Do you have big dreams, but struggle to achieve them? Do you sometimes feel like you work hard, but don’t seem to get anywhere? Goal setting may be the key to unlocking your potential.
Would you set off on a big journey with no real idea of your destination? Probably not, especially with kids in tow. And yet many of us don’t spend enough time thinking about what we truly want from life and setting actionable goals to achieve our dreams.
Studies have shown that setting specific and ambitious goals leads to greater performance improvement than goals that are easy or too general. Goal setting helps you hone your log-term vision and increase your short-term motivation. By setting strong, personalized goals, you’ll be able to organize your time and resources to build a life you love.
How Does Goal Setting Impact Outcomes?
- Increased effort. People tend to work harder to achieve a goal once they’ve set it.
- Focused attention. By choosing a goal and directing your efforts towards activities that will move you closer to success, you’ll naturally begin spending less time on activities that don’t move you towards achieving your goal.
- Greater persistence. Often the key to success is simply sticking with something. Studies have found that goal setting may increase your willingness to work through setbacks.
- Knowledge and awareness. Setting goals can help you develop new skills and change your behavior.
Setting Yourself up for Success
Many people are good at setting big picture goals – losing weight, saving money, getting more exercise. Where we often go off track is by not breaking these big goals into smaller pieces. Tackling smaller, more achievable components of your big goal promotes sell-esteem and provides instant feedback that can help keep you on task over the longer term. The key to achieving your big picture goals? Breaking them down and taking consistent action.
Success breeds success. It may feel a bit silly at first to spend the time to break your big goals down, but it’s so worth it when you look at the long-term impact of taking action and getting a little bit better day by day. Goals that are too big and broad are not only overwhelming, but they can be easy to push off. If you have big ambitions but often tell yourself that you’ll start tomorrow, you will benefit from breaking your goals down.
One of my biggest takeaways from my MBA program was the value of setting SMART goals or objectives. Following this mnemonic is an easy way to make sure you’re setting goals that you’re more likely to be able to achieve and keep striving towards.
What are SMART Goals? I’ve seen different iterations used in the blogosphere, but the following description is common in management circles:
- Specific: target specific areas for improvement
- Measurable: quantify an indicator of progress
- Achievable: results that can be realistically achieved, given available resources
- Relevant: this goal is truly important to you or your larger goals
- Time-bound: specify when the results can be achieved
For goals that are more personal in nature, you may want to replace Measurable with Meaningful and Relevant with Rewarding. It’s okay to tweak the process to make it work for you!
Goal Setting Strategies
One of my favorite strategies is setting both learning goals and performance goals. Experts say that one of the biggest problems with goal setting is that it may inhibit our openness to exploring, developing greater understanding, and ultimately growth. If we’re too focused on performance at all costs, we may be limiting our ability to become our best selves.
By setting learning goals to go along with your performance goals, you can give yourself the freedom to try new things and follow tangents. In the end, setting goals to increase your learning can lead to better performance overall as your knowledge and skill set grows.
How You View Your Goals Matters
Framing, or how you view your goals, ultimately influences your performance. Studies have shown that when people feel intimidated by a big goal, they perform worse than people who view the goal as a challenge. Whether you view a goal as a potential for gain or a potential for loss can influence your performance. The first time I heard this I was shocked—when it comes to goal setting, mindset really matters. The more you can approach a goal with a positive mindset, the more you increase your chances of success.
Goal Setting Categories: Designing Your Best Life
The categories below are meant as a jumping off point. You should add and delete from this list to fit your personal priorities. While it can be helpful to think through goals and desires in each area of your life, once you’ve got the big picture laid out, you’ll want to narrow down to a smaller list of core goals to tackle for a certain time period. I’m a big fan of The 12 Week Year: Getting More Done in 12 Weeks Than Others Do in 12 Months and use it as a guide for setting goals on a quarterly basis. But do what works best for you—the important thing is to just get started!
- Family & Friends: Are you looking for a partner? Do you want to be a parent? Is building strong friendships important to you?
- Education: Are you interested in pursuing an advanced degree? Is there knowledge you need to gain to achieve your other goals?
- Career: What do you hope to achieve through your career? Do you want to work for yourself some day? Or are you looking to make a career change?
- Personal finance: Are you looking to achieve financial independence? And what does that mean to you? Do you want to pay off credit card debt? Or cover the costs of your child’s education?
- Creative: Have you always wanted to write a book? Plant a garden? Learn to play the piano? What goals could you set to fulfill your creative desires?
- Mindset: Do you sometimes feel like your beliefs are holding you back? Are there things about your behavior that you would like to change?
- Physical: Do you want to run a marathon? To learn to swim? Or to be more active with your children?
- Faith: Are there goals you’d like to set around religious observance? Or deepening your spiritual connections?
- Community: How will you make the world a better place? Do you want to improve your local community?
- Happiness: What do you truly enjoy? Do you want to travel more? Or increase the time you spend in nature?
Goal setting can be so powerful. And it’s so individual. My dream future is not yours and yours is likely not the same as your best friend’s. Taking the time to think about your ideal future and sorting out the things that truly matter to you is essential for motivating yourself to turn your vision into reality. Once you know what you want to achieve, you know where to focus your efforts.
What are you waiting for?
What are your biggest challenges when it comes to goal setting? What would you do if you could do anything?