How To Set Actionable Goals That Will ACTUALLY Get You What You Want in the New Year

Let's plot out a course of action that will have us celebrating success at the end of the year (instead of giving up by February).
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Tiffany Hathorn
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Let's plot out a course of action that will have us celebrating success at the end of the year (instead of giving up by February).

A little bit about myself: I am a single, work-at-home mom. That may not be a big deal for most people, but for me it is a major accomplishment. 

When I became a single mom back in May of 2011, it was very difficult for me to go back to working outside the home. I had the experience and the skills for it. But emotionally, I realized that what I really wanted was to be at home with my son. So after six months of being miserable, I decided to take the leap into working from home full time. I have managed to make it work for nearly three years.

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But the truth is it’s not enough. I am happy that I have been able to stay home with him for this long, but I have dreams that are much bigger than simply making ends meet. I want to have financial freedom. I want to be able to take nice family vacations. I want to stop renting and buy our forever home. I am not satisfied with just surviving — I want to thrive. 

And I know that I have what it takes. I have three degrees, plenty of marketable skills, creativity, resourcefulness, and passion. So what is it that is holding me back? After some serious self-reflection, I realized that one big thing was that I have these big goals, but no real plan for achieving them. Without a plan, they are just dreams.

That's why I am sitting here typing this out; I am sure that I'm not the only one who wonders, year after year, why the goals they set for themselves in January with such passion and confidence have not come to fruition. I've realized what I need to do to get to where I want to be, and I want to share my strategy with others. So here are my tips for being intentional about the goals that you set out to achieve. I hope that they help you (and me, too) to plot out a course of action that will have us celebrating success at the end of the year.

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1. Write Down Your Goals

Okay, I know this sounds simple. I mean, don’t all goal-setting articles start off like this? Well, yes. That’s because it is important. A Harvard study found that people who had goals were more successful than people who didn’t, and that people who took the extra step to write their goals down were even MORE successful than the people who simply had goals in mind. So get out a pen and paper (or your laptop) and write down the goals that you hope to achieve.

2. Break Your Goals Down

Now that you have your goals written down, you need to break them down into smaller pieces. Why? Because smaller pieces are easier to work with. Look at it as building a house. You don’t just go from nothing to a house. You have to work on different parts of the house. Different rooms and levels. The same goes for goals. Small goals will eventually add up to the main goal. 

For example, a popular goal is to save money. The first step would be to quantify how much money you want to save. Let’s say you want to save $12,000 by December. That can be further broken down into $1,000 a month. Or $230 a week. You have successfully taken your big goal and broken it down into more manageable chunks. That wasn't so hard, was it?

3. Have Actionable Steps

Now that you know what your short-term goal is, it is time to come up with an action plan. What can you do on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis to meet that goal? Do you need any tools? Will it require any training? Will you have to make any sacrifices? (Yes, sometimes getting what you really want will require a sacrifice.) 

If you want to stick with the goal of saving $12,000 in a year, you would need to look at your income. How much do you earn? What are your monthly expenditures? How much expendable income do you have left over? If it is not enough to meet your short-term goal, are the any unnecessary expenses that you can get rid of? Are there any additional streams of income that you can generate? (I pitched xoJane, for example.) Do you have a savings account set up for this specific purpose? Will you have money from your paychecks automatically placed into this account or will you manually deposit the money into your savings account? 

These are the things that you will need to consider and the actions that you will need to take in order to reach that specific goal. For any other goal, you need to sit down and figure out exactly what you need to do to achieve it.

4. Be Consistent

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Once you know what you need to do — do it. Do it consistently. I love this quote by Aristotle because it is the truth! Only by taking consistent action can we hope to achieve our goals. If you only take action when you remember or every once in a while, you will likely fail to go far. I recommend taking action each day toward your goals. Success is all about being proactive!

5. Track Your Progress

You also need to be proactive about tracking your progress. If you don’t check in to see how far you have come and to make sure you are on the right track, it can be very easy to get off course or fall behind schedule. And not realizing that you are off track or behind makes it harder for you to get back on track or catch up. Figure out a good way to keep track of your progress and then make sure you take some time to assess your progress on a regular basis. This could be done weekly, monthly, or quarterly — whatever you think is most effective for that particular goal. You don’t want to wait until your deadline (which you should also have set) is approaching to make a mad dash toward the finish line.

6. Adjust When Necessary

If you are tracking your progress and see that you are not getting closer to your goal or that it is taking longer than expected, it may be time to decide if you need to make some adjustments to your action plan. There is nothing wrong with having to change things up. A plan does not have to be something set in stone. It can change — just as you do. If something is not working, figure out a new plan that will. There is no point in consistently taking the wrong kind of action. You want to take action that gets results.

7. Focus on Your Why

I am sure that if you have a goal in mind, you know why you want to achieve that goal. You know how it will positively impact your life. That is what is called your why. Your why can be the one thing that keeps you motivated to work toward your goal, even when things get tough. And things have a habit of getting tough, so having that motivation is important. Figure out your motivation and hold onto it. You are probably going to need to refer to it often.

8. Quit Quitting

If you are like me, you sometimes quit when things aren't going the way that you envisioned. Or maybe you quit when things get tough. It doesn't mean that you no longer find the goal to be a worthy pursuit or that you no longer want to achieve it. More than likely it means that you no longer feel that you can make it happen. 

Instead of giving in to this feeling, decide that you are not going to give up. Do whatever it takes to keep moving forward. Sometimes you will stumble. You will have obstacles that crop up. You may backslide or fall behind. You may feel ready to throw in the towel. But remind yourself of your why. If you feel you lack the skills or knowledge to move forward, figure out how to attain them by revisiting your short-term goals. Don’t let roadblocks keep you from success.

9. Plug Into a Support System

One thing that I find is helpful when it comes to staying motivated and resisting the urge to quit is having a support system. This could be a friend or family member. It could be someone who has a similar goal. Or a group of people that you trust and depend on. 

Tell them what your goal is. Check in with progress updates. Reach out to them when you are feeling disappointed or frustrated. Make sure that the people you choose to serve in this role are positive and encouraging—not everyone is. The people who aren't encouraging will drag you down and do more to impede you than you might realize. It is okay (and possibly even preferable) to keep this group of people small, just a select few that you can depend on to give you advice, encouragement, and maybe even assistance as you keep up the work.

10. Celebrate Your Milestones

Finally, celebrate your milestones along the way. Many people feel like they should not celebrate until they have achieved the big goal. But the steps that you take toward that goal are just as worthy of recognition and celebration. Take some time to relish the awesomeness that you achieve as you work your way to your long-term goals. It will keep you motivated.

I hope that you find this of some help as you sit down to plot out your goals for 2015 — it's working for me. I wish all of us much luck in achieving our goals throughout the year.