How do we stay focused on the goals we set for ourselves? This article provides 20 ways to set a goal and remain focused on it so you can turn your dreams into reality.
How to Stay Focused on Goals so you Can Achieve Your Dreams
Do you set goals and then struggle to stay focused on them? The world is filled with continual distractions. When we set goals, we have the best intentions to achieve them.
However, we all live complex daily lives. Our days are filled with responsibilities and the need to balance multiple priorities – family, work, home, making meals, managing our finances, maintaining relationships. As time passes, we can lose sight of our goals as daily pressures outweigh our ability to stay committed to them.
It’s often said that commitment is doing what you said you would do, long after the mood you said it in has passed. When we set goals we get energized, excited and committed. However, sometimes that commitment can fade over time even if the goal is deeply important to us. So how do we stay focused on our goals?
This article provides several specific ways to stay focused on goals long after the mood in which we originally set the goal has passed. You’ve got this, let’s go.
How to Stay Focused on Goals
1. Define and Remember Your Why
Above all else, this is one of the most important things to do when setting a new goal – define your “why”. Why is this goal important to you? Why are you setting this goal? What is the deeper reason for wanting to achieve this goal?
It’s important to have a clear vision for your desired outcome, especially if it’s a major life goal that will require a significant amount of time and energy to achieve it. If you are setting a long term goal that is going to require a commitment for an extended period of time, it’s imperative that you define and remember your “why”.
The harsh reality is there will be plenty of times when the road to achieving your goal will get bumpy and things will be difficult. If you can continually remember your deeper reason and personal meaning for wanting to achieve this goal in the first place, it will help you to remain committed when times get tough.
In the early stages of setting a big life goal, it’s sometimes helpful to create a vision board that illustrates your vision for your future once you’ve achieved this goal. Revisiting your vision board can help remind you of your desired outcome and why you set the goal.
2. Be Specific & Write out the Goal
Establish SMART goals. There is good reason this acronym is found in any well-researched article talking about goal setting. The acronym stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable/Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound.
S – Be highly specific in your goal.
M – Make sure your goal is measurable or quantifiable, so you know when you are making progress.
A – Your goal should be achievable and attainable.
R – Ensure your goal is relevant. This essentially means your goal should be reasonable and realistic.
T – Your goal should be time-bound. In other words, your goal should be set for a particular time frame.
Here are some examples of broad, loosely defined goals translated into SMART goals.
Broad Goal –
I will become a runner.
Revised into a SMART Goal –
I will train to become a runner by first running 1 mile each day for the first month, 2 miles each day for the second month, and 3 miles each day for the third month. I will run each day at 6:30 am. This will prepare me to sign up for my first 5K race which is 3 months from now.
After achieving this goal, you can set a new running goal to continue your journey to become a runner.
By putting in the daily repetitions, you are becoming a runner.
Broad Goal –
I will become an entrepreneur by learning how to start an online business.
Revised into a SMART Goal –
I have signed up for a high quality 12-week online business coaching program and will dedicate 2 hours per day over those 12 weeks so I can learn how to start an online business. I will take all the steps and do all the work included in the program. During the 12-week program, I will start my online business.
By putting in the daily work, you are becoming an entrepreneur and learning how to start your online business.
SMART Goals Transform Dreams into Reality
Note that the SMART goal examples are highly specific. They are well thought out and include a significant level of detail. They measure progress toward the goal and break down a large almost “dream-like” goal into actionable, achievable steps. SMART goals take a broad life dream and make it very realistic to make the transformation, if you commit to taking consistent daily action. They also specify a time frame for reaching the goal. Eventually those daily, actionable steps become habits and then a lifestyle.
Ultimately you become the type of person in your broad goal. It becomes your new identity. In these examples, the person becomes a runner and the other becomes an entrepreneur. Once your daily habits begin to transform your identity, you are much more likely to continue the journey.
The clearer and more specific you are about the what, when, where and how – the more achievable the goal. This is how dreams are transformed into goals and then into reality.
Research by Gail Matthews at the Dominican University of California indicates that people who write their goal down are 20% more likely to achieve it. Such a simple step to dramatically increase your odds of success. Improve your probability of achieving your goal – write it down, be specific, use the SMART goal formula and focus on building daily habits.
3. Start – Just Begin
Real talk – just begin. Goals are not achieved in planning or in sitting around thinking about them. The hardest part of achieving any goal is simply starting. James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits, says – “optimize for the starting line, not the finish line”.
Most people get hung up at the starting line. They hem and haw, they procrastinate, they think, overthink, analyze, overanalyze and get squarely in their own way before they even begin. They never get out of the gate – they never leave the starting line.
Clarity, learning, understanding and improving does not happen from sitting around every day thinking about your goal. Instead, clarity comes from action. The first several repetitions will not look very good. They might be messy. However, they will teach you what you need to improve. Learning comes from doing, not from thinking about doing.
If you stand at the starting line while others are taking off, you may very well still be standing at the starting line looking around pondering your goal, while others are reaching incredible mile markers.
Follow James Clear’s advice – “optimize for the starting line – not the finish line”. A year from now, you will wish you had started today. The time is going to pass whether you start or not. So just begin.
4. Set Milestones
Break your long term goal into smaller goals. It’s important to set milestones and break large goals into smaller manageable tasks. If the goal will take you 12 months to achieve, map out your action plan into smaller milestones to achieve each month. Then break those monthly goals down even further into weekly goals, and then daily goals.
Huge long-term goals can feel overwhelming at first. However, when you break them down into short term goals with manageable small steps to take each day, you will see continual progress. It’s all about building daily habits that compound over time while setting short term milestones.
5. Take Daily Consistent Action & Build Daily Habits
Successful people who consistently achieve their goals establish effective habits. They create an action plan and then take daily consistent action. Even if some days do not go as planned or you experience setbacks, daily consistent action toward your goal creates momentum.
Momentum propels you forward and can keep you in motion toward your goal. An object in motion stays in motion, an object at rest stays at rest. Daily, consistent, incremental action has an incredible cumulative effect – like a small snowball rolling down a snow-covered hill. It’s like compound interest, once it begins accumulating, it becomes a force of its own. Momentum is a force of its own.
There are many experts on habit-building. Two of my personal favorites are Stephen Covey, author of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and James Clear, author of Atomic Habits. I highly recommend reading Atomic Habits to get laser focused on achieving your goals through habit building. It will change your worldview on what’s possible in this life.
6. Specify the Next Task/Step
Every large goal is achieved in small steps. The only way is one step at a time. It’s very important to specify the next step to take each day. The only way to walk a journey toward an important goal is to specify the next step and then take it. The silly cliche applies here – What’s the only way to eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
Ask yourself – what is the next right thing? Then do that one thing. When you’re done, ask again and repeat.
7. Do not Multi-task
Productivity is not accomplished through multi-tasking. Dividing your attention in multiple different directions simply slows down each thing you are doing and lowers the quality of the outcome. The task you are trying to accomplish should be the only thing you are doing at that moment.
8. Focus on Progress over Perfection
Success is not linear. Believe it or not, in this instance the shortest distance between two points is actually not a straight line. Focusing each day on making progress on your goals and not striving for perfection will get you to the finish line sooner. This often requires taking action, making mistakes, and then trying again. However, because action breeds clarity, you will get to the goal line more quickly if you take imperfect action, learn what worked and what did not, then rinse and repeat.
Many people have a hard time doing this at first, simply because it requires letting go of perfectionism. Choosing progress over perfection can feel somewhat messy, but all the while you are moving forward and making progress while learning in the process. It simply does not occur in a nice, neat clean line.
The learning and doing cycle creates momentum that propels you forward toward your goal. If you strive for perfection, you stay stuck at the starting line and never really begin. Just begin and accept that mistakes will happen. Accept “messy progress” over standing still, overanalyzing and attempting perfection. Perfection is a pink unicorn. It doesn’t exist.
By choosing forward progress no matter how messy it might be, you will generate momentum. Before you know it, the momentum gained creates significant progress from this cycle of doing, learning and trying again. Again, an object in motion….say it with me, “stays in motion”.
9. Measure Progress – Lead Measures vs. Lag Measures
It’s very important to measure progress along your journey. All those milestones you set are mile markers to show you how far you’ve come.
It’s important to note the distinction between lag measures and lead measures. Lag measures are the outcome you are trying to achieve. For example, if you want to lose 10 pounds, the weight loss itself is a lag measure. It will take some time to achieve and will be achievable in direct proportion to your lead measures.
Lead measures are the mile markers you set that you directly control. For example, if your SMART goal is to lose 10 pounds by exercising 4 days per week for 30 minutes at 6:00am, the lead measure is your weekly workout goal. You directly control your decision to exercise according to your goal. Each week, measure your progress not according to the scale, but according to the lead measure you had control over – the 30-minute workout for 4 days that week. The lag measure of weight loss will occur in direct proportion to your focus on the lead measure – your workouts. Lead measures are predictive of lag measures and they help you appreciate the journey, not just the outcome.
Take note of those weekly milestones as a sign of real progress toward your end goal. Stay focused on the lead measures that you directly control and take pride in each step of your journey. The desired outcome will follow.
10. Celebrate Wins
Don’t wait until you’ve reached your ultimate goal to celebrate. Celebrate the significant personal growth that you achieve along the way as each of your milestones are reached. The journey is to be celebrated as much as the end goal. You are growing and changing into the person you want to become. Think about how remarkable that truly is.
11. Manage your Environment & Eliminate Distractions
It’s important that you define or create a work area or sacred space that is dedicated to working on the goal you are trying to achieve. Managing your environment and freeing yourself from distractions is the best way to stay consistent on a daily basis. If you are suffering from a lack of focus, try identifying a sacred space for working on your goal.
Put your cell phone in another room so you can avoid social media, continual notifications, phone calls or the buzzing of a text message. If you are working on your computer, close your e-mail and shut down all browser tabs that are not necessary for your current task.
Life will always present us with constant distractions and a multitude of things to steal our attention. In the modern era, our attention span is very short. We need to actively manage and eliminate distractions so we can focus on the task at hand. Major goals are accomplished one step at a time, one task at a time. These simple measures go a long way to keep us focused on our goal when we have allocated the time to do so.
12. Time Blocking & Time Management Techniques
Time, time, oh sweet precious time. Does it sometimes feel like time is the ever elusive, yet most precious commodity of all? There is always so much to do and so little time. It can feel this way right?
The reality is that time is the ultimate equalizer. We all have exactly the same amount. No one gets more than anyone else. It’s a resource that is both equal and finite. We all get the same 24 hours in a day and it’s up to us how we choose to spend them.
If you do all your other tasks and responsibilities first and leave your most important goals until the end of the day, you will run out of energy, motivation and time. Prioritize your goals and schedule them early in your day before the day takes off. If this means you must get up 1 – 2 hours earlier, so be it. We prioritize the things that matter to us. Real talk – if your goals are important, they have to come first (or very high up on your priority list) if you want to achieve them.
Use a simple time blocking method to block sections of time throughout your day to accomplish certain important tasks. Simply schedule time in your calendar the way you would schedule an important meeting or a doctor’s appointment. In your calendar, include the specific task that you plan on accomplishing in that time slot. If you do this on a regular basis with consistency, then little by little, day by day, you will reach your goal.
Allot Enough Time for Tasks
Even with the best intentions, we can sometimes underestimate how much time tasks will take us. Give yourself some extra cushion when allocating time for your tasks. If they take more or less time than expected, then the next time you do your time blocking, simply allocate the amount of time the task realistically takes. Tasks often take longer than originally estimated.
Schedule White Space – Balance is Key
Allow yourself time to be, not just do. You cannot solely work on your goals to the detriment of everything else around you that also matters. Your health, your relationships, your self-care – they matter too. Schedule white space in your calendar to just be. Allow time to rest and rejuvenate. Spend time on other activities that also align with your values. Schedule white space in your calendar the same way you schedule time for your goals.
Have you heard of the Pomodoro Technique? This is a time management technique first described in the late 1980s by Francesco Ciriillo. The Pomodoro Technique is a way of accomplishing specific tasks in bursts of time – usually 25 minutes – followed by a short break. This is repeated the number of times necessary to complete the task. It’s an effective technique to use highly focused energy directed to a specific task until it is completed. Read more about the Pomodoro Technique here. You can purchase a Pomodoro timer, but really any timer will work.
As adults with multiple responsibilities and frequent distractions, the Pomodoro Technique is highly effective for managing short attention spans. We can give ourselves bursts of 25-minutes each and then deal with interruptions after our focused 25-minute increments of work time.
The Pomodoro technique reminds us about the importance of taking breaks. It prescribes set pit-stops to take time to rest. During your break time, take a brisk walk or get a healthy snack. It’s difficult to focus for a long time without taking time to rest and rejuvenate.
13. Set your Intentions in the Morning
Mornings are the best time of day to work toward your goals. Even if you need to get up an hour earlier, it starts your day off on the right foot. Before you begin working on your goal, set your intentions for the day. Specify how you want to be, not just what you want to do. Take 5-10 minutes to center yourself on how you want to be on this day and then set your 1-3 mini goals or tasks for the day.
Alternatively, you can set these goals at night before you go to bed and simply revisit them first thing in the morning, along with setting your intention for the day. For example – today I will be calm and focused on what I am doing in the moment. By specifying not only what you are going to do, but how you are going to be while doing it, you ground and center yourself.
Starting your day with the right mindset is a simple way to stay focused on your goals. Some people like to get up and get some exercise first. Other people like to get up and sit in silence with their coffee. Some people like to meditate and pray. Others get up and journal or read.
There are many different ways to start your day out right – you need to find what works for you. This is one of the easiest ways to stay focused on your goals.
14. Narrow Your List & FOCUS – Choose the Top 1-2
One of the main reasons that even highly motivated people struggle to achieve their goals is because they try to set too many. Achieving goals requires focus. A well-known, highly successful entrepreneur and podcaster, John Lee Dumas, has given the word FOCUS an acronym standing for Follow One Course Until Success. The research shows that when too many goals are set at one time, the probability of achieving them decreases significantly.
According to research by McChesney & Covey, they propose to focus only on 1-2 “wildly important goals” at one time. Narrow your focus both on your primary wildly important goal, as well as the daily tasks you prioritize to accomplish that goal.
If you set 1-2 goals, you are likely to achieve 1-2 goals. If you set 5-6 goals, you might achieve 1 goal. However, if you set 8-10 goals, you will likely achieve 0 because your time, energy and effort will be scattered. If your energy is all over the place, it makes it extremely difficult to have the focus and clarity necessary to reach your most important goal.
Break your larger long-term goal into smaller monthly, weekly and daily goals. Then on any given day, choose the top 1-2 tasks that will move you forward toward your goal. Do not set 10 tasks as your priority for the day, instead set 1-2 mini goals each day.
15. Commit Out Loud
Committing to your goals out loud in addition to writing them down is incredibly powerful. It solidifies the goal, helps with accountability and tells the universe your intentions.
When you state your intentions out loud to the world, the universe delivers back to you. This may sound a little “woo” but you truly attract what you put out into the world. The energy you create, you attract. State your goal out loud, commit to it verbally, talk to people like it’s your new reality, and watch what unfolds for you.
16. Find an Accountability Partner
When committing to your goals out loud, identify the right accountability partner. It can be a close family member or a good friend who you trust has your best intentions in mind. Your accountability partner could also be a coach or a mentor – someone who has accomplished what you are trying to achieve. It can also be someone taking a similar journey alongside you.
17. Choose Your Support System Wisely
It’s very important to choose your support system wisely. Even with good intentions, some people can derail your focus on your goals. Your broader support system should include people with similar goals and people who understand your commitment to attaining this goal.
There will be times when it gets very hard to stay focused on your goals. Life happens – we get tired, we sometimes get discouraged, and we get distracted with other responsibilities. Remaining focused on long-term goals is challenging. Having the right support system that provides encouragement is critical.
18. Take Care of Yourself
The attainment of important goals takes time and as such, long-term goals are more of a marathon than a sprint. It’s important to take care of yourself physically, mentally and emotionally along the way. It will benefit you in the long run.
Get enough sleep, nourish your body with healthy foods, drink enough water and move your body with daily exercise, even if it’s just a daily walk. Reaching your goal will not matter if you arrive at your destination in an unhealthy state.
19. Do not Compare Yourself to Others
Do not compare your beginning to other people’s middle or end. This is a tough one. Looking at others who have achieved what you are attempting to achieve can sometimes be motivating. They serve as examples of what’s possible. However, it can be distracting and demotivating to get caught in a comparison trap when you compare your beginning to other people who began their journey before you.
If you look to others to remind yourself of what’s possible or to get ideas to remain motivated, that will be positive for your mindset. Spend only a minimal amount of time doing this and if the emotions turn from motivating to discouraging, then it’s time to move your attention back to your own work and stay focused on your goals.
20. Enjoy the Journey
The journey toward a goal is as important (or more so) than reaching the goal. You will be a different person by the time you reach your goal. You will learn and grow and view the world differently as a result of embarking on the path you pursued. It would be a shame if you didn’t enjoy the process. When you arrive at your destination, you will be filled with joy and a sense of pride and accomplishment. The entire path, the whole journey, was the point – not just the end goal. Enjoy the journey.
You Will Get There. Until Then, Be Here.
Achieving big life goals is very hard work. A helpful mantra that I repeat to myself often is – “You will get there. Until then, be here.” It’s a helpful reminder to be present during the process – to stay focused on the here and now while in pursuit of a wildly important life goal.
For an abbreviated version of this list of 20 ways to stay focused on your goals, click here. You will receive a downloadable PDF of the 20 tips described above.
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