This post is part of my series on Heidi Grant Halvorson’s 9 Things Successful People Do Differently and my experiences with her advice.
Thing #1: Get Specific
When setting goals, it’s best be clear about what you’re trying achieve. Instead of being vague — with goals like “eat healthier” or “get ahead at work” — be as specific as possible. How will you know you’ve achieved what you wanted? What does success look like? Make those conditions your actual goals. (The book’s example for “lose some weight” is “fit into my old size-eight jeans.”) This gives you less room to settle for less than what you want, and it helps your brain see the differences between that and where you are now. Research has shown that this last bit is particularly important in getting your brain to figure out what you need to do to achieve your goals and to help you along the way.
How have I seen this work? At the beginning of this year, I wanted to “get back in shape” and “run more.” I got back into running last year, but I didn’t do a race longer than 4 miles or a training run longer than 6 miles. My experience has been that my body responds pretty well to distance running, and in 2005, when I felt like I was in reasonable condition, I ran a couple of half-marathons. Getting back to that point seemed like a good benchmark, so I set myself the goal of running a half-marathon before the end of the year. That made me look at what races there were and what training I would need to do to get myself to that point. I found a great “bridge distance” 15K race in the middle of the year and trained for that before turning my attention to the full distance in October. As the race approached, I refined my goal: I wasn’t just going to run a half-marathon, I was going to run it faster than I’d ever run one before. And I did.
This is just one example of how I’ve experienced the benefits of being specific in setting goals. By being precise, I understood how far I needed to go to achieve what I wanted. I saw what steps I needed to take to get there. And I knew exactly when I had succeeded.