If you’ve read my last two posts or watched my YouTube videos, you have recently learned How to Set Goals You’ll Actually Stick With and How to Design the Life You Want. Today let’s talk about how to break down your goals into actionable steps. This is something that, in the world of self-help and behavior change, we’re all told to do, and yet no one tells us how to actually do it.
That is what I’m here to do.
If you’re new here…Hi, my name is Karin, and I have a Ph.D. in a field called Behavior Change. I’m an expert in things like mindset, behavior, and how to break down your goals into actionable steps. Today I’m going to teach you this process so that you can take your big goal and make it much more actionable.
Now, take out a piece of paper or pull up some kind of blank document so that you can follow along as I break down a goal on my whiteboard so that you can see how the process really works.
Write your goal as an objective outcome.
What exactly does that mean? Let’s say that your goal in 2023 is to exercise consistently. That is not very objective and it’s not clearly an outcome. What does “exercise consistently” even mean? How will you know if you’ve succeeded or failed? If we don’t have an objective measurement, something that we can all agree that you did (or didn’t) accomplish, that should be your first step.
One way to change this goal of exercising consistently into a behavior-based or objective goal is to write it as a specific number of days per year. Let’s do that.
In the photo above, I’ve taken the goal of exercising consistently and shifted it to be more objective. My goal is to now exercise 75% of the days in the year. I’ve made that even more clear for myself by calculating that I need to exercise a total of 273 days. I now have a crystal clear outcome to aim for.
If you are a person who struggles with consistency, your default might be to set a goal of exercising 3 times every week… but not every week in your life is going to be the same.
If you zoom further out and focus on how many days total you want in the year, you’re actually shifting from a consistency focus to a frequency focus.
You’re focusing on stacking those exercises over and over and over again, and that can really help with your mentality and your perfectionism.
In a week where maybe you only get two workouts in, you can easily say, “It doesn’t matter, I didn’t fail my overall goal because I’m still on track to eventually hit 273 total.”
If you have a goal that you’re struggling to make objective, I want you to put it in the comments, and I will give anybody who comments some advice on how to shift your goal to be more objective and outcome-focused.
Anytime you have a big goal–like 273 workouts in a year–don’t wait until 273 hits to celebrate!
Instead, break down your goals into actionable benchmark goals so you have places to celebrate, reflect, and adjust (if needed) along the way.
Break down your goal into benchmarks.
Let’s start with the full goal of 273 workout days in a year. That translates to about 23 workout days per month. After that, you can break it down even further: What is my weekly benchmark?
Well, 273/52=5.26 so let’s say my weekly benchmark is 4-5 workout days per week.
This is an example of how you can take a large goal and set a monthly or weekly mini-goal to keep yourself motivated.
Another example: let’s say your goal is running a half marathon. Your benchmarks might be running a 5k and a 10k race before you eventually run that half marathon.
Set dates that you aim for to accomplish each mini-goal so that you know if you’re progressing at the correct rate. If you’re consistently missing mini-goal deadlines, it might be time to revisit your original goal, or my blog about How to Set Goals You’ll Actually Stick With.
Create a planning ritual.
Now let’s move on to step number 3, which is to set a planning ritual. Zoom into your smallest benchmark–in our example that is 4-5 weekly workouts. I want you to choose a regular time to check in with yourself and ask: Am I making the progress I need to toward my big scary goal? This is really important. Most people, when they set a big scary goal, break it down but they don’t actually schedule the time to review, reflect, and adjust along the way.
Review the prior week.
In this example, as your coach, I would want you to regularly review the prior week to see if you are on track with your weekly benchmark.
Reflect on past obstacles.
If you only got in 2 workouts, but the weekly goal was 4, then ask yourself: Why was that? What prevented me from meeting my weekly benchmark?
If those same obstacles pop up again, how can I make it happen next time?
Adjust for the week ahead.
Now, review the week ahead. Look at the next 7 days and choose the 4 days that you want to get your workouts in. List the obstacles you could face on each of those days, and make a plan to handle them.
Anticipate future obstacles.
So that brings us to step number 4, which is the tiniest but most important step to break down your goals, and that is obstacle anticipation. On a daily basis, I want you to ask yourself: What obstacles am I facing that will prevent me from moving toward my goal?
When you do that, you’re going to write something called an implementation intention.
Write an implementation intention.
Here’s an example of what that might look like: Let’s say that I know that tomorrow I was supposed to go for a run in order to complete my workout, but I know it’s going to rain tomorrow and I absolutely hate running outside in the rain.
So I’ll write an implementation intention as an if-then statement,:
IF [the obstacle occurs], THEN [the solution is implemented].
You’re planning out, behavior by behavior, what you’ll do in order to get past the obstacles from step 4.
In my example I wrote, if it rains, then I’ll drive to Planet Fitness and run on the treadmill.
Here is a quick review of how to break down your goals into actionable steps:
- Make sure your goal is written as an objective outcome goal.
- Break it down and establish benchmarks.
- Set a planning ritual with yourself in your calendar.
- Write out implementation intentions on a daily basis.
Now, if you read this whole blog on how to break your goals down into actionable steps and you are thinking, Ohmygosh, Karin, this is so great, but how can I decide what goal to choose? I have videos for that.
I will link them right here so that you can go and watch them. Then you can come back here and walk through the process to break down your goal that you’ve just established.
Also, be sure to subscribe to my YouTube channel, because I am going to be publishing videos over the next couple of weeks that give specific evidence-based advice on different topics that people commonly pick for their goals, like exercising and getting to the gym consistently, having a morning routine, and more. So stay tuned!