How many times have you set a goal for yourself, with the very best of intentions and motivation to see it through? And of those times, how often has that motivation quickly died off?
Probably countless times.
You’re left wondering why it is so difficult to stay focused and put in the effort that just last week you were fully convinced was worthwhile.
Sadly, this is what happens to most goals and resolutions. The thing is, motivation only lasts a finite time. It could be a day, a week, maybe you even keep up the momentum for a full month. But that excitement and motivation quickly get lost to all the tasks that make up daily life.
Because life is busy. For most of us, life is very busy. Therefore, making extra time to fit in a new habit is going to require a lot more effort than motivation alone can deliver. Which is why goal setting is so important.
And when done correctly, goal setting can help you keep going, even when motivation dies off and life starts getting in the way. Specifically, setting bite-sized goals that are super important to you will help you with persistence and consistency, so you can finally reach those goals and achieve success.
In this post I’ll outline exactly what type of goal you can set in order to keep the momentum going, and even push through to achieve those really big long-term goals.
Contents and Quick Links
The importance of specific and challenging goals
The science behind goal setting has demonstrated the clear connection between setting specific and challenging goals and maintaining a high level of performance. In other words, when you set very clear and challenging “stretch” goals, you are more likely to take action and make progress.
Visit The Science of Goal Setting: How To Set Achievable Goals to learn more about the real science behind goal setting, what works, and what doesn’t.
The alternative is to set easy goals, or simply try to “do your best”. New Year’s Resolutions are a good example of goals that are often short-term and not necessarily very challenging, or they are vague and not specific enough.
An example of a “do your best” goal is when you fail to formulate a specific goal in the first place, opting instead to “lose weight” by “trying to eat better from now on.”
Goals need to instead take the form of what I like to call “xyz goals”. You will go from point x to point y, within time z. For example, “I will go from weighing 180 pounds to weighing 175 pounds (I will lose 5 pounds), within the next 2 months.” This is a specific goal. You know exactly what you need to do in order to succeed, lose 5 pounds, and you can work out a plan to make it happen.
The problem with this goal, however, is that it is not very challenging. If all you need to do is lose 5 pounds, you could easily convince yourself that you have plenty of time to do this so why bother maintaining the discomfort of altering your normal habits and routines. You could just wait a month and then be strict about diet and exercise. By the time a month goes by, you probably won’t even remember your goal.
If instead you goal was to lose 20 pounds because you can imagine how much better you will feel, how healthier you will be, and how amazing it will feel to finally fit into those jeans hiding in the back of your closet. Now you have a specific goal, which will take a lot of effort and persistence to achieve. And you have a clearer vision of how your life will be improved once you achieve it.
An interesting finding of Goal Setting Theory is that the more challenging the goal, the greater the performance. Meaning, the bigger the goal and the more difficult it will be to achieve it, the greater the efforts and action, and ultimately progress made, to achieve the goal.
Even more interesting, there is no cap to this. You really can reach for the stars and the dream life you want to live.
“Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”Norman Vincent Peale
The only thing that will stop your ability to achieve success is you commitment to the goal and any limitations in necessary skills and knowledge.
Thankfully, this is easily overcome by setting smaller learning-based goals which you can achieve along the journey to the larger, currently “impossible” goal.
How to break long-term goals into sub-goals
Big Vision, long-term goals are important guideposts to the future you wish to achieve. If you don’t look ahead to where you want to go, you have no path to follow by which to get there.
Review of Stepping Stone Goals
In the article How To Achieve Your Dreams by Setting Stepping Stone Goals, I provide a goal setting system to break a really big, long-term goal down into smaller, more achievable Stepping Stone Goals.
By breaking your Big Vision goal down into ever smaller goals, you can uncover the actionable daily habits and tasks necessary to achieve them. This becomes a manageable way to maintain momentum, commitment to the larger goal and the persistence necessary to make continued progress.
Where to start
A good place to start is to imagine exactly what you want your life to be, 10 years from today. What will you have accomplished? What will your life look like? Where will you live and where will you work? What will your income level be? How much will you have in general savings and retirement savings?
Be sure to download the 10-Year Goals pdf workbook and step through the process of setting your Big Vision Goal.
5-Year Standing Stone Goals
Once you have a 10-year, Cornerstone Goal, you can break that goal down into a smaller 5-year, “Standing Stone Goal”. This is the goal you need to achieve within 5 years, in order to be on track to achieve your larger Cornerstone Goal.
1-Year Cairne Goals
Your 1-year “Cairne Goals” are the specific and challenging goals you need to focus on every single year, leading up to accomplishing your 5-Year Standing Stone Goal.
These Cairne Goals are still big goals. It will take many smaller sub-goals to achieve each one. But the important distinction is that they are all sub-goals of the larger Standing Stone and ultimately Cornerstone, Big Vision, goal.
The last step in breaking the big, impossible-to-complete-right-now goals down is the 90-Day Stepping Stone Goals.
The importance of 90-Day Stepping Stone Goals
One year is a long time to stay focused on a big and challenging goal. A span of one month, however, is too small to really make headway on a bigger goal. The important thing is to have a clear and constant vision of the big goal, but the time to take daily action in order to make progress and not lose sight of where you are headed.
Life changes constantly. Similar to the example above where if you give yourself 2 months to lose 5 pounds, you won’t stay motivated because there is no sense of urgency. You can wait weeks to get started and still achieve success. But, once you lose sight of the end goal, you lose motivation to keep putting in the effort.
One month isn’t enough of a challenge to prompt action and performance. However, one year is too long to maintain focus. The beauty of a 90-Day Goal is that this is the perfect length of time to remain challenged to make progress, but still maintain sight on the bigger, 1-year Cairne Goal that you are aiming for.
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Another reason why 90 Day Goals are so important is that it often takes time to see any results from you effort. Lag measures are when you constantly put in effort but don’t see results right away.
Continuing the weight loss example, you can eat better, log all your calories and start exercising regularly. But it could take 3 weeks before you really see the results from all your consistent efforts.
It’s important to have a challenging goal that you keep your sights on, but also enough time to start seeing lag measures and track your overall goal progress.
Going back to the science behind goal setting, tracking progress is an essential component to successful goal setting. But because results often lag behind the effort, it’s important to track progress over a long enough period of time.
90-Day Stepping Stone Goals Recap
90 Days are where ambition and planning come together.
You need the power of a specific and challenging goal in order to take action and maintain motivation, but you also need to maintain the focus necessary to take daily action.
Daily action in the face of an already busy and chaotic life is especially difficult. Since 90-Day goals are sub-goals created from your larger Cornerstone Goal. They help you keep your eye on the ultimate prize, that Big Vision goal.
Stepping Stone Goals:
- Allow for daily action and the building of new habits and skills necessary to achieve the larger goal.
- Provide enough time to achieve sub-goals, which builds confidence and motivation to continue working towards the larger goals.
- Help you maintain focus on the bigger, long-term goal.
- Provides the ability to track progress and know where you are on your journey to achieve your larger goals.