Want to Reach a Goal? How to Plan for Success


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Wednesday, February 21, 2024
A game of chess

In the words of Booker T. Washington: "Nothing ever comes to one that is worth having, except as a result of hard work." Personal and professional development are processes. If you want to grow as a person and accomplish goals, you have to make plans for your own success. You have to have a clear-eyed sense of what you need to do to make those goals a reality and an understanding of what stands between you and the finish line. Setting goals and following through with them can be tricky but there are techniques and principles you can use to stay on the right track.

Understand Your Strengths & Weaknesses

The key to formulating good long-term plans that can actually benefit you is to understand what systems work for you and what doesn’t. What motivates you to stay on task? What are the tasks that you consistently put off to the very last minute? Does programming reminders on your phone help keep you on track or do you benefit more from writing things down in a day planner? What times of the day are you most productive, and what habits do you have that would be useful to help you carry out your plans? How are your time management skills?

A useful thought experiment is to imagine that you are your own manager. How would YOU motivate yourself? What can you do to make your “employee” more productive and efficient in completing tasks? What support do they need that isn’t close at hand, and who/what would be best suited to provide that support?

Be Accountable

It can be easy for plans to fall apart if you don’t track your progress or hold yourself accountable to them in the first place. Having a journal, app, and/or spreadsheet where you track how you’re progressing is critical because it’ll both keep you honest about what you’re doing and it can give you positive reinforcement. If your goal is to write more or lose weight, seeing those weekly word counts/weight loss numbers can give you an ego boost. You’re doing it and the proof is in these pages!

It can also be useful to have an accountability buddy. Tell a trusted friend, mentor, or co-worker what you’re doing and ask them to check in with you on a consistent, agreed-upon cadence. Sometimes all you need to keep yourself from procrastinating is the embarrassment of having to tell someone you did nothing that week. If you’re comfortable making your goals public, announcing on social media what you’re aiming to do can be another simple way to hold yourself accountable.

Know Why You’re Doing This

When making plans, ask yourself the most important question of all: why do you want to do this? Understanding your motivations for wanting to pursue this goal can help clarify exactly what you need to do to achieve it. It can also broaden the scope of your plans, revealing other tasks or goals you need to do to realize the bigger picture. For example: if your goal is to get healthier, losing weight might be your big goal but there are other things you can and should do too like regular medical checkups, exercising more, eating a more nutritious diet, drinking plenty of water, and practicing self-care for your mental health. Or if you want to learn to play guitar, make time to learn music theory, work on your sense of rhythm, listen to music you’ll want to emulate, and/or learn to read tablature/sheet music are all “micro-goals” that contribute to your overall mission. Knowing why you want to achieve a goal helps you understand WHAT you need to do to get there. 

Most importantly, if you CAN’T find a good reason behind wanting to achieve a goal, ask yourself if there’s something else you could be doing that would be a better use of your time. Sometimes we feel compelled to chase after things we think our peers or society at large wants us to do and not what we actually want for ourselves. If you don’t know why you want something, there’s a good chance you don’t actually want that thing. Don’t waste your precious time and energy on something whose why eludes you.

Set Realistic Expectations for Yourself

Look at the time and resources that are available to you when you’re making plans. What is a reasonable deadline to set for your objectives? How much time can you realistically devote to this? Your mental bandwidth is also an important consideration. If you have a lot of responsibilities that are already bearing down on you, you may not have a lot of mental energy or space left over to accomplish your goals. You don’t want to over-commit yourself. It’s better to start small and commit to completing a few small goals than to get too ambitious at the start.

It’s Not All Or Nothing

When you set goals for yourself, avoid committing to an all or nothing attitude. Few things can kill your momentum and cause you to cast aside your plans like falling short on a “do or die” objective. While it’s important to have big, critical goals to aim for, you want to set plans for objectives where if you don’t end up finishing them you still come away having learned something new, developed a new skill, or accessed a new resource that could be useful to you down the road. Adopting a mindset of incremental progress will help you weather any unexpected setbacks. 

Failure can happen for reasons beyond your control. Maybe you have to pivot away from a goal due to a sickness in the family or a sudden change in your work situation. When you can’t finish what you started, be kind to yourself. Maintaining a positive attitude will keep you in the game; feeling sorry for yourself or angry about your circumstances might make you want to quit.

Don’t be Afraid to Pivot

Plans can change. You may start out committed to achieving one thing and then, over time, realize that you actually want to do something else. If you feel your attention shifting away toward something else, take that into consideration. Ask yourself if you’re looking for an excuse to stop working or if this is something that truly compels you to take a different course of action. If it’s the latter, know this: there is ZERO shame in quitting if your original goal doesn’t work for you anymore. Don’t fall prey to the sunk cost fallacy and believe that you must commit to a plan to the bitter end. If the goal you’re trying to complete no longer serves you or is practical, don’t be afraid to switch gears.

Celebrate Your Wins

Did you accomplish what you set out to do? Honor that effort! A win is a big deal. Treat yourself to something you love. Spend time with your loved ones. You’re never too old to give yourself a gift. Modesty is a great character trait but there are moments in life where it’s okay to treat yourself and grandstand a bit. Taking a well-deserved victory lap after you graduate, get in shape, master the trombone, grow your savings, or learn the tango is a reasonable (and fun!) impulse.

Keep a memento that reminds you of this milestone. Maybe it’s a paper certificate, a set of “before and after” photos, a recording, etc. It should be something that you can pull out and look at on days where you feel unmotivated and weary and need to be reminded that you CAN and HAVE accomplished things. When we’re feeling crushed by anxiety or depression, it can be easy to forget how capable we really are. It’s always good to keep the evidence of your success close at hand.



Article by Austin Brietta

For more of our Student Success blogs, check out some of our past stories: