How to Achieve Anything: My Method of Setting Goals
A short look at how I define my goals and create the environment that helps me achieve them.
Disclaimer: I am absolutely aware of amount of privilege that allows me to take breaks during the day or even go to bed whenever I wish. If you can follow my little guide, you better be aware of it, too.
As I write this, I’m about halfway through the program I set for myself to get back in shape of running 5km three times a week. I haven’t been running since high school and it’s not easy getting back. The fact that I’m about 15kg heavier than my ideal weight probably doesn’t help either. Apart from that, I thought I’ll share the steps I took to get to this point, without sounding too much like a motivational speaker. Ready? Let’s start.
Find out what you want
I can’t stress this enough: Sit down and think if you really want to do it. Do you really need to do it or do you want to do it because it will look great to others? I mean, there's nothing wrong with a bit of showing off, but if your entire motivation is about showing off, you’re going to have way harder time. Generally, vanity goals are awful. Don't do stuff only because it will look cool to others.
It’s been really important for me to figure out what I want to do and writing it down to track progres and I've been heavily inspired by OKR method when deciding on a format of writing it down. This is also where my practice of journaling comes into play — I created a section in my daily journal where I literally write down progress of every goal in a
[current] / [total] ([progress]) format. Example entry would be then:
- Running 5km: 3.61 / 5km (+0.61km)
That way I can have a clear overview where I’m making progress and where I’m not, which makes it way easier to reflect. Sometimes it’s perfectly fine to not make any progress, because life happened or you just wanted to take it easy.
It’s also been very important for me to make the goals reasonable. Running 5km within 8 weeks (C25K) is probably not that hard if you’re healthy and generally fit, but I made sure to first check with my doctor (“Will my body survive 15kg-more-than-I-should-be me learning to run?”) and also take my time to reach the goal.
TL;DR: Write down what you want to achieve. Be honest. Measure your progress (or lack thereof).
I’ve been way more successful taking a series of small, incremental steps towards the goal than trying to force myself to make big leaps. Big leaps are daunting and it’s easier to get discouraged. I’ve been trying to use Kaizen’s 1% better every day, trying to push myself just a bit further every time, because I’d rather be running three times a week consistently than get discouraged by the fact that I can’t follow some arbitrary plan that someone else created.
It's also been key for me to think about both long and short term — yes, I want to run 5km in the long run, but what can I do this week to make progress? One run that's 20 meters longer than the previous one is progress. Ultimately this is what matters most.
TL;DR: It’s more important to make progress than to follow a plan.
Figure out what can go wrong
Finding out about WOOP method for setting goals that specifically makes you think about your obstacles and figuring out a plan around them has been the best discovery I made when doing my research. WOOP method makes you think through all sorts of things that can go wrong and forces you to figure out a plan to work around those things. In short, you write your plans in following format:
- Wish: This is what you want to achieve, ex. “I want to be able to run 5km”
- Outcome: This is the visualisation of why you want to do it. The “I will be healthy, fit and feel amazing”. I kind of hate that part, to be honest.
- Obstacle: Think about all the intrinsic obstacles that can get in your way, for example: “I will be too busy with work to find time”. It’s important to make sure you can do something about those obstacles, so you can plan for resolving them.
- Plan: This is my favorite part — you write down what you will do in case one of the obstacles happens. This programs your brain to have a quick-release solution if you’re lazy, busy or just don’t feel like doing it.
TL;DR: Things rarely go as intended. Be prepared for when they don't.
This has been very important to me. I put plans in my calendar, because once it’s in my calendar, I’m going to make it happen. Timeboxing is also important, because — especially if you actually enjoying doing them — activities, like gas, tend to expand to fill all available time. Realistically, you probably also want to set aside a bit more time than you think, because you want to plan for everything that you need to do to prepare — for me and my running, it’s getting to and from the park, shower and stretching, so I set aside an hour for a 30-minute run. That way I don’t feel rushed or accidentally schedule anything over. It also puts a limitation on the amount of things I plan for the day, because of the hard limitations like, well, number of hours in the day.
TL;DR: Make space for things to happen in your calendar and stick to it.
It’s dangerous to go alone
(I’ve been really looking forward to using a Legend of Zelda reference in this post).
That was really hard for me, as I’m generally a very independent person — make your goals public and tell a bunch of people close to you about them, so they can check in every once in a while, motivate you and poke you a bit if you get lazy. Could even be one person you can really rely on, but make sure you do it. If you don’t have those people, look around, maybe there’s a running group in your neighbourhood that you’re unaware of and that could help you with advice, inspiration and motivation? Reach out. If everything else fails, just post it on social media and you might find all sorts of unexpected allies.
TL;DR: Accountability buddies are a thing and they're amazing. Find one. Or a bunch.
It’s been key to me to make sure — in my case, in my daily journal — to do reflection sessions every once in a while. I set aside time to do them in my calendar as well. I write down what went well, but also what went wrong, why and how can I fix it next week. Honest review and reflection has been very important for me also because I find out all the new WOOP obstacles and plan for them, making me focus on progress, not on putting out fires.
TL;DR: Review your progress (or lack thereof) and be mindful of things that get in your way.
And here we are. I hope that even though I admit the headline was an absolute clickbait, I shared a bunch of steps that will help you get to where you want to be. I can recommend not treating it as list of steps to follow (making progress is more important than following a plan, remember?), but a list of steps that can be helpful, once you reflect on them and make your own way. To quote his Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama: “Don't try to use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist; use it to be a better whatever-you-already-are.”