I got a question recently from a youth “How do I successfully carry out an action plan that I have set? I find it challenging to discipline myself and often end up doing something completely irrelevant instead.”
Meeting goals is a rather common challenge, even for people who are already working, so I decided to post this and share my tips and insights.
Here is my answer to him:
"It sounds like you are not achieving the goals you set out. There could be 2 main reasons: either you set an unrealistic goal that is just impossible to accomplish (at least at this stage), or you got distracted and lost focus.
If it is the first one, try to set SMART goals - Specific, Measurable, Attainable, REALISTIC and Time-bound - based on your knowledge about yourself. Know your strengths and weaknesses. Be realistic! If you are a meat lover and decided to go vegetarian, don’t pick a time when eating big meals and sweets is unavoidable. You are setting yourself up for failure. Setting a goal like “I will only eat vegetables and fruits from now on” when Christmas is just around the corner is simply not realistic! More than likely you will get discouraged, and want to give up your goal. Pick a better time.
Moreover, start with baby steps. If your to-do list gets too overwhelming, cut it short. For instance, if you notice that you often accomplish 3 out of 7 items on your list; chances are your goals are too ambitious, at least at this stage. It is a common symptom of have eyes bigger than your stomach (yan da du zi xiao 眼大肚子小).
Will you get excited to go into an competition that you know you are going to lose (even though you are the only contestant)? I don't think so!
If your threshold is 3 goals (or to-do items) per day, then limit your goals to 3 instead of 7 (this is also a skill of prioritising). Not only will this give you a better chance of reaching your current goal, but also provide a sense of accomplishment and confidence for the next step. There is a Chinese proverb that goes “even tiny and soft water drops will be able to drill through stones if the water drops on it constantly” (shui di shi chuan 水滴石穿). Set SMART goals and break the big goals into small steps (i.e. the action plans). Have a solid action plan and make changes along the way when needed.
If it is the second reason, remind yourself what's the most important thing you need to work on right now. Honestly, you just need to make a DECISION to change in order to see changes. Prioritise and manage your time wisely. Learn more about time management here.
Below are some tips to reinforce your vision and keep you focused: create a dream board with pictures of your ultimate goals. For example, if you want to be a successful soccer player, hang a picture of your favourite soccer player when he/she is awarded a medal (if reputation or monetary rewards is one of your most important values), or when he/she is shooting the goal (if competency and expertise is one of your most important value), or him/she smiling (if passion is one of your most important values). Hang the dream board where you see all the time. Whenever you get distracted or discouraged, just look at the board and remind yourself the goals. Envision your dream and the possibilities. That’ll put things into perspectives. It is important to constantly remind yourself the purpose of your goal, especially if it takes time to achieve the end result. Without instant gratification, people may get discouraged, especially when it takes too long to see any improvements. Remember, all the hard work you put in now will pay off eventually.
You can alter your goals when needed along the way. Where there is a will, there is a way. Discipline depends on how motivated you are to achieve your goals. You just have to DO it! Start NOW~
Hope this helps. All the best~!”