The problem with setting goals is that it’s a mental process that most of us struggle to turn into sustained action. That’s why I have always maintained that you should focus on the achievement part of your goal as much as on the planning part – more so, if possible. And to help you successfully achieve your goals here’s a list of seven goal setting hacks that really work.
What are Goal Setting Hacks?
Before we launch into the list of goal setting hacks, we should quickly look at exactly what a hack is and why they work.
A hack is defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “a clever tip or technique for doing or improving something”. Hacks are supposed to act as a shortcut to a meaningful result, and it’s the result that’s the focus.
A goal setting hack is, therefore, a way to help ensure an outcome through the use of a “… clever technique”.
Hack 1: Figure Out Your WHY
What is the real reason you want to achieve your goal? Knowing what the root impulse motivating you is will help you far more effectively than relying on your assumptions. You can do this by asking a series of “why” questions.
Let’s assume, for example, that you want to set the goal of losing 20kg. If you were asked why you wanted to set this goal, you might say that you want to look and feel better, and that is true. But why do you want to look and feel better? Is it because you feel unfulfilled in life? If so, why? Perhaps losing the weight and looking better would make you feel better about yourself. Why? Feeling better about yourself would bolster your self-confidence. Why? Because when you look in the mirror you know that you can achieve what you set out to achieve. That’s the answer you are looking for. The real reason you want to lose weight, and quite different from the ostensible reason first put forward.
The ultimate answer to your why will then provide the “fuel” for motivating you to achieve your goal and can be effective as one of your goal setting hacks.
Hack 2: Write Your Goal Down
According to a scientific study by Mark Murphy, writing your goal down improves your chances of achieving them dramatically. Vividly described written goals (those with pictures and drawings attached) were likely to be achieved between 1.2 and 1.4 times more than those not written down.
So why does writing your goals down improve your chances of success?
When you write your goals down, you are able to clearly state what they are and describe what the intended outcome looks like. This clarity is important as it provides a crisp target. It isn’t nebulous or unclear. It’s specific, which is an important characteristic of any goal. Being written down, it is also easy to remind yourself of your goal for motivational purposes as you move towards achieving it.
However, more importantly, writing a goal helps with encoding. According to Mark Murphy in the article linked to above “Encoding is the biological process by which the things we perceive travel to our brain’s hippocampus where they’re analyzed. From there, decisions are made about what gets stored in our long-term memory and, in turn, what gets discarded. Writing improves that encoding process. In other words, when you write it down it has a much greater chance of being remembered.”
Hack 3: Break Your Goal Up
One of the more effective goal setting hacks is breaking a large goal up into a series of small, more achievable mini-goals is an effective way to make your goal seem that much more attainable.
For example, if you wanted to earn an extra $2500 per month by at the end of 10 months from now, that might seem like a lot. But if you break the goal amount up, you could aim to earn just $250 in the first month (which is quite doable), $500 the second, $750 the third and so on until you reach your goal. I call these mini-goals “step goals” and once you have decided on what they are, you can focus only on achieving your next step goal. Before you know it, your step goals would have ramped up to the ultimate goal, making achieving it not only feasible but far easier than you may have initially assumed.
Hack 4: Be Accountable
Accountability is one of the surest ways to guarantee the successful achievement of your goals. Although you can take steps to be accountable to yourself, it is far more effective to find an accountability partner. Arranging such a partnership where you are held accountable by another person for the achievement of your goals. Ideally, you want to create a reciprocal relationship where you hold them accountable for the achievement of their goal in return for them holding you accountable for yours.
Studies have shown that people feel far more inclined to carry out their undertakings to others than where no such pledge exists. There appears to be a built-in mechanism that makes us not want to let others down. Accountability partnerships leverage this psychological inclination so that we can improve our outcomes.
Hack 5: Get Reminded
Reminders are just what you imagine they would be; visual or automated triggers to perform or resist the temptation to perform. In my book “Plan, Achieve, Thrive: Successfully Achieve Your Goals With The GREATER2 Goal Achievement System“, I propose the use of small printed reminders to inspire, coax or goad you into doing what is necessary to move towards your goal. These reminders are strategically placed to be conspicuous so that you are constantly reminded of what you are supposed to do and why you are doing it.
Reminders can be especially effective when your motivation is flagging and you risk “slipping”. Sometimes, all you need is some inspiration from a quote or a significant image to bolster your resolve. They have have a demonstrable impact where a person is trying to resist taking self-harming action, such as in the case of a dieter who can place stern reminders on the fridge and cupboard doors as a “last line of defense” to make them rethink their impulse to binge.
Hack 6: Entice Yourself
Another effective technique for the accomplishment of goals is to set rewards, both small and large. These could be as small as an indulgence you would otherwise take without thinking or it could be large, as in a gift to yourself as a reward for accomplishing what you set out to do.
If you are trying to establish a routine or habit, you would belay something you would do in the normal course of your day for after the successful completion of the task. For example, if you buy yourself a coffee every day, and it is something you look forward to, you could use that as a reward for going to gym. No gym, no coffee.
Or, if you had a whiskey every evening as a matter of course and you are are trying to give up smoking, you could make your whiskey contingent on not have smoked that day.
You could set larger rewards for achieving your step goals – perhaps a dinner at a fine restaurant with your significant other. And for the achievement of your ultimate goal, you could consider using the purchase of something you were going to buy for yourself anyway as your reward.
If you want to get really motivated, you can combine rewards with accountability. If you have an accountability partner, you can tell them about your rewards so that they can “approve” them when you reach your stated goals. A rather cruel reward may be to make your family vacation contingent upon your achieving your goal. Not only will you want to avoid disappointing those closest to you, but they will go the extra mile to make sure you achieve your goal.
Hack 7: Set a Punishment
I came across the term “burn or burn” as an interesting motivation to attend the gym. According to Nir Eyal who developed the technique, it involves attaching a large monetary bill, say $100, to a calendar on which you cross off each day to do the exercises you have undertaken to do. Should you miss a day, you commit to burning the $100 bill and attaching a new one. You can see why it would be effective. It’s a simple and elegant solution. Bear in mind that it is most probably also illegal if you were to actually burn the money.
Punishments need not be as extreme as burning money. They could be doing things that you don’t want to do (like repainting the living room or fixing the shed). They could be something community based, like cleaning up trash in a local park or along a nearby stream or beach or giving something you value to a homeless person. Or it could be a gag, like dressing up in a rabbit costume and asking people for carrots at your local shopping mall while a friend records your performance for posterity.
Bonus Hack 1: Eat That Frog
This doesn’t refer to actually consuming an amphibian refers, but rather doing what you must do first thing in your day in case you decide to put it off and then never get around to doing it at all. Get it over and done with as soon as possible so you can move on with your day.
Bonus Hack 2: Chase Failure
This goal setting hack doesn’t work for every goal, but in situations where your goal is to get something from others, for example, where you are applying for a new job or you are pitching your idea to potential investors, turn the process on its head and see how many rejections you can collect. Statistically, once you have a certain number of rejections, you will find success and doing it this way, you can view each rejection as confirmation that you took action.
Bonus Hack 3: Cheat Your Way To Success
If you are struggling with the activity you you have undertaken, you can try lying to yourself when doing that activity. If you are having a difficult time increasing your morning run from ten minutes to twenty minutes, run for five minutes and then reset your timer for the usual ten minutes. Or is you’re having problems getting from ten to fifteen push-ups, double count that first five, for example, “1,1,2,2,3,3,4,4,5,5,6,7,8,9,10”.
Achieving a goal is usually a difficult undertaking. hence the high rate of failure. Taking on a goal is usually full of “ups” and “downs”, and it’s for those “downs” that you need hacks to pull or push you through. Goal setting hacks can increase your chances of surviving the “doldrums” in which your motivation, inspiration and perseverance have dried up. They help you do what must be done to get you to your goal, and as such, are effective tools for your goal achievement toolbox.