What is it you really want to achieve?
Get great marks in your studies, lose weight or write a book?
Whatever your goal, psychologists have come up with a method to help make it happen.
‘Goal setting’ may seem like a dull word, but essentially it provides a framework for diligence—a system that makes you make it happen.
Nelson Mandella backed this theory and has said that he owed his success to doggedness and determination, not natural talent.
In Long Walk to Freedom, he writes about how he became a great runner (which set him up for bigger social and political wins down the track):
“Running taught me valuable lessons. In cross-country running, training counted more than intrinsic ability, and I could compensate for a lack of natural aptitude with diligence and discipline. I applied this in everything I did. Even as a student I saw many young men who had great natural ability, but who did not have the self-discipline and patience to build on their endowment.”
Here’s how to channel your ambitions and achieve your best self:
1. Set specific goals
Work out exactly what it is you’re setting your sights on. Specific, narrowly defined goals are often more effective than more general ones (such as “do my best”).
Example: instead of “improve my tennis game”, try “increase the number of serves I put into play by 20 percent”; or instead of “lose weight”, try “drop five kilos by the second month of summer”.
2. Measure your progress
Goal achievement works best when you set ‘mini goals’ within the broad goal so that you can monitor how you’re going and give yourself feedback. The old saying that ‘an elephant is best eaten with a spoon and cut up into small pieces’ comes into play here: when you can see yourself making progress, you’re more likely to stay pumped and motivated.
3. Make your goals about what you need to do, not the outcome
“Behavioural goals (what one has to do) work better than outcome goals because they keep the focus on the necessary behaviours… It has been said that there are three kinds of people in this world: those who make things happen, those who wait for things to happen, and those who wonder what happened,” write Passer and Smith in Psychology.
Example: Rather than a goal like, “get an A in the corporate law subject of my MBA”, try “devote two hours a day to summarising the course readings.”
4. Set a time frame for achieving your goal
To keep yourself on track, set specific dates for both your mini goals and your long-range goals, otherwise there’s less motivating you to stay on course. Once you’ve reached your target, celebrate and reward yourself!
References available on request