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How To Set The Right Direction For You Life And Do What You Want Most

How To Set The Right Direction For You Life And Do What You Want Most

You’ve heard this so many times. In inspirational quotes and In self-help books that “goal setting is the first step to success”. Even your favorite vlogger on YouTube talks about it. It’s everywhere. You don’t doubt it’s true, and you want to finally set a goal and get your life sorted out. But there’s a tiny problem here: you have no idea how to do it.

Let’s take a look at what goal setting means:

Goal setting is the process of identifying something that you want to accomplish and establishing measurable [expectations] and timeframes.[1]

What’s most important about setting a goal is achieving it. It should be a plan of action to get to somewhere you want to be. Which is to say, not only do you have to know what you want, but also consider the time and effort you will have to invest in your goal.

Having the right goal is important to being successful in life. But perhaps “successful” sounds a little vague. Here are several benefits of goal setting explained.

By setting goals, you get a clear life direction and get closer to what you want.

A goal is like a destination you want to reach. It tells you which direction to go, so you don’t get lost or run around in circles. Goals are a necessary tool of life planning.

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Your true potentials will be unlocked.

Not only does progress motivate you to keep going, but also makes you start believing in yourself more. You’ll know more about your abilities, and discover your unknown potentials. You’ll see yourself achieve what you didn’t think you could.

You’ll learn that your life is the totality of the choices you make along the way. With each step you take towards you goal, you’re writing a new page in your big book of life.[2]

You will be able to focus on what matters, and not be distracted by what doesn’t.

Knowing which direction to go makes all the difference. A clear goal tells you to avoid wasting time on the sidetracks. It helps you better manage the limited time and energy you have.

Goals guide you in the long run and motivate you in the short run.

A goal sets you on track in the long run., helping you to lead a meaningful life. Setting a goal requires you to think about yourself, and helps you realize what you truly want in life. Goal setting is personal, it is your choice. You have the power to control your own life, and you are free to give whatever meaning to it, whatever you want. Knowing you are in control makes you happier.[3]

In the short run, it helps you decide what steps to take towards it. Taking the right steps brings you improvement, as well as the sense of achievement you need to stay motivated.

Now that you know how how awesome it is to set goals, it’s time to learn the basics.

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There’re some basic rules to follow if you want to set the right goal.

Here’re the 3 rules of goal setting:[4]

    1. Know your priorities

    Your goals should be about what the most important things to you. Ask yourself: among all the things I could do in life, what do I care about most? What are the high priorities? Then, decide on just a small number of things to work on (one at a time, if you prefer). Having goals that matter to you is the key to staying motivated day in and day out. You’re pushed to actually achieve it, because you’re doing it not for anyone else, but for yourself.

    Again, focusing your time and energy on just a few things—the important ones—makes you more likely to achieve your goals. Distractions are never helpful and will only drain you.

    2. Set SMART goals

    A helpful tool to evaluate your goal is to see if it fulfils the SMART criteria:[5]

    • Specific — A clear and specific idea of what you want to achieve. A simple trick to set a goal is to start with a verb.
    • Measurable — Be specific with how much or how many about your goal.
    • Achievable — Look at the skills you have or you lack. Make a plan of the exact things you’ll have to do to reach your goal.
    • Realistic — Think about the resources available to you and be realistic about the effort you’re willing to put it.
    • Time-bound — Set a time limit to keep you motivated. It can be a daily, weekly, or monthly target.

    These 5 letters help you set the right goal for your situation, and help you achieve it effectively.

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    3. Make an action plan of baby steps

    You can never underestimate the importance of motivation, especially if you have a big goal or a long term goal. Things can look intimidating in the beginning, and you may be too scared to start working towards your goal. This is why you need an action plan to motivate you.

    First, you want to work out all the steps you have to take in order to reach your goal. Next, you have to break down each step into smaller actions that are manageable to you. This makes it easier for you to accomplish your goal, and lets you know how much progress you’re making — progress is motivation.

    For example, if your goal is to lose 10 pounds in 3 weeks, you can list out the concrete steps you have to take in the coming semester:

    • eat only vegetables and white meat
    • hit the gym every other day for an hour
    • go running every morning for an hour

    Then, break down each item into smaller tasks:

    • eat only vegetables and white meat: have my meal plan and meals ready over the weekend, choose salads over burgers when dinning out etc.
    • …and so on

    Learn from these examples and put the rules to practice.

    Over the years, you may have to set goals for different aspects of your life. Here are some examples showing you how to make them good.

    Example i) Career: I want to improve my time management at work.

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    • Specific: I want to keep up with the daily schedule and meet deadlines. I should make a to-do list every day, and tick everything off by the end of the work day.
    • Measurable: I want to be able to leave work on time every day.
    • Achievable: I can learn to prioritize my tasks and estimate the time needed for each task.
    • Realistic: Taking 10 minutes in the morning to plan my workday is reasonable. It will remind me to keep up with progress during the day.
    • Time-bound: I want to achieve this within 1 month.
    • Action Plan: Take 10 minutes every day to make a to-do list, learn productivity tips from online articles, review progress and planning strategy every week.

    Example ii) Finances: I want to spend less on unnecessary items and start saving more money.

    • Specific: I’ve been spending nearly all of my salary each month. I want to save up US$3000 to travel to Europe.
    • Measurable: I will save 20% of my salary each month.
    • Achievable: I can write a grocery list before I go shopping. I can also draw up a budget plan for my weekly expenses, so I have a good idea of how much money I can spend on different things.
    • Realistic: Planning ahead helps me resist the temptations when I go to the shops. Saving 20% per month is not that hard, since I’ve been buying so many things I don’t need.
    • Time-bound: I will reach my goal of US$3000 in 10 months.
    • Action Plan: Compare grocery prices online, write shopping lists, eat out less often and cook for myself more.

    Example iii) Family: I want to spend more time with my family.

    • Specific: I will chat with my family more often, and spend weekends with them instead of at the office.
    • Measurable: I will have dinner at home and chat with my family on weekdays, and go out with them at least once a week.
    • Achievable: I can leave work on time instead of working overtime, so I can arrive home by dinnertime. Also, my office hours actually don’t include weekends, so I can stay with my family at weekends.
    • Realistic: I am able to finish work on time. I just have to work more efficiently.
    • Time-bound: I will keep doing this for at least a year, starting next week.
    • Action Plan: Plan family weekend activities before hand.

    Example iv) Hobbies: I want to take up playing the piano again.

    • Specific: I want to learn to play the 3rd movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata.
    • Measurable: I will practice for 90 minutes each day, 5 days a week.
    • Achievable: I took piano lessons when I was young and was pretty good at playing classical music. This piece should be manageable to me.
    • Realistic: I work on weekdays from 9 to 5. I have enough free time to fit in the practice sessions.
    • Time-bound: I want to be able to play the sonata smoothly within 1 month.
    • Action Plan: Break down the music and practice in small chunks, focus on sections where I struggle, watch YouTube videos to learn different interpretations.

    Example v) Self-improvement: I want to be a better listener.

    • Specific: I want to listen to my family and friends when they talk to me instead of just focusing on my own thoughts.
    • Measurable: I can see if I’m able to recall what they have said to me after chatting with them.
    • Achievable: I can pay attention to what people have to say before I give my own opinions when I chat with them. I can learn to be patient.
    • Realistic: My family and friends matter to me, so I should pay more attention to them. Also, listening to them when they talk shows that I care.
    • Time-bound: I will practice listening in the coming 3 weeks.
    • Action Plan: Read online about communication and listening skills, have the word “listen” written on my palm to remind me to listen when chatting with family and friends.

    Example vi) Health and Fitness: I want to eat more fruits.

    • Specific (and Measurable): My goal is to eat 2 servings of fruit every day.
    • Achievable: I can buy my favorite fruits in bulk and take 2 pieces to work with me every day. At weekends, I can go to the market and see what’s in season.
    • Realistic: Incorporating more fruit into my diet isn’t difficult. Also, getting enough micronutrients is essential to my health.
    • Time-bound: I want to stick to my goal for at least 3 months, so that it becomes a habit.
    • Action Plan: Write down fruits at the top of my grocery list, try new varieties of fruit.

    Featured photo credit: Flaticon via flaticon.com

    Reference

    More by this author

    Wen Shan

    Proud Philosophy grad. Based in HK.

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    Last Updated on April 23, 2019

    How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

    How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

    Stretch goals are a lot like physical fitness. When you adopt a physical sport such as running, continual practice leads to increased stamina, growth and progress.

    While commitment to the sport improves performance, true growth happens when you are stretched beyond your comfort zone. I know this from personal experience.

    For years, I was an avid runner. I ran with a variety of running groups in the Washington, D.C., area and in Columbus, Ohio, where I lived prior to moving to the nation’s capital in 2011.

    While I was initially fearful about slacking off on my exercise habit when I moved to D.C., running enthusiasts in the area provided continual motivation, inspiring me to lace up my shoes day after day. Much to my surprise, many of the area’s running stores (including Pacers and Potomac River Running) boasted running groups that met in the mornings and evenings. So, it was relatively easy for a newcomer like me to connect with like-minded peers.

    I was never a particularly fast runner, but I enjoyed the afterglow of the sport: being completely drained but feeling a sense of accomplishment; setting and reaching goals; buying and wearing out new tennis shoes. The sound of throngs of feet pounding the pavement in semi-unison is still enough to bring tears to my eyes. Yes, I sometimes tear up at the start of races.

    Of all the groups I ran with, the Pacers Store group that met on Monday nights in Logan Circle boasted the fastest runners. I met up with the group week after week only to be the slowest runner. It was difficult to muster the courage to get up every week and meet the group knowing what was waiting for me: sweating and watching the backs of fellow runners.

    Each time I joined the group, I was stretching myself without even realizing it. Instead of feeling like I was transitioning into a better running, for a long time I felt I was torturing myself.

    Then something remarkable happened. I went for a run with a different set of runners and noticed my time had improved. I was running at a faster pace and doing so with ease. What was once uncomfortable for me I now handled with ease.

    The reason I was becoming a better runner was because I was taking myself out of my comfort zone and challenging myself physically and mentally. This example illustrates the process of growth.

    Fortunately, we can create situations that stretch us in our personal and professional lives.

    What Is a Stretch Goal?

    A stretch goal – as authors Sim B. Sitkin, C. Chet Miller and Kelly E. See detail an article “The Stretch Goal Paradox” in Harvard Business Review[1] – is something that is extremely difficult and novel. It is something that not everyone does, and it’s sometimes considered impossible.

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    In general, you establish stretch goals by doing things that are difficult or temporarily challenging.

    For instance, when I was first promoted to a senior communications management role, I knew I needed to beef up my relationships with media personalities. I set a goal to once a month book a day of media interviews in New York City – which is home to many media outlets, including SiriusXM radio, CNN, NBC News, HuffPost, VIBE.

    This was a huge goal because it meant not only identifying the right people to meet with but convincing them to meet with me and my team. While I didn’t end up meeting the goal of doing a full day of media interviews in New York City, I met more people than I would have met had I not established the goal and instead stayed in the comfort of my D.C. office.

    It is important to note that just because you establish a stretch goal doesn’t mean you’ll achieve the goal each time. However, the process of trying is guaranteed to provide some level of growth.

    The Importance of Creating Stretch Goals

    The beginning of the year is a perfect time to assess where you are excelling and where there is room for you to grow. I typically start the year by creating a yearlong strategic plan for myself.

    I think about the things that are necessary to do and things that would be cool to do. I assess the people I should know and think through how to meet them. Then I ask myself if the goals are realistic and what would need to happen for me to achieve them.

    Over time, I have learned that there are five things I can do to set stretch goals:

    1. Get Outside of Your Head

    If I exist within the confines of my imagination, I imperil my own growth and creativity.

    If I examine my accomplishments and celebrate them in isolation of others’ accomplishments, my vantage point is limited.

    I want to be comfortable with what I accomplish, but I also want to be motivated by watching others. In some respects, stretching is about expanding your network of friends, associates and mentors. These are the people who will propel or slow your growth and development.

    Since two are better than one, I always value being able to share my progress with others, seek feedback and then map a plan for success.

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    2. Focus on a Couple Areas at a Time

    When setting goals, it is important to focus on a couple of areas at a time. Most of us are only able to focus on a few things at a time, and if you feel you are unable to tackle all that is before you, you may simply disengage.

    I see this in so many areas of life:

    When people get in debt, if they believe the debt is insurmountable, they refuse to look at incoming bills for fear of facing down the debt. Unfortunately, many businesses go awry when setting stretch goals.

    In “The Stretch Goal Paradox,” Sitkin, Miller and See note:

    “Our research suggests that though the use of stretch goals is quite common, successful use is not. And many executives set far too many stretch goals. In the past five years, for example, Tesla failed to meet more than 20 of founder Elon Musk’s ambitious projections and missed half of them by nearly a year, according to the Wall Street Journal.”

    Goal-setting is like a marathon, not a sprint. It doesn’t all need to happen at the same time, and pacing is extremely important if you want to get to the finish line. It is better to focus on a couple goals at a time, master them and then move on to the next thing.

    3. Set Aside Time Each Year to Focus on Goal-Setting

    When I was a managing director for communications for the Advancement Project, I spent the first part of every year facilitating a communications planning meeting.

    The planning meeting began with the team members assessing the goals the team had established in the preceding year, and whether those goals were realistic or not. If we failed to meet certain goals, we broke down why that happened. From there, we brainstormed about possibilities for the current year.

    For instance, one year we set a goal of pitching and getting 24 opinion essays published. This was audacious because no one on the eight-person team had the luxury of focusing exclusively on editing and pitching opinion essays to publications around the world. We would need to focus on pitching in between the rest of our work.

    We hit this goal within the first eight months of the year. Remarkably, in total, we ended up getting 40 opinion essays published that year, which was an indication that our original goal was too low. We upped the goal to 41 the next year, and amazingly, we hit 42 published opinion essays or guest columns.

    From this experience, we not only learned what was feasible, we also learned the power of focus.

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    When we focused as a team on getting the commentary on our issues out in the public domain, we were successful. The key in all of this is that there was a ton of discussion around which goal we’d pursue and why.

    Equally important, as a manager, I didn’t set the goals alone; the team members and I established the goals collaboratively. This ensured buy-in from each individual.

    4. Use the S.M.A.R.T. Goal Model to Set Realistic Goals

    S.M.A.R.T.

    is a synonym for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. For the sake of this article, the realistic portion of the acronym is most important.

    While you want to set audacious goals, you want to ensure that they are realistic as well. No one is served by setting a goal that is impossible to accomplish.

    Failing to meet goals can be demoralizing for teams, so it’s important to be sober-eyed about what is possible. Additionally, the purpose of setting goals is to advance and grow, not depress morale.

    For instance, my team would have been discouraged had I begun the year asking it to pitch and place 40 opinion essays if we didn’t already have a track record of placing close to two dozen essays.

    By using the S.M.A.R.T. formula, we were able to achieve all that we set out to do.

    5. Break the Goal up into Small Digestible Parts

    I am a recovering perfectionist. As a writer, being a perfectionist can be counterproductive because I can fail to start if I don’t see a clear pathway to victory.

    The same is true with goal-setting. That’s why I join Lifehack’s fellow contributor Deb Knobelman, Ph.D., in noting that it is critically important to break goals into bite-sized chunks.

    When I had a goal of doing daylong media meetings in New York City, I had to think through all the barriers to achieving that goal and all the steps required to meet the goal.

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    One step was identifying which reporters, producers and hosts to engage. Another step was writing a pitch or meeting invitation that would capture their attention. Another step was thinking through the program areas I wanted to highlight and the new angles I could offer to different reporters.

    Since reporters want to cover stories that no one else has written, I needed to come up with fresh angles for each of the reporters I was engaging. An additional step was thinking through who from my team I’d take with me to the various meetings.

    I was clear that, as a talking head, as public relations reps are sometimes called, I needed the right spokesperson in order to land repeated meetings with different outlets.

    A final step was thinking through what I needed to bring to each meeting and which reports, videos and testimonials would buttress our claims and be of interest to media figures.

    As I walked through what was needed to bring my goal of doing daylong meetings to reality, I realized that not only was the idea within reach, but I was excited to tackle the challenge.

    From that point until now, I have learned to break down goals into smaller parts and tackle the smaller parts on the path to knocking the goal out of the park.

    The Bottom Line

    These are my recommendations for setting stretch goals, and there are a ton of other resources to support you in the workplace and in your community.

    For instance, LinkedIn’s Lynda.com platform has a wonderful suite of leadership development videos, including ones on establishing stretch goals. This is a paid resource but may be worth the investment if you lead a team or want to invest in tools for your own growth and development.

    Featured photo credit: Avatar of user Isaac Smith Isaac Smith @isaacmsmith Isaac Smith via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Harvard Business Review: The Stretch Goal Paradox

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