Setting goals is a fundamental component to long-term success. The basic reason for this is that you can’t get where you are trying to go until you clearly define where that is. Research studies show a direct link between goals and enhanced performance in business. Goals help you focus and allocate your time and resources efficiently, and they can keep you motivated when you feel like giving up.
1. Think about the “big picture.”
Ask yourself some important questions about what you want for your life. The answers to this question can be as general as “I want to be happy,” or “I want to help people,” or “I want to be fit.”
- These general statements can help hone in on the things that really matter to you. Recognizing the things you value will guide your decision-making and keep you focused on your end goals.
- Think of the answers to your “big picture” questions as things you hope to attain 10, 15, or 20 years from now.
2. Break the “big picture” down into smaller and more specific goals
Consider areas of your life that you either want to change or that you feel you would like to develop with time. Begin to ask yourself questions about what you’d like to achieve in each area and how you would like to approach it within a five year timeframe.
- In terms of your career, you may ask yourself what your ideal job is. What steps do you need to take to get that job? What are the roadblocks? Do you need a specific degree or certificate?
- With financial goals, you may want to consider where the money will come from. How much money you will need to live comfortably? What are the best ways to spend or invest money? Do you want a house, new car, or to begin a retirement plan?
- When it comes to family, do you want to have children, and if so, when? Do you want to have biological children, or are you open to adoption or having stepchildren?
- In thinking about romantic goals, you may consider the type of relationship you want (long-term partner, marriage, open-relationship, etc.), and how you will prioritize the time spent with a partner. What are the characteristics of a mate that make them a good fit for you?
- In terms of education, think about what course of study you’d like to pursue. Are you going to school to further you career? What types of courses do you need to complete for advancement at work? Are there alternate ways to enter the career you want, like apprenticeships or internships?
- In thinking about physical goals, consider whether changes need to be made to make you healthy. What can you do to maintain good health into old age? Think about whether there are specific physical challenges you want to meet such as a major mountain climbing expo or a marathon.
3. Use the SMART method to create actionable goals
SMART is a mnemonic used by life coaches, motivators, HR departments, and educators for a system of goal identification, setting, and achievement. Every letter in SMART stands for an adjective that describes an effective way to set goals.
- Specific. When setting goals, they should answer the highly specific questions of who, what, where, when, and why. Instead of the general goal, “I want to get into shape,” try for a specific goal, “I want to run my first half-marathon this year.”
- Measurable. In order for us to track our progress, goals should be quantifiable. “I’m going to walk more” is far more difficult to track and measure than “Everyday I’m going to walk around the track 16 times.”
- Attainable. It is important to evaluate your situation honestly and recognize which goals are realistic, and which are a little far-fetched. Instead of, “I am going to be this nation’s Mother Teresa,” (while admirable) it might be more realistic to say, “I am going to volunteer four nights a week at my local soup kitchen.”
- Relevant. Is this goal relevant to your life and to the “big picture” questions you have already asked yourself? Some good questions to ask yourself when figuring this out are: does it seem worthwhile? Is now the right time for this? Does this match my needs?
- Time-related. Setting a “due date” to meet goals not only keeps you on track, but it prevents pesky daily roadblocks from getting in the way. Instead of saying “I’m going to get my college degree”, you might consider saying, “I’m going to get my B.A. in 4 years.”
4. Make each goal a positive statement
Once you’ve done the brainstorming and considered how to make your goals SMART, it’s time to solidify them. Using positive statements is a direct way to affirm your commitment to completing your goals. “if you would like to achieve ___ in 5 years, you have the roadmap for setting necessary goals for next year, next month, next week, tomorrow, and today.
- If your goal is to transfer from a junior college to a university within the year, you can investigate the school you want to transfer to online today, make an appointment to speak to a matriculation counselor by the end of the week, visit the school at the end of the month, and plan to request letters of recommendation in 6 months.
- If you want to own your own tattoo shop in the next 6 months, you can canvas neighborhoods for an adequate location tomorrow, contact your bank about personal and small business loans next month, and place an online ad for talented tattoo artists in two months.
- If your goal is to run your first marathon in 8 months, you can call friends who run for tips tonight, ask for shoe recommendations tomorrow, join a running club next week, and begin intensive training in 6 months.
5. Set priorities
At any given moment, you have a number of goals all in different states of completion. Deciding which goals are more important, or time-sensitive, than others is crucial. If you have a college interview scheduled on the same day as a training session for your big half-marathon, the interview would take precedent as it is far more time-sensitive, and probably more important.
6. Keep incremental goals small
It can be overwhelming to think about your end goal. If all you say to yourself is, “I have to get married, I have to find someone to marry me,” you are missing the incremental goals that form the base of the large goal. Refocus and gain some perspective. Think about creating an online dating profile, meeting someone your friend think you might hit it off with, or joining a social club.
7. Keep track of your progress
Journaling is a great way to keep track of both personal and professional progress. Checking in with yourself and acknowledging the progress made towards a certain goal is key to staying motivated.
- Asking a friend with similar goals to buddy-up with you is a great way to keep you motivated and to make sure you hit your goal target dates. Consider pairing up with a fellow student facing the same application deadlines if you are applying for school, or another new, emerging artist if you are applying for artist residencies, fellowships, and grants.
8. Reward your accomplishments
Acknowledge when you have reached goals and allow yourself to celebrate accordingly. Take this time to assess the goal process–from inception to completion.
- If you feel it took too long to achieve this goal, examine you stumbling blocks. Was your goal reasonable? Are there skills you may need to acquire before attempting to complete other goals?
- If you learned something about the way you work towards meeting your goal, is it something that can be applied to other goals? If you really learned how to be proactive with work communications, is that a skill that can be used when you want to find out the status of your school matriculation status?