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5 Tips to Stay on Track With Your Goals (According to Experts)

by Jessie

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Setting goals is a great way to trigger new behaviors and positive changes in your life. The value of goal setting is undeniable, but setting goals is the easy part; staying on track with them is what’s tough.

Dedicating the time and effort to stick to our goals can be difficult, and sometimes it can be easier to give up rather than see them through. However, staying on track with your goals has many benefits including a higher chance of success and improved mental health.

In this article, we will review the key principles of successful goal setting, why staying on track with goals is important, and some helpful tips to stick to your goals.

What are the key principles for successful goals?

Staying on track with goals has just as much to do with the goal-setting process as it is about the process of achieving them.

Dr. Edwin Locke and Dr. Gary Lathan spent many years researching goal setting and outlined 5 key principles for setting successful goals

1. Commitment

Commitment refers to the degree to which someone is determined and emotionally attached to the goal they have set, even when faced with obstacles along the way.

The higher level of commitment you have to your goal, the better chance there is that you will stay on track and achieve said goals.

2. Clarity

Clarity means that the goals set are clear, meaning you know exactly what you are trying to achieve. When a goal is clear you can better measure when it has been achieved.

Contrarily, when you set a vague goal such as “exercise more”, it is less motivating and more difficult to know when the goal has been achieved. If you “exercise more” for one day of the week, has the goal been achieved? How often would you like to exercise? For how long? How do you define “more”?

Due to the vagueness of the goal, it is very difficult to tell if you are making progress toward achieving it. If the goal was “go on a 20-minute run twice a week” it becomes easier to measure and know when you have made progress towards achievement.

3. Challenging

You want your goals to be challenging, but not impossible. Challenging goals push you to improve, increase motivation, and when they are achieved you will feel a higher level of self-satisfaction.

If a goal is not realistic or attainable, it may leave you feeling dissatisfied, frustrated and less motivated to stick with goals in the future.

We are motivated by success and achievement. If you set a challenging goal (that is still within your ability to accomplish), you are more likely to feel motivated and excited to stick with the goal.

4. Task complexity

It is important to set goals that are realistic and not overly complex. Tasks that are too complicated can be overwhelming, and negatively impact motivation, self-confidence, and productivity.

Breaking down complex goals into smaller sub-goals and giving yourself sufficient time to complete goals can help make them feel more attainable and less overwhelming.  

5. Feedback

Goal setting is most effective when you are able to receive feedback to help determine how well you are progressing.

Feedback (even self-feedback) gives you the opportunity to check in to see if you are on the right track to achieving your goals, and if any changes need to be made to increase your chances of success.

Sometimes feedback from yourself or others helps you to recognize when goals need to shift or change. Goals do not have to be set in stone; it is okay to alter previous targets to make them more attainable.

Why is it important to have goals and stick with them?

Setting goals and staying on track with them not only pushes us to new levels of accomplishment but can also have a significant impact on our mental health.

Research shows that goal setting is linked with improved self-confidence, motivation, and autonomy. A goal that is realistic and meaningful can give you a sense of purpose and focus on your life. When these objectives are achieved, you may feel empowered, confident, and motivated to continue striving towards future goals.

A study that explored goal setting and well-being compared two groups who both participated in three one-hour sessions. One group completed a goal-setting exercise in the sessions, while the other group did not. Those who participated in the goal-setting showed significant increases in subjective well-being, compared to the group who did not.

For people who are in mental health recovery, goal setting plays a key factor in well-being and healing. There is a strong body of evidence that shows that working towards clearly defined goals that a person has chosen for themselves improves treatment outcomes and strengthens the relationship between the healthcare provider and patient.

5 Tips for staying on track with your goals

The evidence is clear: if you stay on track with your goals, you’ll be happier and healthier as a result. But how do you make sure you actually stay on track? Here are 5 tips that will help you in becoming a goal-reaching superstar.

1. Write them down

It sounds simple, but it works! Goals that are written down become concrete, and something you can refer back to as a reminder.

Making progress towards goals you write down increases feelings of success and well-being. Think about when you make a ‘to-do’ list. It feels great to cross things off the list as you achieve them.

The same concept applies to goal setting.

2. Follow the key principles of goal setting

As mentioned earlier in this article, the way we set goals is just as important as the process to achieve them.

Ensuring your goals are specific, clear, challenging and not overly complex is integral in ensuring you do not become overwhelmed or stressed.

Additionally, you must be committed to the goals, meaning they have personal significance and meaning to you. Lastly, receiving feedback either from others or self-feedback is a great way to keep you on track, and gauge how well you are progressing.

3. Celebrate the wins

Staying on track with your goals is hard work. Make sure you take time to treat yourself for the energy and effort you are putting in to achieve your goals.

Celebrating the wins (even if they are small) gives you a sense of achievement when steps are taken to accomplish goals. It also provides encouragement to continue working towards your goals and gives you something to look forward to.

4. Get an accountability buddy

It can be challenging to hold yourself accountable for your goals. That’s why telling others about your goals can help you to feel more motivated and accountable to achieve them.

In fact, research shows that those who set goals and reported them to their supportive peers were 40% more likely to achieve them, compared to those who kept their goals to themselves.

Finding an accountability buddy can be a great tool, as both you and the buddy can set targets and check in with each other to ensure you are actively working towards the goals.

5. Forgive yourself if you fall off track

Sometimes life throws you a curveball and things don’t go as planned. That’s okay! Unexpected events are inevitable, and sometimes it makes it difficult to stay on track. When this happens it is natural to feel discouraged or unmotivated, but don’t let that stop you.

It is important to forgive yourself when this happens and adjust to the circumstances. You can always adjust deadlines and reevaluate goals. As long as you are able to find the self-motivation to continue, that’s what is most important.

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Wrapping up

Staying on track with goals can leave you feeling motivated and have very positive effects on your mental health. Setting goals that follow the key principles of goal setting, and following some of the helpful tips in this article will surely help to keep you on track, and push yourself to reach your full potential.

What do you think? What strategies have helped you stay on track with your goals in the past? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

Jessie Faber Author

Writer, athlete, social worker, and professional thrift shopper. Born in Canada, but currently living my dream playing professional soccer in Greece. Passionate about mental health advocacy, sewing, singing, and playing guitar.

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