How to Set Goals and Actually Achieve Them

Contributor: Kara Chamberlain

Kara Chamberlain is a Canadian actress, writer, and producer based in the United Kingdom. She is the co-creator of Crossline Theatre, a female-lead theatre company producing exciting new work.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever set goals that really excite you, then done absolutely nothing to achieve them. Trust me, you are not alone.

Here are some of my favourite ways to set inspiring goals and make them a reality. This article isn’t about making a “perfect” plan, it is about figuring out what you really want, how to get it, and moving forward towards your dreams.

Make Your Goal Meaningful

It is important that your goal is something you actually want to do and is phrased in a clear, positive way. Take a moment to reflect on the goals you’ve set in the past. Did they represent your dreams, or were they things you felt you “should” do to be successful? If you have learned to shut out the expectations of others, I’m sending you a virtual high-five! But if you’re like most of us and are still thinking about what you are “supposed” to be doing, then it’s time to focus on what you want.

When describing your goal, be specific and give yourself a clear outcome. “I want to be a successful artist” can mean anything from being an A-list celebrity to doing a little creative work every day. Instead, saying “I want to have my work published” or “I want to walk the red carpet” provides clarity about what you are working towards.

Write down the biggest goal you want to achieve, the one that gives you goose bumps or makes your internal party-pooper voice freak out. The scariest goals are often the ones we want the most, so let’s start there.

Create an Action Plan

Now that you have a goal you are inspired by, it’s time to make it happen. Here are two techniques I use to get started on creating an action plan.

This first exercise is inspired by Lululemon, a Canadian yoga brand that is all about #goals. This is my interpretation of what I learned from them, but if you want to go to the source here is their goal setting worksheet.

In this exercise we’re going to work backwards to figure out all the steps needed to make your dream a reality. Working backwards is a great way to trick your inner party-pooper into being quiet. Write out each step you will have to take to get where you want to go, starting from the finish line and working all the way back to today. Put in as much detail as you can. When you’re done, you will have a road map to your goal.

The next step is to identify what you have control over and, more importantly, what you don’t. In his book, Happy: Why More or Less Everything is Absolutely Fine, Derren Brown tells us that the only things you can control are your own thoughts and actions, all the rest is really not up to you. This idea is the key to translating our road map into actionable steps.

Looking over the steps you’ve written out, note all of the things you have control over. That may include sending emails, the artistic work itself, submitting to a competition or festival, reaching out to someone who could help you, and so on. What this does NOT include is anything out of your direct control: whether or not your application is successful, if people like your work, if you get an audience, etc.

This list of things you have control over is your action plan! Working through those steps and letting go of what is out of your hands will lead you to your goal.

One Step at a Time

When taking on a big goal, you have to take things one step at a time. I like to call this The Chandler Theory. When a project seems too scary and all I want to do is throw in the towel, I am reminded of the episode of Friends where Chandler freaks out on his wedding day. Getting married seems way too scary, so he runs away and Ross and Phoebe have to take him through each task, one at a time, to get him safely to the altar.

To make myself focus on one thing at a time, I like to reward myself each time I complete a task. It can be buying a coffee, texting a friend, or just giving myself a high-five at my desk (trust me, all the cool kids do it).

Turning each step into something worth celebrating helps break up a major project into manageable pieces, making it way less overwhelming. This will also help you to pace yourself. If you don’t let yourself feel a sense of achievement along the way, you’ll be much less likely to over-work and burn out. There may be a lot of steps to take, so don’t wait until the last one to shout about how awesome you are!

Be Open to Change

As I said at the very beginning of this article, no plan can ever be perfect. As a recovering perfectionist, this was the hardest lesson for me to learn. You can’t possibly know everything right off the bat, so it would be impossible to create a fool-proof plan from the starting line. That doesn’t mean you have to scrap your original plan every time something changes, just keep checking in with your goal and updating your plan as you go.

As you work towards your goals you will inevitably learn new things, overcome obstacles, and stretch yourself in new ways. Stay open to new ideas and unexpected twists and turns. If you embrace the journey and check-in with yourself and your goals along the way, you’ll have no trouble winding along the path to your dreams.

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