A goal without a plan is just a wish. Despite this obvious truth we see loads of articles about setting goals and having resolutions but extraordinarily little on how to achieve them.
The reason is obvious, setting "goals" is easy. Above all if we are truthful with ourselves, we will agree that many of our goals are wishy-washy hopes and dreams.
One dream today, one hope tomorrow and both gone by the next day!
Meanwhile, the obvious challenge is how to achieve the goals we set. Understanding that the reason we fail is because we don't have an action plan to achieve them, and so they stay empty dreams or hopes.
So, what do we need to do to both set and achieve our goals?
The answer is simple, after initially setting the goal, we must complete the second step. Which is, make a detailed plan of how we aim to achieve it, together with a commitment to follow the plan.
Commitment means unwavering pursuit of the goals we want to achieve. We can see them, smell them, taste them, and they're worth the effort. We believe that they are things that we really want and that they exceed the discomfort of the sacrifices that must be made.
To start, for the goals to be meaningful they must meet four criteria - they must be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time limited. So-called SMART goals which have a desired outcome or result.
To convert this desired outcome goal from an empty hope to a reality we must work out what actions are needed to achieve it. What must be done in the short term, the daily or at least weekly actions that will lead to achieving the longer-term output goal.
These often-overlooked steps are called the process goals. They should also be SMART, be written down and then tracked.
Outcome Goals vs Process Goals
The following example will clarify the difference between the outcome and process goals and illustrate the process. Assume you want to look your best for your summer beach vacation and to do this you must lose weight. A SMART outcome goal may be to lose 5 kilograms in 12 weeks.
To achieve this, you decide that it will need both exercise and consuming fewer calories. So, what should the process steps be?
- A positive first step may be to clear the refrigerator and house of all "unhealthy" foods by the end of the first week.
- Not drink alcohol during the week and limit consumption on weekends.
- Limit fast food (I love pizza!) to once a week.
- Join a gym.
- Exercise for a minimum of 30 minutes, working up to 60 minutes, a day.
- Eliminate all added sugar in tea and coffee.
- Record the daily consumption and energy output.
- Review my performance of these steps at the end of each day and week.
Another useful step is to set milestones against which to measure the progress towards the outcome. For example, lose 2 kilograms by the end of month 1 and another 2 by the end of month 2. These may be early indicators whether the plan is working.
Achieving Your Process Goals
Now comes the hard part, the work.
We all live with the many distractions and temptations of day-to-day life, which makes it easy to find excuses for not doing what we planned to do. So, you must constantly be asking yourself, "Is what I'm doing taking me closer to my goal?" Or am I just zigzagging through life?
Is your life busy all the time but achieving little? Chasing one shiny object after another? Moving one way or another, distracted and disillusioned?
Leaving behind a trail of tattered hopes and dreams.
While we dream about getting fitter or thinner, making more money, getting healthier or about what we'll do when we retire, most of us don't achieve our dreams. As we give in to allowing our time to drift by doing trivial activities that make us feel busy. Doing things that don't take us closer to where we want to be. And while accepting that's a part of normal human behaviour, it should be the exception.
The only way to turn wishes, dreams, and hopes into reality is through setting goals, making plans, and then relentlessly doing what must be done.
Remember that nothing happens until something moves. In the best-selling book Atomic Habits by James Clear he details a practical method for step-by-step improvement. Providing a system for turning our hopes, dreams, and wishes into reality.
You may be like me. Someone who has had their dreams dashed by entirely unpredictable events. You had dreams about what you wanted to do and were put off either by your own negative thoughts or the criticism of others.
These are hurdles but not insurmountable barriers. Rather, they are tests to find out if the goal is real. Whether it meets the "R" in SMART and is really relevant to us or just a passing wish or hope.
Accept it that in the past, you may have been your own worst critic and enemy. But it doesn't have to continue being that way.
External Support and Guidance
In a book by Dr Benjamin Hardy, he makes it clear in the title: "Personality Isn't Permanent: Break Free from Self-Limiting Beliefs and Rewrite Your Story."
Now's the time to change. Now's the time to put this process into action and start crafting your future. It's time to say, "This is what I want to accomplish, this is by when I will accomplish it, and this is how I'm going to do it".
It is a clear theme of how you're going to live your life—travelling on a journey from where you are now to becoming your fulfilled future self.
This journey can be an overwhelming challenge if you try to do it on your own. So, look for helping hands or guiding lights that will support and guide you through the challenging stages. Think about whether you need a coach or mentor.
- Define your goals using the SMART format. That is, the goal must be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic or Relevant and Time-Bound.
- Make a plan. Your life is not a dream. It's a never-ending voyage with many difficulties. It's your choice whether this voyage is filled with happiness and achievements or sadness and regrets.
- Decide the lifestyle you want. And don't shortchange yourself with negative or limiting thoughts. Set out your goals and milestones (times for rewarding yourself for achievements!) so you know you're on the right path.
- Visualize achieving your goal—experience how good it feels. When you get discouraged or want to give up, get back into 'how good it feels' mental space.
Conclusion - A Goal Without a Plan is Just a Wish
The process goal method can be used to achieve outcome goals in both personal and business life.
Write your goals down, read them, and reflect and visualise them every day when you wake up and before going to sleep. Review the daily process steps achieved against the plan and record down.
You must believe that the goals are realistic and achievable. Knowing that with the right mindset and commitment, you can make them your reality.
If you think there is anything I could do to help you start or get through a rocky patch on your journey, please reach out to me, and I'll do whatever I can to help.