Goal-setting can feel overwhelming, especially since there’s no right answer to what your goals should be or easy formula for figuring them out. But without goals it’s easy to feel directionless and lost, wondering what the point is and what it’s all for?
I’m not saying that goal-setting will solve all of your existential life problems, but it can certainly help you to feel a bit more focused and purposeful.
So let’s talk about how to do it.
THINK IN TERMS OF AREAS OF LIFE
Start by thinking about areas of life in which you would like to feel a stronger sense of direction, would generally like to progress in, or improve upon.
For example, if you are feeling a bit directionless in your work, maybe you want to start thinking about a new career. Or maybe how you can improve your work situation by earning a new qualification or certificate related to your line of work.
On the other hand, perhaps you feel that quality relationships are lacking in your life, in which case one of your goals might relate to developing deeper, more valuable relationships.
Your goals could be related to just about anything, but if you are feeling at a bit of a loss, spend a moment thinking in terms of:
- Physical well-being
- Spiritual well-being
- Personal interests/hobbies
- Personal development
You don’t need to decide just yet what your goals will be, but start jotting down some areas in which you’d like to have more direction or that you’d like to improve.
Here’s the fun part. When was the last time you really let yourself dream BIG? Now’s your chance.
Did you know that we tend to overestimate what we can do in the short term and underestimate what we can achieve in the long-term?
With that in mind, start by asking yourself what you want your life to look like a few years from now? Don’t panic – I’m not asking you to come up with a 5-year plan. I’m just asking you to dream a little. Use your imagination.
When you picture your ideal life in a few years (let’s say 3-5 years) what’s different about it? What do you do with your time? Who is a part of your life? Where do you live? Imagine. Dream. Write it down.
These are the areas you want to hone in on when you start goal-setting.
Now, let’s take these areas one at a time. Looking at these areas of life one-by-one, ask yourself: ‘What do I want this area of life to look like a year from now?’
Again, write it down, but don’t overthink it. You don’t have to have the perfect answer, or all the specifics down yet. We’re still just brainstorming.
You might have heard of S.M.A.R.T. goals – a great guideline to follow when it comes to setting quality goals. S.M.A.R.T. stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. This is how we’re going to turn your ideas that you just wrote down into tangible, realistic goals.
So here it goes:
Be specific about what you want to achieve.
One-by-one, take a look at the ideas you’ve already written down and think about something specific you can focus on to make them a reality. For example, if you want to become a better student or get better grades, focus on improving your study skills with dedicated study sessions, or by becoming a better reader.
If you want to pick up a new talent, such as playing an instrument, think about what instrument you want to play and how you intend to learn it. Perhaps you want to learn a specific song or start taking lessons.
Being more specific with what you want to focus on allows you to focus your energy and have better direction.
This leads us into our next point.
Make sure your goal is measurable.
You should be able to measure your progress, or at least know exactly when you have accomplished the goal. This means avoiding vague terms like ‘more’, ‘better’, ‘less’, etc.
Instead, try to create tangible deadlines and measurements for your goal.
For example, instead of “becoming a better reader”, you might aim to read for 10 minutes every day, read 1 book a month, or start taking speed reading courses.
This is important because somewhere down the line you’ll be working on your goal of becoming a better reader and realise that you don’t know what qualifies as being a ‘better reader’ and you’ll never be able to check off your goal.
Your goals should be achievable.
Don’t get me wrong, they should also stretch you and push you, but they should be doable according to your stage of life right now.
This is a hard one to measure, and it really comes down to you to decide how hard to push yourself and what is reasonably doable.
Take some time to think about what is realistic for you based on your current time commitments, skill levels, financial situation, etc.
Some goals are not realistic for us right now – and that’s ok! If that’s the case, see if you can break it down into something smaller and more doable, or table it for another time. You can’t do everything at once anyway. Some goals are better saved for another day.
Similarly, if it’s not relevant to this stage of life, you’re going to run into issues. In other words, does it really matter?
Think about the motivation for wanting to accomplish this goal. Are you doing it for you, or for someone else? Does the outcome actually matter to you or excite you?
If the answer is ‘no’, you might find that this goal ends up being more draining than life-giving and you should consider now if the time and commitment involved is really worth the end goal to you. If not, put it aside and start thinking about other goals. If it does, then carry on, and let’s look at timing.
Have an end-date in mind.
So you’ve figured out what it is you want to achieve, how you’ll know you’ve done it, and you’ve made sure that not only is it doable (if a bit challenging), but it is also worth the work.
The last thing to do is to put a deadline on it. This is important because it will help hold you accountable to what you’ve set your sights on.
If you’re not sure what a realistic deadline is – don’t panic! First of all, I’ve got a few tips for you to make them more realistic. Second, as you get further down the road, if things come up (like they so often do in life) and you realise that the deadline is not realistic after all, IT’S OKAY TO CHANGE IT. Seriously. This is called having grace for yourself and being realistic.
However, we’re going to try to avoid needing to do that. Here’s how:
- Break down your goal into the major steps involved that will get you from here to the finish line. Try to break it down into 5-10 steps if you can.
- Estimate how long you think it will take you to complete each of these steps
- Add extra time as needed to take into account other time commitments in your life
- Look at your calendar and take into account any major events that might slow you down. This could include major work deadlines, holidays, or travel.
- Once you’ve worked out how long each step will take you add it all up for a sub-total
- Finally, consider adding 10-20% more time to this estimate to account for the unexpected
There you have it. This is the target completion date for your goal.
Repeat this process for each goal you set for yourself. But first…
Narrow it Down
There’s no magic number to the number of goals you can or should set for yourself in a period of time. It varies depending on your capacity and the scale of your goals.
Pre-children, I had a lot of big goals that I could throw myself all at once. Post-partum, that number dropped significantly. Now it’s slowly climbing again.
In general, limit yourself to about 3-7 one-year goals.
The important thing is that you are realistic and don’t overdo it. Better to have fewer goals that you can actually complete than too many, causing you to burn out and give up.
If you start small and feel like you can add more to your plate, do it! Just remember it’s a lot harder to take them away than to add more.
That’s it! Go forth and accomplish.
For tips on how to follow-through when the going gets tough, check out How to Follow Through and When to Cut Yourself Some Slack