Mandy Nicholson

The Creative Genius Corner

Lessons, musings and advice from the author of ‘The Life I Won’

Your Fabulous Future: How to Set Goals and Achieve Your Dreams

7 steps for achievable goal setting

Have you noticed that achieving goals is getting harder and harder as the years go by? 

There are many reasons this is happening:  

  1. As we get older, we have more and more responsibilities, so we let our dreams fall away to take care of everyday admin, chores and caring duties.
  2. We get a bit more realistic about what we can and cant achieve. I think my days of becoming a famous pop star are probably behind me, and running a marathon isnt something my knees would like me to attempt.
  3. Theres just too much possibility! Were now in a world with nearly endless access to resources and learning opportunities, which means we can go after almost anything we can put our minds and time to…but that only makes it too easy to switch goals every week and never achieve anything.

But as we get older, goals get more important than ever. When we stop growing and going after new challenges, time – which does go by in the blink of an eye – ends up shooting us straight toward a moment when well stop and look around and think, Wait, this isnt where I wanted to end up.

Why should we set goals for our lives?

The last thing I want for you is to experience the grief of a life never truly lived.  

And Im not telling you that you need outlandish goals. Heavens no! Theres no need to think that you have to become a famous author or superstar musician to have a worthwhile life. 

Satisfaction and fulfilment come from the journey of achieving anything youve set out to challenge yourself with.  

This could be writing a whole book that you never even show another person. 

It could be walking the length of a marathon. 

It could even be visiting every single Wetherspoons in the UK. 

Whatever your heart desires is a worthwhile, life-affirming journey. 

We should set goals for our lives because goals provide structure. They give us something to look forward to—to work toward bit by bit and to use as a measure for how were growing and stretching. They let us pause at moments to observe and examine where weve been and where were headed. 

Working toward goals of any size or medium boosts our confidence and makes us happier. (Studies actually show this!) 

So let’s look at the process of setting and achieving goals. I promise it’s not as big and overwhelming as you might think.

Step 1: Dream up your possibilities

The first is the most fun, which is probably why most people stop right here. 

This is the phase of daydreaming – of thinking big and imagining all of the possibilities. 

There are a few things to keep in mind here though: 

  1. Be realistic. You probably cant become fluent in a new language in the next year, and I doubt that anyone is capable of visiting every single country in the world in just a few months.
  2. Stretch yourself slightly. Theres being realistic, and theres also being stingy. Sure, you can definitely reach the goal of reading 3 books in 12 months, but where is the challenge in that? Be sure to challenge yourself even while youre being realistic.
  3. Make goals you actually want to achieve. Our goals arent about other people. They arent about impressing others or accomplishing what we think our family wants from us. Thats no way to live, and it definitely wont keep you motivated to see a goal through.
  4. Only pick a few goals. Achieving any goal requires focus, so when we spread ourselves too thin, well get nothing done. If you have a huge list of goals, look through them to see which 2 or 3 could actually feed into others. Many times, our goals build on each other, so picking a strategic goal will help you to accomplish others.

Dont be afraid to spend some extra time in this phase. Its fun and dreamy to imagine your future. Think through all of the possibilities and outcomes.

What will truly enhance your life?

What will challenge you without feeling too big to accomplish? 

What will make you feel really proud of yourself? 

Go on…dream big.

Step 2: Write down your goals 

Once you have plucked your dreams from the ether and alchemised possibilities in your imagination, you need to bring them into the world – to make them solid and real. 

This is the step that gets you out of your head and into the start of action. 

It also serves as an exercise in decision. 

When we dont put our goals down in writing, its easy to go back and change our minds or to forget the details.  

Or to forget them altogether. 

This step is best done as a list. But make that list detailed. 

Get your numbers and benchmarks down in ink. 

If your goal has to do with running, then write down the miles you want to reach. 

If you want to write a book, write down a word count. 

If you want to learn the guitar, write down the number of songs you want to be able to play. 

You need a benchmark that will let you know youve accomplished your goal. 

Its also a good strategy to give yourself an end date. Be realistic here, just as you were in your dreaming phase.  

When you know the parameters of your goal, and when you make them solid on the page, you’ll have a reference to remind and refresh yourself when you’re feeling a bit lost in the mundane aspects of life.

Step 3: Break down your goals into steps 

Each goal youve written down will have steps that lead to it. 

If your goal is to read 12 books in 12 months, you can pace that out to a book a month.  

If youve written that youre going to paint 4 canvases this year, then you know youll be on track with one per quarter. 

With this in mind, you can build in mini goals as stepping stones. 

If you want to write a 90,000-word novel, then tick off a mini goal for every 10,000 words. 

That dopamine hit will grow your confidence and give you moments of celebration along your journey…and this will teach you to enjoy that journey rather than putting all of your eggs in the final basket. 

Because heres the secret of setting and accomplishing goals: the reward is in the consistent work toward the goal…the final goal is just icing on the thick, chocolate cake youve been savouring the whole way through.

Try taking this one step further: put dates in your calendar for each step of the goal. Pace yourself out so that your big goal doesnt feel overwhelming, and you end up working at a leisurely marathon pace rather than a panicked sprint.

Step 4: Identify potential obstacles to your goals 

This step feeds into the realistic part of your goal journey. 

Life happens, and things come up. 

But we can plan for and expect the moments when well get knocked off track.  

This step helps in 2 ways:  

  1. It helps you to pre-manage bumps along the way and plan for the weeks that youll be on holiday or that month that you know will be slammed at work.
  2. It sets your mind to be ready to take things as they come. That way, when things do come up that threaten your pace, youve already decided that youre going to overcome them. Youve set yourself up for success already.

Take stock of your year or months ahead. 

Think of the habits that you know might get in the way, like that pesky compulsion to turn on the TV first thing in the morning rather than picking up your paintbrush or journaling to start the day. 

Do you know that the school run will stop your flow at a certain time? How can you prepare yourself for that? 

What about the health issue that youve been supporting your mum with? How can you honour your commitments to yourself whilst also being there for her? 

Anything is possible with a bit of planning and foresight.

Step 5: Create a plan to reach your goals 

With your timelines, mini goals, and potential obstacles in mind, its time to get out the diary. 

Schedule in the daily, weekly, and monthly steps that will get you to the big goal.  

What can you chip away at? 

Remember that small, consistent action actually leads to big accomplishments…even bigger than spaced-out chunks of larger activity. 

So chip away, little by little. Create small daily habits that will build toward the big goal. 

Give yourself a mini goal to accomplish each week or month. 

Maybe its 500 words written a day. 

Maybe its being able to play one new song each month, so learning a verse a week. 

Plug those into your calendar around the obstacles youve already considered.

Step 6: Take action toward your goals 

This is the hardest step for most people. 

Planning can be fun and satisfying, but then we tend to freeze once its time to put our plans into action. 

So expect that here. This is one of those pesky obstacles to work around. 

There are some strategies that can help here.  

One could be getting your daily chunk toward your goal done before your brain is awake enough to argue. 

That could mean strapping into your running shoes straight out of bed or giving yourself permission to do just 5 minutes of your task. (I bet youll want to keep going after those 5 minutes!) 

You could also bring in a buddy. 

Coworking sessions are wildly productive, especially for those of us who might be neuro-sparkly.

Remember that youve already planned and broken everything down into small daily or weekly pieces, so theres no need to be overwhelmed.  

Just take those small actions, and watch the results start rolling in!

Step 7: Track progress toward your goals 

Heres another secret: when you track what youre doing toward your goal, then you can celebrate every small chunk or milestone, and those little bits of celebration will keep you going. 

One strategy for tracking is to create small tick boxes for each step to your goal.  

Heres an example: 

Big Goal: Write 90,000 words

Small Milestones:

  • 5,000
  • 5,000
  • 5,000

Every time you hit a small milestone, tick it off and celebrate. 

Then, when the slog of the big goal feels like its taking forever and that youll never get there, you can look back and see the progress you’ve made. 

Thats something to be proud of! Youve been taking action, and youve been chipping away at the larger achievement. 

Plus, I can guarantee that youll enjoy the journey of hitting those milestones even more than the final tick. 

Youll also start to notice that your mindset will shift from striving for the big goal to truly enjoying the process of getting to it.  

And, of course, when you do end up hitting that big goal, plan a big celebration!

How to stay motivated to achieve your goals 

Big goals take time, and so many of us fall off long before we get to that big celebration. 

Because, the thing is, motivation is fleeting.  

We’re motivated for short periods of time when the goal is novel and exciting. Then, when we start to plug away at it, we get bored and we get frustrated and we wonder if well ever get to the finish line. 

When its no longer exciting, we think: sod it! 

So start to shift your thinking from motivation to discipline.  

Be disciplined with yourself when it comes to those small daily or weekly steps.  

Hit your 500 words a day…even if theyre terrible words. 

Do your weekly sketch that eventually leads to the quarterly painting. 

Get through your 10 pages of reading each morning. 

Youll be surprised at what you can get done in 20 minutes, and youll be shocked at how quickly those tiny tasks stack up to big results. 

And if you want a little help getting going, I offer one-on-one goal-setting help with my new VIP days at the Art Bank. Book a free chat with me to see if it’s right for you.


Love & Colour

Mandy x

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