Goal planning should be easy right? You have something you’re aiming for and you write down the steps to get there.
But if it was that simple, why would we even need a plan? If we knew how, we’d already be doing it right? Surely everyone would be smashing their goals, moving smoothly from Point A to Point B– and done.
In reality, the path to our goals isn’t always clear, and we often have to face a lot of unseen challenges and obstacles on the way.
So how exactly do you plan your goals? Here are five easy ways to goal plan:
Goals, by their nature, are usually big. And big can be scary. When we’re scared, we don’t think straight.
Big can also seem unwieldy and messy – how do you unpick and work out the steps for something that seems so huge?
In this case, forget about goals. When we think about goal planning, we think about creating this big, logical, step-by-step battle plan or something, and not many of us know exactly how to do that. But actually, we already know what will make us happy – we just need to find a way to listen to it.
This is where journalling can help. Find a blank sheet of paper or an empty computer document and just let your thoughts flow.
Don’t go into it thinking about goal planning, just write down everything you’re thinking. How you’re feeling. What you want, what’s scaring you, what you don’t know. Write down whatever’s in your head – without censoring yourself – and it’ll help you find clarity. It’ll at least show you what direction you need to be going in and what some of the obstacles currently are.
Even if it doesn’t help immediately, take a break and read over what you wrote the next day. Giving yourself some space and perspective lets your brain work through it and your logical side some time to understand it.
2. Work backwards from final goal
You know what your goal is, right? You just don’t know how to get there. (That’s why you need a plan!)
Well, since you don’t know the way forwards, come at it backwards.
Write down your end goal (on a sheet of paper, a spreadsheet, a whiteboard, a sticky note, anywhere).
Then, on a separate line/column/sticky note, write down the final step it would take to reach that goal.
For example, if your end goal was to get your dream job, the final step might be ‘accept job offer’.
Easy, right? Now you just need to continue this pattern. Work out what leads to that step. With the previous example, that might be ‘nail second interview’. To do that you might need to ‘practice answering interview questions.’
Then just rinse and repeat for every step.
‘Research second interview questions.’
‘Follow up after first interview.’
‘Smash first interview.’
And keep going until you land back where you are right now.
If you want, you can then add anticipated timelines for each step to work out when you need to start to reach a deadline (or, if you start now, when you might hope to reach your end goal).
3. Write down your ideal day and work out what needs to happen to get there
Sometimes goal planning is hard because we’re not even one hundred per cent sure about the direction. And that’s totally okay! It’s normal to be confused about what we want – it’s scary to commit everything to just one or two things. How do you know that’s really what you want or will be best for you?
Try this. Get into a really happy place. Maybe that means listening to your favourite music, or going for a walk, or taking a bath with your nicest candles, or getting completely dressed up – whatever. Find something that makes you feel your best.
Then close your eyes and imagine your ideal day. Chances are, you’re imagining a day off, which is fine. Imagine that. Start to finish.
But then imagine what kind of life that “day-off version” of you lives every day. What does the perfect one of those look like? If your first ideal day was mainly on a beach, what does that version of you do in a normal week that enables you to have that beach day? What makes you just as happy in everyday life as you are on that beach?
Go through that ordinary day from start to finish as well. It might include your ideal job, making breakfast for a family that doesn’t exist yet, leaving work early to go rock climbing, having the perfect date night in the evening – whatever sounds like a perfect day for you. They key is not to judge or limit yourself here.
Write it down
Now write down both of those days. Start to finish. Write them in present tense (“I wake up, and I do this…” etc).
These days are your goals. They’re almost literally your dreams. (Day dreams count!)
Now write down what it will take for you to have those perfect days. What kind of job did you imagine? Or were you already retired?! How much money do you make? Who did you (or didn’t) you live with? Who do you spend your time with? What did you spend your free time doing?
Write out everything you need to accomplish or get in order to make those days a reality. Then get to work!
4. Make it a game
Big goals are great, but sometimes we need to start small.
Planning isn’t always about the big things – it’s about the little things we do everyday that add up. Consistency is the key to anything.
Goal planning can be as simple as writing down what you want or need to achieve this week or month, then writing down the habits or tasks required to do so.
A way to make this more fun (and keep you motivated) is to have a monthly or weekly ‘scorecard’.
Write down the habits or tasks you need to achieve, and assign them a number of points. They can each all have the same number of points, or they can have more or less depending on how difficult each is (and how much you do or don’t want to do them).
Then, assign rewards to point totals. For example, ten points might get you your favourite coffee. Twenty might get you an episode of your favourite TV show. Fifty might be some new shoes you wanted or an afternoon off. Whatever will motivate you.
Throughout the month, every time you complete a task or habit, give yourself a tick on the scorecard. Then, either as you reach rewards (or you can take your total ‘score’ at the end of the week/month), claim your prize(s)!
5. Pick one goal for each area of your life
Sometimes you just don’t know what you want. Or, conversely, you can be so focused on one big goal that you forget about other aspects of your life.
In either case, it can be helpful to look at your life in areas. What these areas are can be up to you, but some common ones are:
- Personal development
Choose something you would like to focus on or improve within each area, and you instantly have a handful of well-rounded goals.
Some people also like to score each area based on how they currently rate themselves (e.g., out of ten), and then re-score themselves each month to see how they’re improving. This is especially great if seeing progress helps keep you motivated (as big goals can sometimes take years to come to fruition). It’s also useful to see if an area is becoming neglected.
So there you go, five ways to plan your goals. Hopefully, you now have a clearer and more manageable way to help decide what goals matter to you and how to reach them. Or, failing that, at least discovered some different ways to be better motivated or make your goals more fun!
Take a look at some of my other ‘Five Ways To’ series or, if you need more inspiration, check out my pep talks!
How do you like to plan your goals? I’d love to hear about other ideas you have, and I’m sure others would too, so please comment them below!
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