Why daily goals are essential for success

While the majority of the blog posts on Clear the Air focus on environmental sustainability, I occasionally write about sustainability through a personal development lens. Today I will discuss how daily goal setting, a form of personal development, contributes to environmental sustainability. I will also share my top tricks for daily goal setting, helping you achieve success in school, your personal life and your long-term future.

We are taught how to define and set goals since grade school. What is a goal? Something you hope to achieve. How do you achieve a goal? By taking deliberate actions that will bring you closer to that goal. 

As we age, these goals grow with us. They become long-term and short-term goals, forecasting our lives in five, ten or even twenty years. We have career goals, relationship goals, academic goals – the list never ends because we are always trying to achieve something. Today the world is concerned with environmental goals like national emission reduction targets. These are massive goals that not one action can achieve, requiring the consistent actions of billions of people committed to making a change. No matter what type of goal you are hoping to achieve, one thing is for certain: if you don’t set a good goal, you won’t achieve anything.

Growing up, I struggled with goal setting. Why? Not because I didn’t have ideas. I had a clear picture of what I wanted and the steps to get there. I also knew how to hold myself accountable. My struggle had to do with thinking only long-term. 

Let’s rewind: I wanted to be a fashion designer since I was seven, all the way until I was fifteen years old. I had set long-term career goals of opening my own store, designing my own clothing line, and even planned what my future house, wedding dress and closet would look like. I was researching iconic fashion designers, drawing designs in my sketchbook whenever I had the chance, taking fashion and visual arts class in high school, preparing to apply to Ryerson for their fashion bachelor’s program, all to get me to this goal set decades into the future. I had it all planned out…until things changed.

A true fashionista

What changed, exactly? Many things. Long story short, I no longer felt motivated to pursue fashion as a career. Fast forward through several bouts of identity crisis, confusion and anxiety, I am now confident where I am. Getting here wasn’t easy, and I struggled so much because I devoted all this time to setting and achieving goals that would advance my fashion career. When I would achieve one of these goals I wouldn’t feel accomplished or proud because I would instantly start thinking about the next goal to achieve. I was so focused on living in the future that I forgot to live in the present. Had I done so, perhaps I would have realized I wasn’t as passionate about fashion design earlier.

What does this have to do with sustainability?

You’re probably confused right now, so allow me to clear things up. Focusing too much on long-term goals without tuning in to your current intuition, thoughts and feelings is bound to create trouble. In addition, preoccupying yourself with the future to the point that you hardly enjoy the present moments is not a way to live. While it’s good to test your limits (it’s the only way to get better at something), continuously doing so can be harmful to your personal growth. For instance, having emissions reduction goals is great, but without a plan for every province, every region, every city, every neighbourhood, every household on a short-term basis, how can these larger goals ever be achieved? Even when I look back at the perspective I had in my first and second years of university, I was too focused on setting goals for the long-term future to understand what actions to take in the present moment to get me there.

What I am saying is that hitting smaller, shorter-term goals should be your focus, rather than the long-term massive goals that seem a lifetime away. Yes, you should have those long-term goals, but within the larger goals establish single goals that add up to it. The best way to do this is to set one daily goal. Just one. By doing so you have one single task to devote yours efforts to that day that contributes to your long-term future. You don’t feel this overwhelming pressure to achieve this far off goal that you have no clue of how to get to. Instead, you take every day as it comes. You have a better indication of progress through daily goals, will live in the present and be in tune with your desires.

Let’s say you want to live a zero-waste lifestyle. Complete, total zero-waste living is not going to happen overnight, nor is it easy to plan for years down the road. Hurdles appear, like broken appliances or dropped containers or illness that requires medication in plastic bottles. Hurdles interfere with your long-term goal, and unless you set daily goals that seek to overcome these hurdles you will never reach that zero-waste lifestyle.

Instead of telling yourself you will live totally waste-free, promise yourself that today you will consume one less pre-packaged snack than yesterday. The next day, put homemade snacks in a reusable container. The day after, make your own lunch instead of getting a sandwich to go. Each day you build towards something greater. Maybe you spend one whole month setting daily goals focused on food waste reduction because you are living on your own and control your food choices. The next month you may focus on making your shower routine zero-waste, or your house cleaning process. The daily goals that add up to monthly goals build towards this life goal of zero-waste living. 

If an unexpected event occurs – say you receive a gift wrapped in packaging – you can set a goal to repurpose that packaging somehow. It’s easy to get upset when small instances like this occur to set you back, but living in the present and dealing with these issues intuitively is the most effective way to overcome them. Instead of saying, “No! This packaging ruins my plan. I’ll never achieve a zero-waste lifestyle if this keeps happening,” you are now saying “Okay, so this happened…but here are the resources and knowledge I have at this moment to deal with this issue and get back on track with my regular goal-setting.” A totally different mindset, and a more manageable one at that. 

“Here are the resources and knowledge I have at this moment to deal with this issue and get back on track with my regular goal-setting.” A totally different mindset, and a more manageable one at that. 

How do you set daily goals?

It is easier than you may think. My favourite way is planning for the week. Think about where you want to be in one week in terms of the project you are working on. I’ll use one of my own projects as an example: one week from today, I will apply for a grant to support a sustainability project I am working on. Getting this grant would help further development phases the following month, and achieve the project’s overall goal that is still several months away. 

I can’t simply write the application. There’s a lot of planning, research and editing that goes into grant proposals, and even more preparation if you are given the opportunity to present a live pitch for the grant. Grant applications on the whole are overwhelming, but broken into small, daily chunks makes the process less stressful. My goal for day one (i.e. today) is to finalize research. Day two is to clearly define the problem and solution I am proposing. Day three is to propose a budget based on the research I have done. You continue this process up until day seven, focusing on each task as the days come. If something shifts due to an unexpected event you still have a sense of direction to get back on track. 

Another habit I have for setting daily goals occurs first thing in the morning. The night before when I’m finishing my work, I’ll think about what I have to get done the following day and within the week. I think about my commitments the next day and how much time I will have to work on a particular project. I go to sleep, wake up, and the first thing I do is listen to my mind and body. I again reflect on the day’s tasks, then tune in to see how I’m feeling physically and mentally, which will determine the kinds of work I will be productive at that day.

Next, I say the first task that comes to mind out loud; that will become my daily goal. Sometimes it will be to send a certain email I’ve been putting off, or to call an organization about project partnerships. Saying the goal out loud may sound silly, but it is a way of legitimizing yourself, understanding what you really want, and holding yourself accountable. You can also write down your goals on a sticky, on your phone or on a white board for further accountability. Daily goals are easier to stay accountable to because they require a small time commitment compared to larger, long-term goals that take years to form – even though the daily goals contribute to the long-term goal! Your perspective of time and commitment shapes your reality.

Daily goal setting is a way of legitimizing yourself, understanding what you really want, and holding yourself accountable.

To say, “I want to live sustainably” is an example of a poorly designed goal. What does living sustainably mean? When do you want to live sustainably by? What measures are used to determine the sustainability of your actions? Instead, you could say “This time next year, I want to change five different habits of mine to support a more sustainable lifestyle.” Then, through the process of setting monthly, weekly and daily goals, you can achieve this longer-term goal. Living sustainably requires planning, diligence and continuous action. Daily goals are a way of keeping you accountable for these continuous actions. Sustainability does not mean doing an action once and then reverting to your old habits. It requires constant, repetitive changes until the changes become new habits. Daily goals that contribute to these longer goals make these changes possible.  

As you can see, sustainability encompasses all aspects of life, including personal development. How we perceive the world and our future will dictate how successful we are at reducing our impact on the environment. Taking smaller, deliberate actions every single day will keep you accountable and productive. It will also help you achieve sustainability in your own life, preserving the world where you will someday achieve your long-term goals.

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