How to Achieve Goals Like a Pro: Tips for Goal Setting
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The holiday season is finally among us! As we spend time on celebratory meals, decorating, and quality family time, you may suddenly realize that 2024 is not so far away. Many people wait until the New Year hits to set big goals for themselves that may not be the most attainable, but goal setting—achievable goal setting—is an important skill that can be utilized throughout the year as well. Let’s look through the ways we can create meaningful and achievable goals for ourselves to work towards and attain.
The goals that we set help guide our actions and allow us to have clear intentions behind what we do. Our goals not only clarify our purpose, but they also act as motivation that guides our performance.
In 1990, Locke and Latham proposed the five principles of successful goal setting.
It’s important to understand how much you value a specific goal. When you deem a goal as important, your determination is more likely to help you get through any obstacles that may prevent you from achieving it. Being committed means being willing to work things through if your performance isn’t matching up to what it needs to be or when your strategy needs some adjustment. Otherwise, we are more likely to give up on our goals when things get difficult. Say you want to socialize more. If you aren’t committed then you’re less likely to go out of your way to make plans with friends or choose quality time with them over binging your favorite show alone.
Making sure your goal is clear and concise will help to ensure its value to you. When goals are vague it can take away from the motivation you may have to accomplish them. Keeping your goal as unambiguous as possible will also make sure that you know what you need to do to get it done. For example, instead of having the goal, “Be more social,” create a less ambiguous goal, like, “Spend time with friends at least once a week.”
While you want to make sure your goal is within reach, it should also pose a bit of a challenge to you. Having a challenging goal encourages the goal setter to push themselves farther than they maybe would have normally. It also brings about a greater sense of satisfaction when the goal is attained. To spend time with friends more frequently, you could set a rule for yourself that the interaction only counts if it’s planned and initiated by you. This would challenge you to be more proactive in building your social life, and developing a useful skill rather than relying on extroverted friends.
While you do want the goals you set to be challenging, be careful not to make it overly complicated. If the goal requires too many intricate steps then it could take away from your motivation to complete rather than contributing to motivation the way a good challenge does. If you think your goal may be too complicated, consider extending the timeframe for completing the goal or breaking it down into smaller steps. Going with the social life example, you wouldn’t want to risk overwhelming yourself by saying you have to make several new friends, each with different personalities, and you have to then plan to see each of them individually twice a month. Maybe you could get to that point but it would probably be less stressful to start with one new friend, regardless of their personality, at a time.
Another characteristic of effective goal setting is having regular and immediate feedback, even if it’s the feedback you’re giving to yourself. This will help to keep your progress on track and it will help identify more easily when the goal or the strategy may need to be adjusted to be more realistic. Receiving feedback is especially helpful for the sake of reflecting on our ability to achieve our goals. When we can see how capable we are, it acts as a motivator for us to accomplish other or future goals as well. If you’re seeking to build a healthy and well-rounded social life, notify your therapist so you can talk through intentions and challenges, or keep a journal so you can reflect on what works for you and what doesn’t.
TIP: Another way to think about all this information is to keep the SMART acronym in your pocket. A SMART goal is as follows:
Specific → straightforward and clear
Measurable → trackable
Achievable → realistic and within your capabilities
Relevant → in alignment with your values and your other goals
Time-bound → has a deadline or a target date
So, how do we become effective goal-setters? There are a few skills that having and/or practicing before goal setting will help set you up for success:
Planning: Organizing and planning is foundational if you intend to be proficient in setting goals for yourself. Planning keeps us prepared and aware of the process.
Self-motivation: Motivation is very important if you intend to attain your goals. Being able to find motivation for yourself, and knowing how to retain it is very useful for reaching that point of accomplishment.
Time Management: Practicing this skill will prove to be helpful in many aspects of your life. Specifically when it comes to goal setting, having good time management skills will help you to stay realistic about the time demands tasks will have. If you think this is an area you may need to improve, consider practicing by using a planner in your day-to-day life.
Flexibility: Things don’t always work out the way we intend or imagine them to. If you value your goals, then practicing flexibility will be a great asset to you. Learn to persevere when the unexpected happens. One of many helpful affirmations that could help you with this is, “Growth is sometimes bumpy and isn’t always linear, but I will stay the course”.
Having this set of skills means you’re already in the prime position to be a great goal-setter. We’ve gone over what makes a sustainable and effective goal so now it’s just a matter of getting started! Goals are often useful in the realm of self-improvement, relationships, and financial or career aspects of life. If you’re seeking improvement in your career consider reading What Color is Your Parachute by Richard B. Bolles for insight on what kinds of goals to set for yourself in the workplace. Consider what you want your life to look like in the grand scheme of things. Are there any differences between the ‘present you’ and the ‘future you’ that you would like to remedy? This is a great place to begin to narrow down and specify goals for yourself. Here are some useful steps to follow moving forward:
- Express what you want your future to look like. You could write down your vision, make a vision board, or even record and save a voice memo for yourself. Do whatever works best for you.
- Reflect on what you want. Is it realistic? Do you feel like it’s within your capabilities? Revise your vision if you think you need to and try to keep the wording positive if you can. Avoid phrasing that suggests something is wrong with you and aim for language geared towards building and growing the foundation of who you are instead. Don’t say “I want to be less talkative”, say “I want to get better at listening”.
- Now take what you have and specify, specify, specify. Think about the how and when. Feel free to focus on a particular behavior. This step will clarify what your individual goals are.
- Set a plan for how to keep track of your progress. You could use a spreadsheet or a journal. You could keep a tally of things on a whiteboard at home or you could even task an accountability partner with keeping track for you. Some goals may even warrant regular use of a timer if you need to keep track of specific timing.
- Give yourself a deadline. Note that if the deadline you’re considering is more than about three months, you may want to break that long-term goal into a few short-term goals. If you do this be sure to set a time frame for the smaller goals as well.
- Think about what obstacles may get in your way and make a plan for how to remove them.
- And lastly, get started!
Now you’re fully equipped to work your way to success in whatever aspect of your life you desire. There’s no need to wait for New Year’s if you want to begin now and there’s no cut-off point if you want to save these lessons for later. Whenever you decide to set and pursue your goals just make sure you remember to celebrate when you accomplish them! Pride yourself in your efforts as you build the life of your dreams for yourself.
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