Goal Setting in 2021: Build Specificity Around your Goals and Work Backwards
January 21, 2021
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Research suggests that a “working backwards” approach can be a more effective way to reach a distant goal. The idea is to start with your ultimate goal for the year and work your way backwards in order to develop a plan-of-action comprised of smaller, more digestible sub-goals. If you think about it, every big hairy goal is made up of smaller, more manageable tasks– it’s really just a matter of breaking down the steps and staying laser-focused on the end result. Of course that’s much easier said than done, as there will be obstacles along the way; hurdles that will shatter confidence, slow momentum and detract from what you set out to do in the first place, leaving you feeling burned out, unmotivated and discouraged.

But there’s no need to panic! Take a deep breath, tuck into a cozy spot and allow us to add some structure and clarity to your 2021 game plan.

Read on for 5 key tips for the “working backwards” approach to set (and achieve) your goals for 2021!

1. Set a clear end-goal.

When a goal is vague, or expressed as a general instruction like “take initiative” or “workout more”, it isn’t quantifiable or particularly motivating — in fact, you may not even realize when you’ve achieved it, or you may forget about it entirely. On the other hand, when your goals are clearly defined, you know exactly what you’re trying to achieve, when you’re aiming to achieve it, and how to accurately measure the results. This is why many goal-setting enthusiasts use the mnemonic SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound) approach as a guide for characterizing their goals.

So, begin by writing down your goal as detailed as possible using the SMART technique. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • The more specific you are, the more tangible the goal will feel.
  • Think through how you’ll measure your success, whether it be a spreadsheet, bullet journal or quarterly reflection.
  • We encourage you to dream big, but be realistic with yourself about whether the goal can be achieved in the amount of time you’ve alloted and with the resources you have. It may help to do some research to help you be realistic about achieving a significant goal within a year’s time.
  • Be sure to assess how the goal makes you feel — if it’s not exciting, motivating, or challenging enough to spark interest, it’s probably not the right goal for you.
  • The goal should be meaningful, purposeful and in alignment with your values!

goal setting failure

2. Forecast the speed bumps (and be prepared to pivot). 

When starting off with your end goal and working backwards to the present, it can be helpful to anticipate potential obstacles that might throw you off course. Otherwise, you might find yourself giving up on your goal when you encounter even the smallest setback or resistance along the way. Create a plan of action for getting over these speedbumps, and be prepared to pivot if these challenges require a shift in preparation or more time to complete a task. Further, it is important to acknowledge that failure is an inevitable part of achieving your goals — be adaptable, and try not to be too hard on yourself if things don’t go exactly how you planned!

3. Break goals down into manageable steps.

The “working backwards” strategy can be especially effective with the creation of sub-goals leading up to your ultimate goal. The relative immediacy of monthly sub-goals and weekly mini-goals (and even daily tasks!) makes it more manageable to stick to deadlines and progress throughout the year. Not to mention, completing these sub-goals provides a sense of accomplishment and promotes motivation. Overall, breaking things down into “baby steps” can provide long term vision and short term motivation in order to create lasting change.

4. Integrate your discoveries from 2020 

Take some time to reflect on your accomplishments, failures and everything in between. By analyzing your experiences in 2020, you can identify themes and patterns of your actions that contributed to your successes, and then integrate these discoveries into your plan of action for 2021. Check out last week’s blog post for some prompts to help you reflect on 2020!

5. Involve your support network

Accomplishing tasks in isolation can be incredibly difficult, so having a network of people to provide guidance and encouragement can be incredibly helpful for achieving your goals. And the bigger your goal, the more support you may need! Whether it’s your ToastMasters group, fellow Crossfit goers, mentor, or your immediate family, your support network can provide you with advice, physical resources, unique perspectives that give you direction along the way. Share your goals with the people you trust, and allow them to hold you accountable. All of this being said, avoid comparing your goals to those of your support network — goals will vary greatly from person to person based on our own experiences and passions, and comparing yourself to others will only hinder your progress.

Up next: A goal setting blueprint built for flexibility

In next week’s blog post for our goal setting series, we will dive deeper into the importance of anticipating potential obstacles and being adaptable in order to achieve our long-term goals!

Miss the first post of this series? Read it here.

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