There are a few times every year when the idea of goal setting comes around: birthdays, New Year, sometimes even the change of the seasons can bring on those thoughts of personal progress. There are so many areas of life that we would all like to see progress in: our careers, our finances, fitness, health, relationships, service to the community… the list goes on!
Of course, we all know – in an abstract way – that the key to actually achieving a shift in any one of these areas is setting specific goals, and making and following through on a plan. Sure, we can have a general wish for change, but to actually make it happen we need focus, commitment, and resources.
There are a million how-to articles out there about effective goal setting, but they all have the same three cornerstones: motivation, mindset, and discipline. Writing down your goals and visualising them helps to keep them high on your priority list and helps to keep you motivated, but you need discipline and a positive mindset, too.
If you choose a goal that’s not something you really, really want – if your goal is set based on what other people expect, or what you think you should be doing or wanting – there is a high likelihood that you’ll give it up eventually. It’s hard to maintain interest and discipline in working towards something when it’s not something that actually aligns with your real feelings and wishes. Be honest with yourself, examine what it is you really want, and find a way to work toward it. You’re much more likely to stick with the process if the thing you’re working toward fills you with joy and excitement.
It’s okay to set goals that are just for you; after all, your needs and desires are unique to you and don’t necessarily involve other people, especially if they don’t understand why you want what you want.
However, it can be immensely satisfying to set goals that change not just your life, but the lives of others around you. Aiming for something that is beneficial to the world in general, or your community in particular, will help with motivation and may even open up social possibilities that didn’t exist before. None of us exists in a vacuum; our choices impact the world and those around us as well as our own lives, and considering this aspect in goalsetting can lead to some wonderful and unexpected places.
If your goals are too easy, reaching them won’t satisfy you. If they’re too difficult, you’ll end up frustrated. In both cases you will find your feeling of competence diminished. Most psychologists agree that the feeling of competence is a key ingredient in the recipe for general happiness and contentment. Setting – and reaching – goals for which you have to work a little bit will grow your feeling of competence.
You may have heard of the SMART acronym:
S = specific, M = measurable, A = attainable, R = relevant, T = timebound.
The SMART acronym can be invaluable in planning how to achieve your goals. First, start with a Specific goal. Vague goals like “get fit” are unhelpful, but a goal like “run a 5K in December” is achievable. You can then break that larger goal down into smaller, Measurable goals, like “build up to running three times per week by the end of the month”, or “run for 20 minutes”. That way, you can have mini celebrations as you achieve each goal on your way to the larger goal.
It’s also helpful to set Attainable goals. If you’ve never run before, and your goal is to run a 5K in two weeks, it’s probably not going to happen, but a three-month training plan will get you there.
Relevant goals are goals that align with your needs and desires, but most importantly they are goals that you have multiple reasons for wanting to achieve. Why do you want to run that 5K? To improve your fitness and health, take regular time for yourself, to build a habit, to get more fresh air, to have more energy and better mental health… the list goes on.
The important thing is that there is a list. Make a list of all the reasons you want to achieve your goal.
Many people find having deadlines very motivating, so setting Time bound goals can increase the chances of you achieving your goal: after all, you’ve only got x number of months to get it done!
Perhaps the most essential aspect to reaching a goal is putting in the regular work required to achieve it. That means that you have to make it a priority in your life and schedule. Framing your goals with positivity can help with this. For example, instead of “stop being so shy at work”, say “I will initiate at least one conversation with a colleague or superior each day at work” or “I will speak out at least once in each meeting”. Think about what you want to do, not what you want to stop doing.
Remember that making your wishes come true can be a simpler process than you think.
After all, wish can turn into a goal with the addition of just one aspect: a plan!
· Mind Tools: SMART goals https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/smart-goals.htm