Personal goals…. they work! The positive results of personal goals are widely supported by substantial research.
More than 100 scientific studies involving 40,000 participants from different industries prove personal goals will improve your performance.
(And these figures don’t even include any goal-setting research that took place in the world of sport.)
To help you set and realize your personal goals in life or at work, here’s a list of 33 tips I learned from personal motivation guru Leo Babauta, author of the blog Zen Habits.
I hope they will help you achieve your personal goals.
Your list of personal goals: getting started
Do you have a list of personal goals yet?
Here are some tips to get you started:
If you don’t already have a list of things you’d like to accomplish, start out by making such a list. Throw anything on the list — you don’t actually have to do them. This is just to make sure you don’t miss anything.
2. The one thing that will change your life the most
Now take a look at the list and figure out which goal will change your life the most. Is it something that can be accomplished in a year? It can take less than a year — one month or three or six if you like.
If it will take several years, you might want to create a sub-goal that will take a year or less — any longer and it’s hard to stay motivated.
Is it a goal that will really make a big difference in your life? Is it something you REALLY want to achieve? Be sure it’s something you’ll be passionate about, or you’ll lose motivation.
3. Create a mantra
Once you’ve chosen your goal, turn it into a personal mantra. This is an idea from Guy Kawasaki, who said that a business should abandon a mission statement (which are usually useless) and create a 2-5 word mantra instead (his was something like “empower entrepreneurs”).
So use this idea for your personal mantra — how can you put your goal into 2-5 words? Write those words on an index card, or make it your desktop picture/wallpaper, or post it on the wall next to your computer.
Do something to ensure that you never forget this mantra — and repeat it out loud every single day.
4. Your personal goals: what can you do this month to make that happen?
If your personal goal will take a year or so to accomplish, you’ll want to create a smaller sub-goal. Figure out a project you can do this month to get yourself a few steps closer to that goal, and focus on this project for the next month.
5. Personal motivation: and what can you do today?
Each day when you start your day, repeat your mantra and figure out what action you can do today to make your goal closer to becoming a reality. It just has to be one thing. If you do one thing each day, you’ll reach your goal.
Some days you can do two things if you like, but don’t overload yourself. Now make sure that one thing is the first thing you do today. Don’t put it off until the end of the day, when it will get pushed back until tomorrow.
Do it first!
Use implementation intentions to make them stick.
Personal goals in life / at work: get going
Personal goals examples are available everywhere.
But often the problem with personal goals is not setting them, but sticking to them.
If you can stick with a goal for long enough, you’ll almost always get there eventually. It just takes patience, and personal motivation.
So motivation is key to achieve your personal goals. But not always easy, right?
The best personal motivation, then, is a way for you to really want something, to get excited about it, to be passionate about it.
Remember that, as there are many other types of personal motivation (especially negative), but in my experience, positive personal motivation to achieve something works best.
There is only so long that you can go trying to motivate yourself to do something you don’t like to do, something you don’t want to do. But if you find ways to really want to do something, you can sustain your effort for much, much longer.
To succeed your personal goals, it’s important to start out with the right personal motivation, because a good start can build momentum that you can sustain for a long time.
If you start out right, you have a much better chance of succeeding.
Here are some tips for starting out the right way:
6. Personal motivation: start small
Don’t start out big. Start out with a ridiculously easy goal, and then grow from there. If you want to exercise, for example, you may be thinking that you have to do these intense workouts 5 days a week. No — instead, do small, tiny, baby steps. Just do 2 minutes of exercise. I know, that sounds wimpy.
But it works.
Commit to 2 minutes of exercise for one week. You may want to do more, but just stick to 2 minutes. It’s so easy, you can’t fail. Do it at the same time, every day. Just some crunches, 2 push ups, and some jogging in place. Once you’ve done 2 minutes a day for a week, increase it to 5, and stick with that for a week.
In a month, you’ll be doing 15-20. Want to wake up early? Don’t think about waking at 5 a.m. Instead, think about waking 10 minutes earlier for a week. That’s all. Once you’ve done that, wake 10 minutes earlier than that. Baby steps.
7. Personal motivation = one goal at the time
Too many people start with too many personal goals at once, and try to do too much. And it saps energy and personal motivation. It’s probably the most common mistake that people make. You cannot maintain energy and focus (the two most important things in accomplishing a goal) if you are trying to do two or more goals at once.
It’s not possible — I’ve tried it many times.
You have to choose one goal, for now, and focus on it completely. I know, that’s hard. Still, I speak from experience. You can always do your other goals when you’ve accomplished your One Goal. (BHAG – Big Hairy Audacious Goal, as Jim Collins likes to call this)
8. Examine your personal motivation closely
Know your reasons. Give them some thought … and write them down. If you have loved ones, and you are doing it for them, that is more powerful than just doing it for self-interest. Doing it for yourself is good too, but you should do it for something that you want to happen, for good reasons.
9. Boost your personal motivation: really, REALLY want it
This is essentially the same as the above tip, but I want to emphasize it: it’s not enough to think it would be cool to achieve something. It has to be something you’re passionate about, something you’re super excited about, something you want deeply. Make sure that your goal meets these criteria, or you won’t stick with it for long.
10. Commit publicly
None of us likes to look bad in front of others. We will go the extra mile to do something we’ve said publicly. When I started writing all my friends knew about my personal goal.
I couldn’t back down, and even though my motivation came and went, I stuck with it and completed it. Now, you don’t have to commit to your personal goals in your daily newspaper, but you can do it with friends and family and co-workers, and you can do it on your blog if you have one.
And hold yourself accountable — don’t just commit once, but commit to giving progress updates to everyone every week or so.
11. Get excited
Well, it starts with inspiration from others, but you have to take that excitement and build on it.
For me, I’ve learned that by talking to others, and reading as much about it as possible, and visualizing what it would be like to be successful (seeing the benefits of the goal in my head), I get excited about my personal goals. Once I’ve done that, it’s just a matter of carrying that energy forward and keeping it going.
12. Build anticipation
This will sound hard, and many people will skip this tip. But it really works. It helped me quit smoking after many failed attempts. If you find inspiration and want to do a goal, don’t start right away. Many of us will get excited and want to start today.
That’s a mistake.
Set a date in the future — a week or two, or even a month — and make that your Start Date. Mark it on the calendar. Get excited about that date. Make it the most important date in your life. In the meantime, start writing out a plan. And do some of the steps below.
Because by delaying your start, you are building anticipation, and increasing your focus and energy for your goal.
13. Print your personal goals and post them
Print out your personal goals in big words. Make each goal just a few words long, like a mantra (”Exercise 15 mins. Daily”), and post it up on your wall or refrigerator. Post it at home and work. Put it on your computer desktop.
You want to have big reminders about your personal goal, to keep your focus and keep your excitement going. A picture of your personal goal (like a model with sexy abs, for example) also helps.
Here’s an easy-to-use template to make a list of personal goals and matching implementation intentions.
Personal goals: keep your personal motivation going
The second half of personal motivation is to keep yourself going when you don’t feel the same excitement as you did in the beginning.
Perhaps something new has come into your life and your old goal isn’t as much of a priority anymore.
Perhaps you skipped a day or two and now you can’t get back into it.
Perhaps you blew it and got discouraged.
If you can get yourself excited again, and keep going, you’ll get there eventually. But if you give up, you won’t. It’s your choice — accomplish the goal, or quit.
Here are tips to keep going after your personal goals in tough times:
14. Personal motivation = hold yourself back
When I start with a new exercise program, or any new goal really, I am rarin’ to go. I am full of excitement, and my enthusiasm knows no boundaries. Nor does my sense of self-limitation. I think I can do anything. It’s not long before I learn that I do have limitations, and my enthusiasm begins to wane. Well, a great motivator that I’ve learned is that when you have so much energy at the beginning of a program, and want to go all out — HOLD BACK. Don’t let yourself do everything you want to do. Only let yourself do 50-75 percent of what you want to do. And plan out a course of action where you slowly increase over time.
For example, if I want to go running, I might think I can run 3 miles at first. But instead of letting myself do that, I start by only running a mile. When I’m doing that mile, I’ll be telling myself that I can do more! But I don’t let myself. After that workout, I’ll be looking forward to the next workout, when I’ll let myself do 1.5 miles. I keep that energy reined in, harness it, so that I can ride it even further.
15. Just start
There are some days when you don’t feel like heading out the door for a run, or figuring out your budget, or whatever it is you’re supposed to do that day for your goal. Well, instead of thinking about how hard it is, and how long it will take, tell yourself that you just have to start.
I have a rule that I just have to put on my running shoes and close the door behind me. After that, it all flows naturally. It’s when you’re sitting in your house, thinking about running and feeling tired, that it seems hard. Once you start, it is never as hard as you thought it would be. This tip works for me every time.
16. Personal goals in life / at work: stay accountable
If you committed yourself publicly, through an online forum, on a blog, in email, or in person … stay accountable to that group of people. Commit to report back to them daily, or something like that, and stick to it! That accountability will help you to want to do well, because you don’t want to report that you’ve failed.
17. Squash negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones
This is one of the most important personal motivation skills, and I suggest you practice it daily. It’s important to start monitoring your thoughts, and to recognize negative self-talk. Just spend a few days becoming aware of every negative thought. Then, after a few days, try squashing those negative thoughts like a bug, and then replacing them with a corresponding positive thought.
Squash, “This is too hard!” and replace it with, “I can do this! If that wimp X can do it, so can I!” It sounds corny, but it works. Really.
18. Think about the benefits of your personal goals
Thinking about how hard something is is a big problem for most people. Waking early sounds so hard! Just thinking about it makes you tired. But instead of thinking about how hard something is, think about what you will get out of it.
For example, instead of thinking about how hard it is to wake early, focus on how good you’ll feel when you’re done, and how your day will be so much better. The benefits of something will help energize you.
19. Personal goals: get excited again!
Think about why you lost your excitement … then think about why you were excited in the first place. Can you get that back? What made you want to do the goal? What made you passionate about it? Try to build that up again, refocus yourself, get energized.
20. Read about it
When I lose motivation, I just read a book or blog about my goal. It inspires me and reinvigorates me. For some reason, reading helps motivate and focus you on whatever you’re reading about. So read about your goal every day, if you can, especially when you’re not feeling motivated and give your personal motivation a boost!
21. Find like-minded friends
Staying motivated on your own is tough. But if you find someone with similar goals (running, dieting, finances, etc.), see if they’d like to partner with you. Or partner with your spouse, sibling or best friend on whatever goals they’re trying to achieve.
You don’t have to be going after the same personal goals — as long as you are both pushing and encouraging each other to succeed. Other good options are groups in your area (I’m part of a running club, for example) or online forums where you can find people to talk to about your goals.
22. Read inspiring stories
Inspiration, for me, comes from others who have achieved what I want to achieve, or who are currently doing it. I read other blogs, books, magazines. I Google my goal, and read success stories. Zen Habits is just one place for inspiration, not only from me but from many readers who have achieved amazing things. I love, love, love reading success stories too.
23. Build on your successes
Every little step along the way is a success — celebrate the fact that you even started! And then did it for two days! Celebrate every little milestone. Then take that successful feeling and build on it, with another baby step. Add 2-3 minutes to your exercise routine, for example. With each step (and each step should last about a week), you will feel even more successful.
Make each step really, really small, and you won’t fail. After a couple of months, your tiny steps will add up to a lot of progress and a lot of success.
Want some inspiration to see what success could look like?
Here are my 25 favorite success quotes and 15 success definitions.
24. Just get through the low points
Motivation is not a constant thing that is always there for you. It comes and goes, and comes and goes again, like the tide. But realize that while it may go away, it doesn’t do so permanently. It will come back. Just stick it out and wait for that motivation to come back. In the meantime, read about your goal, ask for help, and do some of the other things listed here until your motivation comes back.
25. Get help to achieve your personal goals
It’s hard to accomplish something alone. When you decide to run a marathon, you need help of friends and family, or a running community. When you decide to quit smoking, you probably find support if you join an online forum. It’s hard to go after personal goals without help. Find your support network, either in the real world or online, or both.
26. Personal goals: chart your progress
This can be as simple as marking an X on your calendar, or creating a simple spreadsheet, or logging your goal using online software. But it can be vastly rewarding to look back on your progress and to see how far you’ve come, and it can help you to keep going — you don’t want to have too many days without an X!
Now, you will have some bad marks on your chart. That’s OK. Don’t let a few bad marks stop you from continuing. Strive instead to get the good marks next time.
27. Reward yourself often
For every little step along the way, celebrate your success, and give yourself a reward. It helps to write down appropriate rewards for each step, so that you can look forward to those rewards. By appropriate, I mean 1) it’s proportionate to the size of the goal (don’t reward going on a 1-mile run with a luxury cruise in the Bahamas); and 2) it doesn’t ruin your personal goals — if you are trying to lose weight, don’t reward a day of healthy eating with a dessert binge.
28. Go for mini personal goals
Sometimes large or longer-term goals can be overwhelming. After a couple weeks, we may lose motivation, because we still have several months or a year or more left to accomplish the goal. It’s hard to maintain personal motivation for a single goal for such a long time. Solution: have smaller personal goals along the way.
29. Get a coach or take a class
These will motivate you to at least show up, and to take action. It can be applied to any goal. This might be one of the more expensive ways of motivating yourself, but it works. And if you do some research, you might find some cheap classes in your area, or you might know a friend who will provide coaching or counseling for free.
Want to know more about coaching? Check out this mini guide about the GROW Coaching Model or read these 30 tips I developed with Sir John Whitmore.
30. Never skip two days in a row
This rule takes into account our natural tendency to miss days now and then. We are not perfect. So, you missed one day … now the second day is upon you and you are feeling lazy … tell yourself NO! You will not miss two days in a row! Your personal goals need to become a daily habit.
31. Visualize your personal goals
Visualize your successful outcome in great detail. Close your eyes, and think about exactly how your successful outcome will look, will feel, will smell and taste and sound like. Where are you when you become successful? How do you look? What are you wearing? Form as clear a mental picture as possible. Now here’s the next key: do it every day. For at least a few minutes each day. This is the only way to keep that motivation going over a long period of time.
32. Be aware of your urges to quit, and overcome them
We all have urges to stop, but they are mostly unconscious. One of the most powerful things you can do is to start being more conscious of those urges. A good exercise is to go through the day with a little piece of paper and put a tally mark for each time you get an urge. It simply makes you aware of the urges. Then have a plan for when those urges hit, and plan for it beforehand, and write down your plan, because once those urges hit, you will not feel like coming up with a plan.
33. Personal motivation: find pleasure again
No one can stick to something for long if they find it unpleasant, and are only rewarded after months of toil. There has to be fun, pleasure, joy in it, every day, or you won’t want to do it. Find those pleasurable things — the beauty of a morning run, for example, or the satisfaction in reporting to people that you finished another step along the way, or the deliciousness of a healthy meal. They will help you to find the drive to achieve your personal goals.
Good luck with setting and achieving your personal goals!
Tip: learn more about the goal setting theory in the workplace.
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