Seven Tips to Help You Achieve Your Goals in 2021
I love the new year. I always get excited about it, and think this is the year that I’ll change my life, blow up on YouTube, travel the world, and become so totally awesome that people invite me to do a TED talk.
It never happens.
Part of the reason why it never happens is, well, changing your life, blowing up on YouTube, traveling the world and becoming so totally awesome that people invite you to do a TED talk is actually really hard work. It’s a little overly ambitious to try to do it in a year (depending on where your starting point is) and sometimes, no matter how hard you work, some of these goals are just out of your control and out of reach.
But another reason is because I was going about goal-setting in totally the wrong way. While I had good intentions, I didn’t have good systems. My goal-setting and goal-getting strategies were totally wrong.
And yet here I find myself, at the beginning of another new year, once again getting excited about all the possibilities that 2021 might present. Except now, I’m another year wiser, have had a whole-ass year of sucky-no-good-very-bad-totally-unmotivated-not-going-anywhere-or-doing-anything-ness, during which I have watched the TED talks, read the research, and gotten myself all hyped up with new knowledge under my belt to make this year different.
So here I am, sharing that information with you, so that we can all make the most of 2021 together. Here are seven tips to actually achieve your goals this year.
1. Set SMART goals
No, I’m not calling your goals dumb. But they could be a lot better with the help of a handy little acronym.
SMART stands for: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.
When setting goals, phrasing matters.
“Lose weight” is not a good goal. You can lose one kilogram and already check this off as done — but I’m pretty sure that’s not what you actually mean when you say you want to lose weight. Here’s how you can make this goal SMART.
How much weight do you want to lose? Or, how much do you actually want to weigh?
What’s your starting point and end goal? How will you measure your progress along the way?
Do you truly believe you can accomplish this goal? Or have you already given up on it before you’ve even started? Be ambitious enough to get excited, but not so ambitious that you feel at the back of your mind that it’s impossible.
Why do you want to lose weight? Why is this goal important to you? Will it actually improve your life?
What’s your deadline? The same essay can take you three weeks or three months to write, depending on whether the deadline is in three weeks or three months, respectively. If you never set an end-date, you’ll never start working towards your goal.
New goal: Reach a weight of 60 kilograms by October 31st.
Apply this acronym to every one of your goals as much as possible and you’ll already be moving in the right direction with much more clarity and purpose.
2. Write down your goals
If you’re reading this article, you probably do this already, but just in case you don’t, OH MY GOD PLEASE START WRITING YOUR GOALS DOWN!!!
I cannot stress this enough.
First of all, science backs this up as a proven way to increase your chances of reaching your goals. You are automatically 1.2 to 1.4 times more likely to achieve a goal if you write it down compared to if you don’t.
Writing goals down shows commitment to them. It takes them from the status of a fleeting “oh, that would be nice” idea, to a “I really freaking want to do this” affirmation of your intentions. You won’t forget about it as easily once you’ve written it down. Doing this provides you with clarity about what you want out of life.
But also, writing goals down is helpful, and even encouraging, during times of self-reflection. Oftentimes, we feel like we’re failing because we don’t realize just how far we’ve come. We’re so wrapped up in getting bigger, better, faster, stronger, that we forget the measly little shrimp we started out as. It’s important to remember to compare yourself not only to the future version of you that you want to be, but also to the past version of yourself who perhaps never could have even dreamed that they would accomplish all the things that you have now.
Five years from now, you may find comfort in seeing just how far you’ve come. Or, if you haven’t come as far as you wished, perhaps looking at old lists of your goals will reinvigorate you and bring back the spark of a younger, more ambitious you.
3. Set mini-goals along the way
While writing down your goals helps, it’s the work you do that truly matters. There’s nothing sadder than a list of goals in a forgotten notebook that you never opened back up again once January was over.
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step — so split the journey into small, regular steps along the way.
If the deadline for your goal is the end of this year, don’t put yourself in the position where you wake up somewhere in the middle of October and suddenly have two months left to cross everything off the list. The more you let the work pile up, the more you’ll be tempted to postpone working on your goal until next year when you can have a “fresh start”.
Nuh-uh. Your fresh start is today.
Sit down with your goals list for an hour and think about the bite-size, logical steps you can take to go from point A to point B. You should have a rough idea of what needs to get done throughout the year to ensure success.
I would suggest planning this out at least a month or two in advance. You can plan out the whole year if you like, but be aware that setbacks can occur, and you need to be able to adapt and change the game-plan when that happens to avoid being knocked off-course for good. Things don’t always go according to plan. Be ready for that.
4. Stop talking to people about your goals. Seriously.
Ahh… if I could go back in time, I would whack myself in the head over this one.
Young me, doin’ ma thang on YouTube, wanted to be “motivational”. Young me also wanted to have her ego stroked — although young me would never admit that. So every year, young me would post a YouTube video called “My New Year’s Resolutions” and share my goals with the world. Then, young me would fail to achieve even a single one of them, and end the year with her tail between her legs, casually laughing it off and promising to do better next year.
Look. Talking about goals is fun. People say, “Good job, that’s a great plan! You are so cool. I wish I was so motivated and disciplined as you!” It feels great. So great, in fact, that it’s really no longer necessary to do the thing. The people have spoken. The happy chemicals in your brain have spoken. You are already awesome, just for talking about doing this really cool thing.
Research has proven that talking about goals makes you less likely to achieve them. The praise and admiration you receive from your peers when you talk about your goals rewards your brain so much that doing the thing you’re talking about hardly even feels worth it anymore. That “goal” has already achieved its purpose of making you feel better about yourself without you having to do a damn thing.
On the other hand, there may also be people who, far from praising you for your goals, instead disapprove of your big dreams and think they’re stupid, pointless, not what you should be doing, or overly ambitious. And hearing those people’s opinions when your happy little goal is just a seedling will knock the confidence right out of you.
Your goals are yours. They are nobody else’s business. If you feel a humungous urge to shout your goals from the rooftops, it’s a sign of a few things:
- You’re insecure and are seeking approval
- You’re a little narcissistic and seeking attention/praise for things you haven’t done
- You’re just really freaking excited about it
Whichever category you fall into, there are a couple things you need to do.
You need to make sure your goals are what you want, not a means of impressing or proving your worth to someone who’s committed to being disappointed in you.
And you need to learn to be humble — nobody likes a showoff — and delay gratification instead of seeking out praise and admiration for the things you’re just planning to do instead of actually doing. When you do the awesome thing, you’ll earn your moment to shine and the people who are your true friends and allies will come to you themselves with their compliments.
When you’re the only one who knows about your goals, you’re the only one there to impress. So go ahead — impress yourself.
5. Change your identity
No, I don’t mean buying a fake ID. Please don’t do that.
What I mean is, figure out what kind of person it is that you are trying to become, and change the way you define and perceive yourself.
Take, “I am a smoker” to “I am a person who puts my health first.” Change “I am lazy” to “I work hard and people look up to me.”
We all have an idea of who we want to be, and what our goals really boil down to is acting more and more like that new and improved version of ourselves that we are envisioning, while leaving behind the habits, behaviors, and thought patterns that make us feel ashamed and guilty.
Notice when an action makes you feel bad, and take note. “This is not who I am.” There’s a reason why it makes you feel bad. It doesn’t correspond with who you are trying to become. And when something makes you feel good, “This is who I am.” You are on the right path.
“You can do anything, but you can’t do everything.” I have a love-hate relationship with these words of wisdom. I know they’re true, but I still want to do everything! So I like to rephrase it to, “You can do anything, but you can’t do everything at the same time.”
Some goals are more important or urgent than others. Sometimes you need to put your heart’s deepest desires and your biggest dreams on hold in order to take care of the things you need. Sometimes there just isn’t enough time in the day to do everything you want to do.
It’s okay to put things off if it’s for the right reasons. Are you putting a project on the back burner because you simply don’t have the time, or because you aren’t making the time? Is it because something else is more urgent right now, or is it because you’re scared or intimidated to pursue your dream?
Have a heart to heart with yourself about how much you can realistically accomplish in a year. Pulling yourself in too many directions means you risk dropping the ball on everything. Instead, make a “goals” list — the important priorities you really need/want to accomplish this year, that you know you can make the time for and have a high level of control over your success or failure. And separately, you can also make a “dreams” or a “would be nice” list — things that you also really want to accomplish, but are not priorities right now, or you might not be able to make the time for them, or perhaps are a little too ambitious and out-of-reach for this period in your life.
Respect the season of life that you are in.
This way, you’ve got your priorities straight but you’re also not completely forgetting about the goals that you maybe don’t have the time or ability to commit to working on right now, but want to in the future.
7. Focus on things you can control
How many people out there put “travel more” in their new year’s resolutions last year?
Welp, 2020 had another thing coming for all of us.
Okay, so the whole “global pandemic” thing was a massively unforeseeable circumstance. If it had been any other normal year, you probably could have had a lot more control over your goal of traveling more, but things being the way they are, you shouldn’t feel like a failure if you didn’t get to travel this year like you’d planned. That wasn’t your fault. Let it go.
(Higher power) grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.
I used to set myself goals of how many subscribers I wanted to get on YouTube. While I may have a little bit of control over those figures, for the most part, nobody can truly figure out why some channels do well and others don’t, and the YouTube algorithm can be very unpredictable.
So instead, now I focus on what I can control, and set goals relating to how many videos I want to post, and courses I want to take to learn more about keyword research, search engine optimization, videography, and editing.
New Year’s resolutions, or any goal you set, should be rooted in clear, controllable action steps that have a high chance of succeeding if you follow through on your plans. Setting goals that are largely out of your control is basically a shot in the dark. It’s more of a wish, not a goal.
A goal without a plan is just a wish.
Some goals are unplannable. You can’t just put “meet my soulmate” on your new year’s resolutions and have it happen this year. But you can set the goal to “go on five first dates” and improve your odds. The goal to “stay healthy all year” is better as a prayer than a goal, because there is only a finite level of protection you can offer yourself against the COVIDs and cancers of the world. But you don’t need a higher power’s help to quit smoking, eat vegetables and stay active.
Don’t give yourself the easy out of being able to say that you didn’t achieve your goals because Lady Luck wasn’t on your side, or put yourself through the grief of swimming upstream all year only to be swept away by the current even though you “did everything right.”
After the awful rollercoaster that was 2020, I think we all need a little pick-me-up, so I hope I was able to share some new wisdom that will help you pick yourself up and make the most of this new year and new beginning, to propel you towards lasting change and success. Happy new year!