In late 2017 I joined a research team working on the psychology of goal-setting and goal-coaching during the perinatal period. I’m not a goal setting expert by any means, but together with technologists, maternal health experts, clinicians, and psychologists, the team reviewed the evidence around goal achievement, primarily from neurobiology as well as evaluation of clinical interventions such as motivational interviewing.
Why? We were trying to build and test a digital framework to help first time low-income mothers set, pursue, and achieve goals.
But guess what? Most of the things we learned apply to all moms trying to set and achieve goals.
So, I wanted to share the seven ways in which you can ensure that you are setting your goals in ways that actually help you achieve them:
Having a place to write down and track your progress is critical. Somewhere you check often. On your phone, in a journal, in google docs, an online project management tool. When you set a goal decide (and document) how long you want to focus on that goal. Consider how long it will take you to achieve. Consider other commitments during this season of life. For example, your top priority goal could take you a full quarter, while another goal could take only a month.
2. No more than 3 goals at 1 time
“Yeah right,” you might think. But really. We went deep into the scientific literature on this and the way your brain organizes and prioritized decision-making is significantly impacted by the dare-I-say overcrowding up there. So, settle on three goals that you are actively pursuing at any given time. You might have a long list of backups, and that’s ok, because…
3. You can decide to pause goals and pick them back up, at any time.
If you realize that a particular goal is not going to happen because of personal or external circumstances, that is a-ok. You can pause it. You can choose to swap it. You can get rid of it all together or add it to the bottom of that long list for a different season.
4.Identify the driving force, and the potential barriers to achieving the goals
Why is this goal important? What will it help you do or feel in the grand scheme of things? Let’s set goals not the sake of goal setting, but for living the kind of life you want. For each goal, brainstorm and write down (or better yet, discuss out loud!) the potential barriers to achieving that goal. Play out the scenario of what happens with roadblocks and challenges. Get a feel for how you will react and pivot.
5. Assess your readiness to starting that goal
This is a reality check practice. If the goal is really something that you have to do XYZ for before you are ready to pursue it, do not make it one of your 3 active goals. Put it in the parking lot. Your active goals should be things that you are well positioned and ready to begin pursuing.
6. Name the supportive others who can help you along the way
Particularly in the 18 months after giving birth, no goal should be pursued in isolation. Write down the people who you can call on to help you access the time, resources, or guidance you need to achieve the goal. And then – actually ask them for help!
7. Break down goals into milestones and tasks with due dates and deadlines
Pretty self-explanatory, but of course, one of the most tedious parts of the process. Break the goals down into smaller and smaller chunks that you can work on in shorter time blocks and schedule the time to do those tasks accordingly.
So, let’s get to goal setting!