We can’t Google answers for the things we really want to know: Will I have a successful, fulfilling career? Will I find true love? How much time do I have left to live? The future can’t be known for sure.
We can, however, look at probabilities and adjust our behavior to take them into account. Knowing and acting on the things that increase the likelihood of your desired outcome is something we do all the time. We take classes, take on new jobs, take out blind dates, and take the stairs. We make changes and take risks in hopes of getting the result we want.
Annual goal-setting is how we check in with ourselves each year, figure out our priorities, and decide how we’re going to invest our limited time and resources in the future. If you haven’t yet set your goals for the next year, take time right now to think of what you want to accomplish.
If you’ve already made your goals for the next year, take the short quiz below to find out your chances of achieving those goals. Give yourself one point for each question that you answer with “yes.”
- Have you written your goals down?
- Have you created a range of desired results? For example: I will lose between 5 and 10 pounds.
- Do you know the first step you’re going to take towards achieving your goal(s)?
- Do you (mostly) control your schedule?
- Can you manage your stress?
- Do you take care of yourself physically?
- Have you asked someone to help keep you on track with your goals? (This is sometimes referred to as getting an accountability partner.)
- Have you scheduled a time to check in with your accountability partner?
6-8: Chances are looking good!
4-5: Flip a coin. Your chances are about 50/50.
3 or less: You might be disappointed in your results. Time to make some changes.
Each of these questions gets at a specific, proven tactic for keeping resolutions and meeting goals. Here’s the research and writing on each.
- You are 42 percent more likely to achieve your goals simply by writing them down.
- Reaching smaller goals can build your confidence to help keep you going towards larger ones. “Researchers found that when participants reached the low end of their range, they believed their goal was attainable. They experienced a sense of accomplishment that fueled their motivation to keep going,” according to Amy Morin.
- Writing your specific plans, including where and when you’re going to take the next step to achieve your goal, doubles your chances for success.
- The ability to control your schedule is essential to making progress on any goal.
- Managing your stress helps reduce the chance that you’ll cave when distractions or temptations arise.
- Taking care of yourself physically — eating healthy and getting enough sleep and exercise — helps increase your energy and reduces downtime caused by illness.
- Sharing regular progress updates with an accountability partner increases your chances of achieving your goal by 33 percent.
- Having a set appointment with your accountability partner may further increase your chances of success to a total of 95 percent.
In addition to taking these steps to increase your chances of success, you might want to consider visualization exercises. The ability to see, smell, hear, and feel the moment of achievement has helped many top performers stay motivated.
Think about the language you use to describe your actions, and how it may affect the way you take control and accountability. Using the word “don’t” instead of “can’t” places you firmly in the driver’s seat.
Lastly, there is some debate about the impact of sharing your goals with others. Derek Sivers makes an argument against public declarations of goals. In this TED Talk, he says broadly sharing your goal decreases your drive because you inadvertently trick your brain into believing you’ve already achieved it.
When setting goals, you can never be 100 percent certain you’ll achieve them. However, you can increase your chances by taking some of these simple but important additional steps.
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