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The key to successful goals is setting them up to be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-Bound. However, even if your goals are SMART, you still have to put in the effort to make them a reality. Check out these tips to help you stay on track with your 2021 SMART goals:   

1. Create an Action Plan  

Once you have clearly defined your SMART goals, create a step-by-step action plan for achieving them. Be specific – include what order you will tackle the goals (including smaller sub-goals), when you will work on them (i.e., a specific day of the week or block of time each day), how you will hold yourself accountable, and how often you will review your progress.    

2. Record It   

Documenting your progress toward achieving your goals can help you stay on track by making you mindful. Keep a diary for your SMART goals and record things such as: what action you took that day, the outcome, any challenges or distractions that came up, and most importantly, how you were feeling. Recording your goal process can help you identify issues and address them to find an alternative strategy that works better for you.   

3. Get Accountability   

No matter how ambitious you are regarding your SMART goals, you are only human, and your motivation levels may ebb and flow. To prevent yourself from giving up, get accountability. Do some self-reflection to determine how you best personally respond to expectations (i.e., having another person count on you or making a public proclamation that you’ll do something) and include that in your SMART goal process. For instance, you could get an accountability partner to check in with on a regular basis or create a blog or social media account detailing your journey – whatever works for you!  

4. Give Yourself an Incentive  

Having something to look forward to can help you keep going even when it feels like your goal is still so far away. Give yourself an incentive for taking action and achieving smaller milestones. For example, buying your favorite treat to eat or saving your favorite TV show for after you’ve worked on your goals for five straight days.   

5. Take Tiny Action  

Consistency is much more important than dramatic one-time gestures for making progress on your SMART goals. Remember: achieving goals is a marathon, not a sprint, so don’t expend a significant amount of energy once in a while and wear yourself out. Commit to taking tiny action most days versus waiting until you have the time and motivation to “go big,” and you’ll have a lot more to show for it in the end.    

6. Have a Deeper Reason    

During challenging times, such as when you have setbacks or just feel burned out from putting in the effort without seeing the results yet, you can’t rely on motivation to keep you on track for your SMART goals. Overcoming these hurdles requires you to have a deeper reason for why you’re bothering at all. Ask yourself why you want to achieve this goal and what it would mean to you – then, remind yourself of your “why” whenever you’re struggling.   

7. Set Deadlines    

Part of the SMART framework is “Time-Bound,” but you can also apply this sense of urgency for the smaller steps in the process. Set deadlines whenever you can, even if it’s as small as “write in my journal before my lunch break is over” or “check-in with my accountability partner by Friday each week.”  

8. Understand Your Tendencies  

While there are certainly best practices for keeping on track with your SMART goals, ultimately, you are an individual person with your own unique tendencies. Understanding your tendencies and tweaking your strategy to work with them, rather than wasting valuable willpower trying to force yourself against them, will make you more successful with your goals and with less effort and stress. For example, if you’re a night owl, don’t schedule your work on your goals for 5 AM, or force yourself to use an electronic system if you prefer pen and paper.   

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