks you out from experiencing things that could have brought you so much happiness. For example, suppose that some tragic event in the past has made you afraid of being abandoned by a loved one. As a result, you might be scared of getting too close to someone since you do not want to take the chance of being emotionally crushed in case they decide to leave you.

But this behavior will essentially destroy any chances of you ever entering into a loving relationship. This is why it is necessary to deal with your fear straight away. You don’t have to conquer it if it seems impossible. But, at least try to develop your mind to the extent that you are okay with living with your fear. Accept that such a fear exists and take a strong decision that you will not let it dictate the course of your life. This should help you get out from the grip of your fears and allow you to live a life that is fulfilling.

Don’t Hold Yourself To Impossible Standards

Many people hold themselves to very high standards. And this can eventually play havoc in their lives as they remain consistently dissatisfied with never meeting their standards all through their life. If you have such issues, then try to set realistic standards. For example, if you are a student of a college, you might feel like you need to get A grade in every subject. While the standard that you set is admirable, one has to also accept that it can be impossible on a consistent basis.

Sometimes, you might come across a test that is just too difficult to crack that you have to settle for a B. Don’t get disheartened in such situations and start blaming yourself for not having prepared enough. Forgive yourself; unnecessarily being depressed about the results will simply do you no good.

Forgive And Move On

There might be occasions in your life where other people will harm you and cause tremendous psychological damage. As a result, it is very likely that you will develop a very negative worldview about everything. This may also lead you to depression or you may feel the need for vengeance. This will certainly make you bitter and hateful.

If you keep this hatred inside you for too long, your life itself might end up being consumed by it so much so that you would be avoiding opportunities for happiness. You may also be afraid to open up and enter into a relationship with other people since you don’t want to be hurt again. What you need to do, under such circumstances, is to learn to forgive – not the person who hurt you, but yourself.

Tell yourself that whatever happened has happened in the past and that you should not destroy your future by constantly dwelling on past events. Slowly, you will learn to live normally and be in a position to move on to newer experiences. The person who hurt you will never again be a constant source of hatred in your mind. Instead, they will become a lesson that will teach you what type of people to avoid in the future.

“Holding a grudge is like drinking poison and hoping the other guy will die.”

Don’t Be Afraid Of Rejection

Many people never live their life to the fullest because of a big fear – rejection. This fear can manifest itself in all walks of life and can truly limit your experiences.

Maybe you love someone, but do not wish to open your heart to them because you are afraid of being rejected. Maybe you have an incredible idea on how to grow a company but are afraid that your ideas may be rejected and mocked upon. Whatever the case may be, you need to understand that this fear of rejection is not good.

It’s also important to understand that being rejected is a normal part of life. After all, not everyone will agree with everything you have to say. As such, just go ahead with your feelings and ideas, and see all rejections as just the way life is. Doing so will open yourself to new opportunities and you will be able to live a better life. 

A cure for this is to speak your mind even in difficult circumstances. This trains you and your mind to speak in more sensitive situations as well.

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Goals

How to Prioritize When Everything Seems Important

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How to Prioritize When Everything Seems Important

Prioritization is the key to achieving your goals. It helps you focus on what is important. While talking about how to prioritize your tasks to help you achieve all your goals, I briefly touched what you should do if everything seems like a priority – 

If you find yourself with more than three top priorities, then that’s a problem. It means you haven’t figured out what tasks are more important. Figure out which ones can wait until later. If all of the tasks are of same nature making them equally important, then that means you need to cut out some tasks, you might have taken on more than you can handle.

Having a laser-like focus on only a handful of things is essential here so that you can have only the tasks that matter the most on your list.

Most of us struggle with this. Prioritizing is not easy if you don’t know how to differentiate actual priority from the task that seems like one. Even if everything on your plate is supposed to be equally important, you will still need to find a way to break down which ones you should be spending your time on.

How we slice up our time and what we dedicate our time to often dictates what direction our life is going to take. The first question one has to get past is whether or not everything really is of equal importance – when you start questioning is when you will start looking for ways to deal with the problem the question possesses.

Dealing with Conflicting Priorities

How to Prioritize When Everything Seems Important

When you are trying to deal with your personal and professional life at the same time, the tasks together can become more daunting. We face multiple demands on our time every day because of that. 

In the professional scene, often the tasks that are urgent override the schedule, resulting in loss of control and inattention to priority tasks. So how should priorities be determined? 

To begin with, ask questions. 

Let’s take an example. Suppose you are in your office. You have a project that needs to be done today. A colleague comes by and asks you to help with something that is also urgent and needs to be done by the afternoon. Now, you didn’t say “no” because that might be rude. You have an urgent task that is not your priority and you have your own project that is a priority but not as urgent as this other task.

Ask questions to yourself – 

  • Is taking this additional work going to affect your workflow?
  • Do you want to do this?
  • Is this stressing you out or causing you anxiety?
  • Are you stretching yourself too thin trying to be helpful?
  • Can this work be done by someone else?

If the answer to even of these questions is “Yes” then we move on to the next part, that is, learning to drop the task because it is not a priority.

“You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage – pleasantly, smilingly, non-apologetically – to say ‘no’ to other things. And the way you do that is by having a bigger ‘yes’ burning inside. The enemy of the ‘best’ is often the ‘good’.”

-Stephen Covey

What Do You Do? The Art of Saying “No”

Everyone considers their project to be the most important and wants information or action immediately, they won’t always be considerate of your work. All most people care about is getting their work done. If you have trouble saying “no” chances are that your work will keep suffering. How to deal with this? 

How to Prioritize When Everything Seems Important

Even though you feel bad about not being able to help your colleague, it is okay. You have to put your work first. Of course, special circumstances do demand changing your priorities but most often than not saying “no” will immediately put the dilemma to rest.

If multiple people are involved in your project, find out where your piece fits into the overall project. Taking charge of your space and your time will allow you to focus on what is important, meet deadlines and minimize job and personal stress, this starts with learning to say “no.”

Why Writing Down Your Tasks Help

We have a scientific term to explain why writing down goals helps. It is called the generation effect. What it basically means is that you remember information more when you have generated it with your own mind than when you have read it. There’s no one specific answer to why it happens but a lot of studies have been conducted on it, and this phenomenon is used in quite a few things. 

How to Prioritize When Everything Seems Important

You must have heard people say “Goals that are not written down are just wishes.” You can dream or talk about it all you want, but until you write it down on a piece of paper, it remains a half-hearted attempt – nothing more than a wish. 

Another thing and an important one at that, is encoding. Our memory has the ability to encode, store, and recall information. By writing your goals down, you are storing it externally by putting it on paper. Now, by visiting it again and again, we are encoding it into our brains. There are few intensively used types of encoding. Two types are at work here, Visual encoding and Elaborative encoding. I have discussed all of this in detail when I talked about why writing down goals can help you achieve them faster.

Basically how it works is that we write something and that can be visual encoding, looking at that, again and again, evokes the feelings associated with that task, the reason of it, if you may. That is elaborative encoding, this is how priority kicks in. The elaborative part helps us associate reasons behind the task and the consequences associated with it, and in turn, its correlation with our ultimate goals.

This eventually helps us only pick out priority labeled tasks to make us more productive and efficient.

Spending Your Time Right

How to Prioritize When Everything Seems Important

Most people generally panic when they have to tackle their tasks by priority because everything feels important. When everything looks like a priority, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. It is difficult to skillfully juggle multiple priorities and competing responsibilities at the same time. There are times when you have to manage the workload at the office as well as home. 

What we often fail to keep in mind when handling multiple activities is to prioritize them according to their importance. Many people just try to handle various activities as per their instinct and end up never doing the important things. Later, they might blame it on ‘not having enough time’, which obviously is untrue. You have enough time, you just have to start spending it right.

If you don’t know what your priority is, you will never have enough time to get your work done. As Laura Vanderkam says, “Instead of saying “I don’t have time” try saying “it’s not a priority,” and see how that feels.”

Final Thoughts

Prioritizing your to-do list is very simple if you learn to differentiate between your actual priority and what feels like a priority. Learning to say “no” to whatever is hindering your chances of success is the next big thing. If you learn these two things, you are pretty much sorted. All there is left to do is employ strategies to actually get the work done.

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How to Prioritize Your Tasks to Help You Achieve All Your Goals

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How to Prioritize Your Tasks to Help You Achieve All Your Goals

A few days ago I discussed why prioritizing your tasks was a much-needed aspect when it came to achieving success. I have always believed that knowing what is important to you will help you focus your energy in the right things.

“If you chase two rabbits, you will not catch either one.”

-Russian Proverb

Once you have realized that not every task is equally important and they can be put off, for the time being, you can get to schedule only the tasks that are on your priority list. The problem arises when you cannot determine which task is more important.

One of the questions that help you make sense of prioritization is, “Will this task take me closer to my goal?” The most important tasks are the ones that move you closer to achieving your long term goals.

How to Prioritize Your Tasks to Help You Achieve All Your Goals

Prioritization helps you have a plan that will push you to focus your time and energy on the right things. It will also help you ensure that your work is done, deadlines are met, and stress is minimized.

Sometimes when you’re overwhelmed by a situation or the number of things that need to be done, that’s when your priorities need to be reordered so that you can get things done that bring you closer to your actual goal. At the end of the day, everything boils down to your ultimate goal.  

Nobody’s life is ever all balanced – doesn’t matter if it seems like that to you – everyone has a different set of problems. It’s a conscious decision to choose your priorities every day so that you can keep making progress each day.

The Magic of To-Do Lists

How to Prioritize Your Tasks to Help You Achieve All Your Goals

“Schedule your priorities.”

-Stephen Covey

To-do lists are really helpful in putting the things that need to be done into perspective. Take the list further by adding additional attributes. You can prioritize tasks in the list itself. If you use an app or digital file, it becomes easier. If you use the old pen-paper method, then you can either rewrite the list after prioritizing the tasks or you can use highlighters or page-markers. Here’s how you can prioritize your tasks.

  • Make a list of all the tasks that you need to do.
  • For bigger tasks, identify individual tasks that will help you complete the project. The breaking of big tasks should be small enough to be completed in a few days or a few hours. 
  • Identify due dates – long-range, midrange, due next month or next week.

Now that you have the list complete. You will have everything laid out in front of you. This will help you make an informed decision without forgetting any tasks. With brain dump out of the way, you can focus on prioritizing the tasks.

  • Assign priorities to each task, from most urgent to not very important – use A, B, C, etc., to designate levels of importance. 
  • After you have decided the priority of your tasks, rank each task within the level using a secondary designation, such as A-1, A-2, A-3 – this can be used for sub-tasks.

You must know the difference between what is urgent and what is important, most people often spend their time and energy on what is urgent than what is important. This might get you from one point to another in the short-term but in long-term it will get you nowhere. The next step is that you must do what’s important first which is called priority.

Over time, I learned that we can do anything, but we can’t do everything. When we understand this, it becomes easier to understand what actually matters and what you are doing just because. 

There are many tools provided online to make planning even more detailed yet easier. Tasks can be flagged with contact details of people involved and reminders of upcoming events, due dates, and meetings. You can also make to-do lists, assign due dates, set reminders, schedule meetings, etc.

“Instead of saying “I don’t have time” try saying “it’s not a priority,” and see how that feels.”

-Laura Vanderkam

Start and end your day with your “to-do” list – check off what you finished and review the remaining tasks at night and in the morning go through the list once to see what all you need to do. Do not constantly reprioritize the list, as it can quickly become an excuse for procrastination and will leave you confused as to what you are supposed to do.

What if Every Task Seems Like a Priority?

How to Prioritize Your Tasks to Help You Achieve All Your Goals

“When you have too many top priorities, you effectively have no top priorities.”

-Stephen Covey

If you find yourself with more than three top priorities, then that’s a problem. It means you haven’t figured out what tasks are more important. Figure out which ones can wait until later. If all of the tasks are of same nature making them equally important, then that means you need to cut out some tasks, you might have taken on more than you can handle.

Having a laser-like focus on only a handful of things is essential here so that you can have only the tasks that matter the most on your list.

Final Thoughts

“You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage – pleasantly, smilingly, non-apologetically – to say ‘no’ to other things. And the way you do that is by having a bigger ‘yes’ burning inside. The enemy of the ‘best’ is often the ‘good’.”

-Stephen Covey

To achieve success, to complete your goal, to chase your dream with your all – it is really important to learn how to prioritize. There will always be a plethora of things you want to do or you feel like you need to do, but they will never all be at the same level priority wise. 

You need to learn to teach yourself to decide on what is important and stick to doing that – this is the key to finishing things that are high on your list.

Prioritizing allows you to identify the most important tasks at any moment and dedicate the limited time and resources you have accordingly.

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