I have a friend who says he doesn’t like to write, he likes to have written. The truth is, he loves to write, but not as much as he loves the satisfaction that comes from finishing a writing project. I feel the same way about goals. I love to set goals, but I love it even more when those goals are accomplished.  

As we start another new year, many leaders are taking time to reflect on the past 12 months, what they’ve accomplished and learned, and what they hope for in the days ahead. You undoubtedly are going through a similar exercise.  

It’s exciting to set goals. Our brains literally light up when we envision a brighter future. We feel empowered by the possibility of making a change or accomplishing something significant. All too often, however, we look back and see a list of things we never got done and secretly wonder what we will accomplish going forward. 

Setting a goal is easy; achieving it can be quite difficult. The problem is we often lose focus. Or we get side-tracked by the unexpected. Or the work is harder than we thought. Or progress is slower than we thought. 

What’s the secret to actually achieving your goals and making real change in your life? 

There are three things you need to do to ensure success: 
1. Set “brain-friendly” goals
2. Create a 90-day action plan
3. Establish a support system 

Step One: Set “Brain-friendly” Goals 
The first way to increase your chances of success is to set the right type of goal. Neuroscience research has identified certain characteristics of goals that have a high success rate. These “brain-friendly” characteristics include: 

  • Challenging – Your goal should require you to stretch in order to achieve it – not so much that it causes undue anxiety, but enough that it creates pressure that causes you to act. 
  • Achievable – Your goal must be realistic, not merely idealistic. If it’s too difficult, you are more likely to give up. 
  • Measurable – You need to assign tangible metrics to your goal to help you stay on track and know when you have achieved it. Milestones also enable you to acknowledge progress along the way, which is crucial to keeping you focused for the long run. 
  • Time-bound – You should set a timeline for achieving your goal and stick to it. Deadlines provide a sense of urgency and positive pressure to take action in a timely manner. 
  • Future-focused – A goal should be designed to help you move forward in life, not focused on the past. This allows your brain to think positively and productively about what could be rather than dwelling on what might have been. We are less likely to strive toward a goal when we are filled with regret or anger. 

Step Two: Create a 90-day Action Plan

Our brains are hard-wired to focus on getting what we want and doing whatever it takes to make it happen. Yet many times we find ourselves at an impasse. We have great goals, but we don’t know how to move forward. We need a plan and accountability to help us get there.  

In my 20-plus years as a leader and now also as an executive coach, I’ve learned the value of creating a detailed action plan to ensure I know how to move forward and stay focused. The key is to write it down. I never have a shortage of ideas. As long as I keep them swirling around in my head, however, they remain jumbled and I’m less likely to take action.  

The brain’s short-term memory is designed to hold no more than 5-7 thoughts at any given time. Writing things down helps you capture the breadth of your thinking and, more importantly, organize your ideas to make them actionable and help you stay on track.  

But what should you write down? I’ve created a detailed 90-day action plan template for my executive coaching clients called the Velocity Leadership 90-day Roadmap™.  I’ve pulled a few nuggets from this template for you. If you’re interested, I invite you to download this free worksheet filled with thought-starter questions and ideas to jump-start your own 90-day action plan.

Step three: Establish a Support System

Once you have the right type of goal and a written plan, it’s time to move to the hardest part – execution, or what I like to call goal-striving. 

So many things can conspire to derail you. To increase your chances of success, you must prepare for success by establishing a strong support system. Unless you do things like reinforcing positive behaviors and motivating yourself with rewards, your goals might end up where they started — just words on paper. 

Goal-striving is also a boost to your well-being. When you work toward a goal, you feel good about yourself, reinforcing an enduring sense of self such as: “I’m resilient.” “I’m determined.” “I’m an achiever.”
If you’re ready to amp up your goal-striving, here are a few things to try: 

Make your goal “sticky” 

A memorable goal is more easily adopted. You can make your most important goals “stickier” by capturing them in a memorable phrase or metaphor you’ll remember. 
 
One of my most important goals for 2018 was to make sure I made time for family and friends while I labored to launch my new leadership and business consultancy from scratch. Since destination and journey are important themes for me, I captured the essence of my goal in the phrase, “Enjoy the ride with those I love most.” 
 
Reward yourself 

Think of ways to pat yourself on the back when you reach important milestones toward your goal. When we reward ourselves, we flood our brain with positive chemicals such as dopamine. This encourages us to repeat the behavior that resulted in the reward, which in turn creates new wiring in our brains and helps embed new habits into our regular routine. 
 
Habits can become automatic when we repeat the behavior/reward cycle enough times, which is the key to making new behaviors sustainable over time. 
 
Prepare for a stumble 

No matter how hard we try, we’re bound to stumble every now and then. Anticipate when you might be tempted to stray from your goal and plan what you will do to prevent that. 
 
Develop a simple if-then statement. For example, “If I am tempted to become angry in certain situations, I will take a deep breath and remind myself that I make better decisions and am a more effective leader when I keep my cool under pressure.” 
 
Accomplishing goals – for ourselves and with others – is one of the most satisfying aspects of leadership. As you practice these three steps to increase your chances of goal-setting and goal-striving success – setting “brain-friendly” goals, creating a 90-day action plan, and establishing a support system – remember to enjoy the journey, as well. 

If you want to shine in your role, take a look at the training courses we offer at Bingo Traders. Designed specifically for EAs, PAs, Admins, Office Managers,… , these learning opportunities provide the skills and knowledge you’ll need to excel. 

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elisemitchell / Photo on Unsplash

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