13 hacks for more effective goal-setting with a vision board
Whether it’s a New Year’s resolution, a vision board, a bucket list, or KPIs in our work lives–most of us have experience with goal-setting, but that doesn’t mean it always comes easily or naturally, or that we achieve everything we set our minds to. Quite the contrary–most people fail most of their goals and give up on them surprisingly soon after they meet the first obstacles. But achieving goals is far from impossible and there are ways you can make it a whole lot easier for yourself.
In this article I’m going to look at different types of goals, reasons why people usually fail, and how you can use your vision board to make goal-setting easier and more effective. And finally, I’ll give you a list of 13 tricks that will help you crush your goals like never before.
Why setting goals is so important
- The surprising side-effect of goal-setting
- Why we are so bad at goal-setting and goal-getting
- How a vision board can help you crush your goals
- Choosing the content of your goals
- 13 goal design hacks
Reading time: 8 min
Why setting goals is so important
If you don’t know where you’re going or what you want, you’re getting out of the driver’s seat of your life. You definitely end up somewhere, doing and getting something, but it’s up to chance whether those will be things and places that you’re happy with, in the end.
Don’t get me wrong, luck and chance does play a role in our life and can lead us to some great places. I have too much first-hand experience with this to downplay them. But many goals take work and effort–you don’t find yourself accidentally graduating from Harvard, conquering Mount Everest, or running a multi-million company.
Setting goals can make you achieve more and get out of the comfort zone, it gives you long-term vision and short-term motivation, and makes you prioritize your tasks and time. It will also give you an idea of where you are now in your life, and how far you are from where you want to end up. You can take pride and raise your self-confidence, as you recognize your own ability and competence in achieving the goals you've set.
But the most uncomfortable part–you can fail. Quoting Zig Ziglar: "If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.” So if you don’t set any goals, you can’t fail them and feel hurt, right? Well, that’s not the point. You can still feel that you’ve failed in the end, without setting any goals in your life.
The surprising side-effect of goal-setting
If all of the above sounds fairly obvious and maybe even ominous–lots of hard work, scary life-changing decisions, discipline, failure, etc–then here’s something to help you think about it in a completely new way: setting goals can help boost your happiness.
According to postivepsychology.com, "When our goals are based on our values, they are meaningful. Meaning, purpose, and striving for something ‘bigger’ is a key element of happiness theory in positive psychology. Along with positive emotion, relationships, engagement, and accomplishment (which goals allow for), it makes up what we’ve come to known as ‘The Good Life’. Life goals allow us to pursue authentic aims of our own choosing and enjoy a feeling of achievement when we get there. That said, even striving to be the very best we can, sometimes leads to happiness in itself.” If you’re interested to know more about the science of happiness, you should check out this article.
Why we are so bad at goal-setting and goal-getting
If working on our goals is so great, then why are we so legendarily bad at it? Here are some obstacles, which seem the most common. Think for a moment, how many of these have you experienced in your own life?
- We fear failure.
- It’s uncomfortable to make commitments and take responsibility.
- We’re busy most of the time. If we don’t dedicate special time, there’s always something more urgent to take care of.
- When almost everything is possible, it can be overwhelming to make choices.
- We are strongly influenced by media and social expectations, which can override our own needs and desires. So we find it difficult to figure out what WE want from life.
- We tend to do most of the goal-setting of the year at the time when we’re not at our mental best–during or after the holidays at the end of the year. Most of us have experienced excessive stress right before that, or even the “Holiday Blues”. Many of us have broken our good routines, eaten too much food, etc. In fact, according to one study by the University of Scranton, only eight percent of goals set on New Year's Eve are actually achieved.
- We simply take on too much at a time–suddenly, when we get around to it, we want to change everything about ourselves. We don’t prioritize.
- We’re too impatient. We want to see results right away.
- We’re too harsh on ourselves and set unrealistic goals.
- We don’t make the goals concrete enough.
- We don’t have an implementation plan for what happens when obstacles arise.
- We’re reluctant to share goals with others and to seek social accountability.
- We don’t keep our goals in sight and simply forget them as weeks and months pass.
There’s even a dedicated holiday–Ditch New Year's Resolution Day–to poke fun at this. When do you think it’s celebrated? In March? April? Even June, perhaps? Well, guess what, it’s January 17th! Now that tells something about our collective success rate.
How a vision board can help you crush your goals
Now have a look at that list again. If you think about it, none of the obstacles is insurmountable. All of these can be overcome with smart work and good tools. Let’s take a closer look at one of them.
One of the methods that can help you both set and achieve your goals is visualization–imagining your desired outcome in as much and vivid detail as possible and exploring your way to success, your emotions, the obstacles, the resources that you need, etc.
Visualization is a wide term which covers different techniques and tools. One of the best known and most popular of them is a vision board–a collage of images and texts that represents your goals.
A vision board can help you overcome many of the problems mentioned above:
- it will create a ritual for figuring out your goals.
- it will make it easier to choose your goals. The visuals will inspire you and there’s more of an emotional aspect compared to just making a list–you will get a better hang of what feels right for you.
- the visuals will make your goals concrete and tangible. You can add comments, deadlines, steps, etc in writing.
- the visuals will make imagining the future much easier.
- it keeps your goals in focus and in sight.
- working daily on your goals with a vision board is much more inspiring than just looking at a list over and over again.
There are several ways you can create a vision board–from a simple DIY solution where you glue magazine cutouts on a sheet of paper, to an all-inclusive vision board kit, to digital apps. With so many available options you will certainly find one that suits you the best. You can read more about vision boards here.
Choosing the content of your goals
Now let’s imagine you’ve decided to try goal-setting with a vision board. Where to begin? What to include on your vision board? As the first rule of vision boarding goes–there really are no rules. It's your life and only you know what you want to do with it. But if you’re feeling a bit lost, here are some tips.
Your vision board can represent all kinds of different topics extending between health, career, finances, relationships, home, hobbies, personal growth, and travel, to name some of the more common themes. Sometimes these are represented on a wheel of life–another visual tool that helps you get an overview of your current situation and keep different aspects of your life in a healthy balance.
Your vision board can also be a balanced combination of all of these different themes, focus on just one that you plan to give a lot of extra focus, or you can even create a separate vision board for each aspect of your life (e.g. a family board and a career board). Whatever works best for you.
To bring in some science - psychology separates goals into two categories - intrinsic and extrinsic.
- Intrinsic goals relate to emotional intimacy, personal growth, and helping others. They are believed to be aligned with our needs as humans, reflecting our inherent desire for self-knowledge and more fulfilling relationships.
- Extrinsic goals are more culturally defined and less about our nature as human beings, encompassing things like our physical appearance, social standing, status symbols, and wealth.
Research suggests that intrinsic life goals are related to greater happiness, self-actualization, vitality, and satisfaction with life, compared with extrinsic life goals. You can read more about why it’s so here.
But at the end of the day, evidence also shows that the content of our goals may be less important to our well-being than our reasons for pursuing them. Having the ‘right’ reason for goal pursuit—irrespective of the aspiration itself, that is—has been found to contribute to our well-being, and the opposite applies.
13 goal design hacks
Here we come to goal design. Whichever themes or areas your goals cover–there are tricks to make achieving them easier. Sometimes even just phrasing your goal in a slightly different way can make all the difference. Here are 13 hacks you can try in your next goal-setting or vision-boarding session.
- Write goals down, or even better, visualize them–this crystallizes them and gives them more force.
- Use a positive ‘approach’–instead of setting negative, avoidance goals that have us working away from certain harmful, averse, or unpleasant outcomes, set yourself positive targets that you want to work towards.
- Break your goals down into smaller chunks where possible–this is important for celebrating your wins along the way. Whether that celebration takes place on a monthly, weekly, or even daily basis will depend on your unique aims and the pathway you choose to follow. Nonetheless, research shows that it's critical for momentum and motivation.
- Ask WHY as well as WHAT to get to the bottom of your motivation. If you want to lose weight, then ask why you want it (remember the difference between extrinsic and intrinsic goals I mentioned above?).
- Set performance, not outcome goals–set goals over which you have as much control as possible–on your personal performance. E.g., if your goal is to read two books a month, it is pretty much up to you whether you achieve or fail this goal–it is your action. Whereas many outcomes depend on external factors such as other people, the global economy, etc.
- Set priorities–when you have many goals, give each a priority. This helps you to avoid feeling overwhelmed by having too many goals and helps to direct your attention to the most important one.
- Try the SMART framework where S stands for specific (clear and well defined, the who, what, where, when, how, etc), M for measurable (so you know when you’ve achieved the goal and have to be honest with yourself), A for attainable (research indicates that the best goals are challenging, yet achievable), R for relevant (keeping your goals aligned with the direction you want your life to take), and T for time-bound (you need to set deadlines as it creates a sense of urgency).
- Use mental contrasting–first imagining the positive outcome of your goal in a lot of detail (really going into it) and then, in contrast, thinking in as much detail as possible, about all the obstacles you might encounter. PS It’s really important to have both sides of the equation in balance–by just looking at the positive, you’re more likely to give up as the first hardships arise, but just looking at the obstacles doesn’t work either–it will just kill your motivation.
- Create if-then plans–our automatic behaviors often mess up our good habits and goals. Here’s where small if-then plans can help you out. Essentially it’s another method of visualizing–imagining the situation where you might run into the obstacle or temptation (e.g. grabbing a pizza when you’re tired and busy), and then imagining doing the right thing that leads you closer to your goal (choosing the salad instead). The point of doing it is mentally rehearsing until this behavior becomes automatic and requires minimum effort and willpower.
- Use your environment for support–create an environment where doing the right thing is as easy as possible, and vice versa, doing the wrong thing takes extra effort (hide those cookies and keep your workout gear in sight, get rid of all distractions if you need to focus, etc).
- Involve others–family and friends can be invaluable, not only do they help us generate ideas, but they are social resources that we can reach out to for support along the way.
- Track your progress along the way. Make course corrections when you have to.
- Be ready to fail but don’t let it stop you–the first step is to acknowledge that there will be setbacks and that it’s ok. Then build resilience and think of ways to overcome the obstacles and find alternative pathways.
Setting goals is good for you, but fulfilling them is not easy. It’s not impossible, though, and with smart work and good tools, you can make it a whole lot easier. Try implementing our 13 goal design hacks, and harness the power of vision boards to start totally crushing your goals.
And don’t forget to check out Bold Tuesday’s vision board kit to take your goal-setting to the next level!
Kairi Kuuskor is the co-founder and designer of Bold Tuesday - a company that aims to help you live a better life. To do that they create vision boards, motivational cards, notebooks and other self-development tools with an emphasis on high quality and great design.