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Setting everyday goals for yourself

What happens if you do something to expand your mind or improve yourself every day for a year?

Have you ever set a goal for yourself like that?

Not a goal with general statements like “do more of” or “get better at,” but a goal with specific measurables like, “I am going to do this for 10 minutes every day for six months.”

I recently achieved a goal I had set of completing a minimum of one Spanish lesson every day for one full year. In addition to learning a decent amount of Spanish, I also learned about the value of setting specific, long-term goals.

I had been using the language app for a month or so prior to deciding to commit to a lesson a day for 365 days.

At first, it was easy, because the lessons were easy. It was matching words to pictures and learning short phrases.

As time went on, the lessons became more challenging, which meant they took longer to complete. It wasn’t very often that it was difficult to find the time to complete a lesson, but, on some of my busiest days, I would get into bed, exhausted and ready for sleep, and realize I hadn’t done my lesson, yet.

I’d do the lesson, even though sleep was more attractive in that moment. I didn’t want to disappoint myself.

At the end of the year, there was no prize or recognition. There was personal satisfaction that I had achieved a goal I had set. I have always wanted to learn a second language fluently, and the app was my first attempt at doing so since high school German and Latin.

Toward the end of my year of Spanish lessons, I spent time in Costa Rica and felt proud when I could read a lot of what I was seeing and understand some of what I was hearing. Speaking Spanish was more challenging, but Costa Rica gave me a chance to practice.

When the year was over, I reflected a bit on the experience.

I couldn’t remember the last time I had set and achieved such a long-term goal for myself. I had reached goals before, but this one was different. It was specific and measurable and set to take place over a specific, longer length of time.

I had previously read the book “Outliers,” by Malcolm Gladwell. In that book, Gladwell shares that it takes a minimum of 10,000 hours of doing something to achieve what might be considered expert level. I would say that, as an average, I spent an hour every two days on my Spanish goal. That’s about 183 hours spent on Spanish lessons in that year. At that rate, it would take me a very long time to become an expert-level Spanish speaker.

The experience of purposely doing something every day, combined with the knowledge of what it takes to become an expert at something, left me with a deeper appreciation of the importance of persistence and perseverance as they relate to achievement and success.

Combine that with an observation I’ve made in the last handful or so of years, and a concerning reality presents itself.

This is a generalized observation that I realize does not apply to everyone, but it seems that we, as a society, are not as eager to commit to goals as we once were — especially goals that take persistence and span any significant length of time.

It seems we are losing the ability to stick with something, missing the discipline to see things through to the end, form new habits, and deliver strong results. My observations have been validated to me personally on a qualitative level in talking with businesses for so many years about their struggles with finding employees — stick-to-it-iveness being one of the characteristics they struggle to find.

Various studies by Gallup, the Pew Research Center, and the University of Scranton provide more quantitative data that supports my observations.

I wasn’t one to set specific, long-term goals for myself.

Now that I have, I see the benefit. I see how much I have learned in 365 days. I more clearly see the importance of setting specific goals instead of general goals. I see the value of specific goals to achieving a stronger result.

If you don’t set goals for yourself, I’d encourage you to do so. If you do set goals, I’d encourage you to be specific with them, and long-term.

I know there is value to each of us individually in goal-setting, but I also believe there to be great value to our communities when we each work more diligently to improve our own selves.

Jackie Krawczak is president of Jackie Krawczak LLC. Her column runs every three weeks on Thursdays. Follow Jackie on Twitter @jkrawczak.

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