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5 steps to *actually* achieving a goal

Don’t be fooled into thinking that *planning* to achieve a goal is the same as actually achieving a goal. You need to do the work. Learn how to start, right now.

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People in sneakers about to start running.

Does this sound like you? You have a goal. To plan for achieving this goal, you:

  • potter around on the internet and read stories about other people who have achieved the same goal.
  • read relevant books, blogs and social media posts: yes! It looks like this goal is achievable. Look at all the people achieving. Look at these ‘how to’ posts.
  • listen to podcasts. Wow. Inspiring. I think I can achieve this goal.
  • read stuff about goal setting! So meta. Yep, there’s a method to this. I even know what the SMART acronym means now.

And after all this time, you still haven’t achieved your goal.

The missing piece?

You didn’t start the real work.

Now, don’t get me wrong — setting goals is important. It’s linked with higher motivation, self-esteem, self-confidence, and autonomy, and research has shown a strong connection between goal-setting and success. Making a plan for achieving your goals, including learning and finding resources to help us, is also important particularly if you haven’t done much goal setting/ goal achieving before, or if the goal is related to an area very new to you (e.g. a new runner setting a marathon goal. And I’ll stick with the marathon goal example from now on because it’s easy to understand).

But many of us get stuck at this stage. It feels like we’re making progress towards our goal by doing the planning and busy work. But a new runner planning to run a marathon in 12 months will not achieve this goal if they don’t lace up — right now — and stick to a structured training program until race day.

So, how do we actually START?

  1. Firstly, tell yourself you’ve done enough prep work. You may not be an expert, but you know enough for now (no one says you can’t keep learning while you do the work).
  2. Secondly, make sure you really want to achieve the goal. I know, I know — but do you really want to run a marathon? Is that really a goal you have for yourself, or is it a goal you’ve borrowed from someone else? Do some self-reflection over a cup of tea, pen and paper and make sure the goal is for you, and you alone.
  3. Tell someone (multiple people) you’ve set the goal. Get some accountability going. Ask them to check in on your progress. Even better, find someone who has the same goal as you and support each other (even pick a time to regularly run ‘together’ (2m apart, people — this is pandemic time)).
  4. Set up (quickly — don’t agonise) the systems you need to support the work. Recurring calendar reminders are a great place to start, and it’s also important to make your progress visible. Whether you print out a calendar to mark off the days you go for a run with a big red X, put a dollar in a jar for every kilometre you clock up, or use an app that tracks your progress with fancy charts, it doesn’t really matter. But do not get into a rabbit hole of internet research about the best way to track progress. Literally reach for the first, easiest thing you’ll be able to see on a daily basis and start there.
  5. Go. Right now. Stop reading this post. Put on your running shoes and leave the house. I don’t care if you don’t know whether this is supposed to be a long run or a tempo run or a speed trial (I know nothing about running. I am just saying running-sounding words). Just go and run, right now, even just for 5 minutes (I’m sure you’ll go longer than that). And tomorrow? Go again. Move, quickly, before your mind has a chance to talk yourself out of it.

From there, achieving your goal is about putting in the work. Putting in the work requires discipline (not motivation, which is fickle and not to be trusted). Discipline will in turn embed your behaviours into habits, and habits are strong and not to be messed with.

Setting other goals, like goals for your career, can be harder. It can be less obvious what the ‘work’ is you need to do (even though the end result might be pretty clear). That’s where a career coach comes in. A career coach knows how to make sure you’re setting the right goals. We know what work needs to be done. We can teach you the systems and share the resources to get you going, and get you going quickly. We’ll remove the guesswork for you. And even better? We are your built-in accountability buddy.

Whatever your goal, you can do this. Just start. Right now.

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