Career Advice  

How to Set Small Goals for Long-Term Success

How to Set Small Goals for Long-Term Success

Goals are healthy. If approached correctly, they keep you focused and motivated while also being real confidence boosters. Whether they’re related to health, career, finances, or social life, most people have something they want to do, as well as a certain amount of anxiety when they think about what it’ll take to achieve it. So how do you get in the right headspace before taking on what can seem like a monumental task? Focus on the action instead of the result.

Let’s say you want to lose 50 pounds. Your first mistake would be to set a specific timeframe since everybody loses weight at a different pace. Or maybe you want to find a new job, but outside factors like the candidate pool, economy, or location put the timeline out of your control. With so much out of your hands, it can be difficult to stay motivated, especially when you don’t see immediate results. So instead of losing focus and eventually giving up, concentrate on accomplishing small goals every day.

First, decide what daily actions you’ll need to complete to meet your long-term objectives.
You might not be able to say definitively, “I will lose 50 pounds in six months,” but you can say, “I will exercise for 30 minutes every day.” Instead of declaring you’ll have a new job in eight weeks, you can commit to applying for five job leads each day or going to one networking event per week. Having small, measurable goals will keep you focused and give you a sense of accomplishment while you’re waiting for the end result. Its tiny motivators like this that will keep you going in the long run.

Of course, you’ll need to be sure your daily goals will actually produce results.
If what passes for exercise for you is a leisurely stroll around the block, you might enjoy yourself, but you won’t necessarily lose weight. Or if you attend a networking event every week, but never introduce yourself to anyone, you’ll obviously be wasting your time. Don’t forget that activity doesn’t always mean productivity, which is why you need to be specific. How long will the task take? What will it require? When will you do it and where? Several studies have shown that if you’re specific regarding the actions you plan to take to reach a goal, you can double—or sometimes triple—your success rate.

But what if you don’t stay motivated? Maybe you hit the snooze button too many times and missed your morning run or got caught up in an Andy Griffith marathon and didn’t research any job leads. It’s okay—don’t beat yourself up. You’ve probably heard the Japanese proverb, “Fall down seven times, stand up eight.” We all have bad days, but successful people know how to bounce back (and bounce back quickly) instead of plummeting into a shame spiral. Missing one day doesn’t matter as long as you start again.

Keep in mind that not wanting to do something doesn’t mean you’ve already failed.
When successful people don’t want to do something, they do it anyway. Your willingness to start—or start again—is critical. If possible, try to complete your task at the same time each day so it becomes automatic. The trick is to get in the habit so it seems as routine as brushing your teeth. Of course, it’s also important to reassess your goals every now and then. If you’re a month in and aren’t seeing the progress you hoped for, it might be time to tweak your method or try something new altogether.

Some goals can seem insurmountable when the finish line is far off in the distance. The good news is, contributing to your own success every day through small, manageable tasks should give you a sense of satisfaction—and that proverbial gold star might be just what you need to stay motivated until you see results.


Contribution by Karen Hoyt.

Karen is a Senior Résumé Writer/Mentor at IMPACT Group with a background in career consulting, business writing, and project management. She also serves on IMPACT Group’s Communications Committee.

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