How to Set a Goal
First consider what you want to achieve, and then commit to it. Set SMART (specific, measureable, attainable, relevant and time-bound) goals that motivate you and write them down to make them feel tangible. Then plan the steps you must take to realize your goal, and cross off each one as you work through them.
Goal setting is a powerful process for thinking about your ideal future, and for motivating yourself to turn your vision of this future into reality.
The process of setting goals helps you choose where you want to go in life. By knowing precisely what you want to achieve, you know where you have to concentrate your efforts. You'll also quickly spot the distractions that can, so easily, lead you astray.
Why Set Goals?
Top-level athletes, successful businesspeople and achievers in all fields all set goals. Setting goals gives you long-term vision and short-term motivation . It focuses your acquisition of knowledge, and helps you to organize your time and your resources so that you can make the most of your life.
By setting sharp, clearly defined goals, you can measure and take pride in the achievement of those goals, and you'll see forward progress in what might previously have seemed a long pointless grind. You will also raise your self-confidence , as you recognize your own ability and competence in achieving the goals that you've set.
Starting to Set Personal Goals
You set your goals on a number of levels:
This is why we start the process of setting goals by looking at your lifetime goals. Then, we work down to the things that you can do in, say, the next five years, then next year, next month, next week, and today, to start moving towards them.
Step 1: Setting Lifetime Goals
The first step in setting personal goals is to consider what you want to achieve in your lifetime (or at least, by a significant and distant age in the future). Setting lifetime goals gives you the overall perspective that shapes all other aspects of your decision making.
To give a broad, balanced coverage of all important areas in your life, try to set goals in some of the following categories (or in other categories of your own, where these are important to you):
Spend some time brainstorming these things, and then select one or more goals in each category that best reflect what you want to do. Then consider trimming again so that you have a small number of really significant goals that you can focus on.
As you do this, make sure that the goals that you have set are ones that you genuinely want to achieve, not ones that your parents, family, or employers might want. (If you have a partner, you probably want to consider what he or she wants – however, make sure that you also remain true to yourself!)
Step 2: Setting Smaller Goals
Once you have set your lifetime goals, set a five-year plan of smaller goals that you need to complete if you are to reach your lifetime plan.
Then create a one-year plan, six-month plan, and a one-month plan of progressively smaller goals that you should reach to achieve your lifetime goals. Each of these should be based on the previous plan.
Then create a daily To-Do List of things that you should do today to work towards your lifetime goals.
At an early stage, your smaller goals might be to read books and gather information on the achievement of your higher level goals. This will help you to improve the quality and realism of your goal setting.
Finally, review your plans, and make sure that they fit the way in which you want to live your life.
Staying on Course
Once you've decided on your first set of goals, keep the process going by reviewing and updating your To-Do List on a daily basis.
Periodically review the longer term plans, and modify them to reflect your changing priorities and experience. (A good way of doing this is to schedule regular, repeating reviews using a computer-based diary.)
A useful way of making goals more powerful is to use the SMART mnemonic. While there are plenty of variants (some of which we've included in parenthesis), SMART usually stands for:
For example, instead of having "to sail around the world" as a goal, it's more powerful to use the SMART goal "To have completed my trip around the world by December 31, 2027." Obviously, this will only be attainable if a lot of preparation has been completed beforehand!
Further Tips for Setting Your Goals
The following broad guidelines will help you to set effective, achievable goals:
When you've achieved a goal, take the time to enjoy the satisfaction of having done so. Absorb the implications of the goal achievement, and observe the progress that you've made towards other goals.
If the goal was a significant one, reward yourself appropriately. All of this helps you build the self-confidence you deserve.
With the experience of having achieved this goal, review the rest of your goal plans:
Example Personal Goals
For her New Year's Resolution, Susan has decided to think about what she really wants to do with her life.
Her lifetime goals are as follows:
Now that Susan has listed her lifetime goals, she then breaks down each one into smaller, more manageable goals.
Let's take a closer look at how she might break down her lifetime career goal – becoming managing editor of her magazine:
As you can see from this example, breaking big goals down into smaller, more manageable goals makes it far easier to see how the goal will get accomplished.
Goal setting is an important method for:
Set your lifetime goals first. Then, set a five-year plan of smaller goals that you need to complete if you are to reach your lifetime plan. Keep the process going by regularly reviewing and updating your goals. And remember to take time to enjoy the satisfaction of achieving your goals when you do so.
If you don't already set goals, do so, starting now. As you make this technique part of your life, you'll find your career accelerating, and you'll wonder how you did without it!