Many people believe that intelligence is the determining factor for success. However, studies prove that your IQ has very little to do with it. Researchers conducted a 30-year study  on 1000 children and found that cognitive control is a more reliable predictor of success than IQ. This means that the ability to delay gratification and to remain goal oriented through goal setting techniques was the ultimate key to their success.
So, successful people aren’t smarter; they’re more adept at setting and achieving their goals. You too can learn effective goal setting with a little guidance.
The Ultimate Guide to Goal Setting
Below are four simple steps for setting realistic goals:
1. Set Long-Term Goals First
Creating a long wish list of things you would love to do is easy. We write down things like:
- Visit Europe
- Learn to scuba dive
- Find a new job
It is human nature to dream big and set unrealistic goals we’ll probably never achieve. As long as we’ve jotted a list of possibilities, we feel accomplished.
However, wishes are not goals, and personal goals without action plans are merely dreams. When we go with the flow and set our sights on nothing in particular, that’s exactly what we’ll achieve: nothing. Successful people start by setting long-term goals (at least five years out) first. Their goals are lofty, but they begin systematically moving toward them step-by-step.
Setting long-term, challenging goals forces you to look down the road and plan for the future with specific goal setting techniques. Chasing goals keeps us motivated, especially in the face of the mundane, tedious, but necessary everyday tasks.
Long-term goals are concrete, and dreams are wispy abstracts. There is a notable difference between saying: “Someday I will be an authority in brain research and possibly find a cure for a dreaded disease” and “By 2020 I will have my Master’s Degree in Neurologic Surgery from Johns Hopkins University and will find a job in brain research.”
The first statement is a dream that has no firm basis in reality. The second statement is a long-term goal derived from the dream of becoming a brain-research expert, but it also includes a clear and tangible path on how to get there.
2. Break Large Goals Into Smaller Ones
While long-term goals provide us with focus and direction, short-term goals give us momentum.
After setting long-term goals, setting smaller, short-term goals is critical because they provide you with quick wins and allow you to experience many “little successes” on your way to the big success.
Let’s pretend that your long-term goal is to run a chain of bed and breakfasts (B&B’s) on a beach somewhere.
First, with your goal setting techniques, you need to break it down into a slightly smaller goal, like opening your first B&B in a specific location or area within five years.
Then, break it down further from there. You could start by working at a local B&B and shadowing the owner for six months in order to learn the business. This is followed by other small steps that build upon one another and ultimately end in you opening your first B&B in Ocala, FL within the five-year period.
If you don’t break down the large goal and make a plan, you can quickly become overwhelmed and discouraged. The dream will remain just a dream—unrealized.
3. Set SMART Goals
When setting goals (long or short), use the SMART framework. This means that goals should be:
You goal should be clearly stated in specific terms. This allows you to better plan and prioritize your time and resources. It also helps you remain focused and driven.
For example, the goal “I want to be famous” is not specific. A specific goal would be “I want to be a well-known YouTuber.” By identifying the platform, you now have direction. You can start by learning the videography skills you will need, such as video editing, which will help keep you focused and moving toward your goal.
Goal setting techniques won’t do much good if you can’t quantify your goal. Use numbers instead of empty or meaningless adjectives. For example, if you want to be a well-known YouTuber, setting a goal of gaining one million subscribers is measurable versus saying “a lot” of subscribers.
This enables you to see your progress at any time and gauge where you are in the process. You will know when you need to adapt your processes and better determine which ones are actually working. Having a concrete reminder of how far you’ve come pushes you to keep moving forward.
The objective of setting a goal is to make a plan, work, and actually achieve that goal. You can’t do this if your goal is impossible to accomplish. An attainable or achievable goal should be realistic and should match your abilities and resources. If it involves a myriad of things that are out of your control, then it may not be achievable for you.
Let’s revisit our goal of being a well-known You Tuber with one million subbies. Let’s say you’ve never made a video—recorded, edited, or produced one. The first step in your process is determining whether you have the time, energy, and resources to acquire the necessary skills to create exceptional content. If this seems unrealistic to you, then your goal may not be achievable.
A relevant goal matters to you and is reasonable, making it easier to apply goal setting techniques. It should reside in the realm of reality and should complement other aspects of your life. If you have to make tremendous amounts of continuous sacrifices, you may need to ask yourself, “Is it worth it?” You should strive to have a balanced effort-reward ratio.
If gaining one million subscribers on YouTube requires you to spend 10 hours every day editing videos, you are probably going to have problems paying bills, maintaining relationships, and getting enough sleep. If the sacrifices are unrealistic and the cost is too steep, then your goal is not reasonable.
A time-bound goal has a specific deadline. You should also plan milestones along the way and set timelines to reach them.
On your way to one million YouTube subscribers, you could set a three-month milestone of 300,000 subscribers. This helps you track and adjust your progress while working towards your goal.
This particular letter of the SMART acronym is the one that will help you avoid procrastination in the long run. You can also fight procrastination with Lifehack’s Fast Track Class – No More Procrastination. This course will help you learn how to stay on track as you work on each of your goals, whether it’s a few months or a few years.
4. Re-evaluate Your Long-Term Goal Periodically
Success is a dynamic process that requires constant readjustments and recalculations as part of your goal setting techniques.
Re-evaluate your goals often (at least twice a year) to ensure that your goals fit the SMART framework and to ensure you are still on target .
Remember, you won’t be the same person in a year or two as you are now, and you may find that your defined goals are no longer working for the kind of life you envision. In that case, take a step back and rethink things before moving forward again. This is what evaluations are for.
The Bottom Line
Your goals dictate your actions and set your course. They provide you with a sense of purpose. Adjust your plan and processes when necessary, but always maintain a laser-like focus on your goal and refuse to settle.
Interruptions and hiccups to the plan will occur, but you must push past them and keep moving toward the prize. Before you know it, you will have converted your dream into reality.
More Goal Setting Techniques
- 13 Visualization Techniques to Help You Reach Your Goals
- The 5 Unspoken Principles of Goal Setting
- 7 Best Goal Tracking Apps to Help You Reach Your Goals
Featured photo credit: LinkedIn Sales Solutions via unsplash.com
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