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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
There’re some basic rules to follow if you want to set the right goal.
Here’re the 3 rules of goal setting:
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:
- 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.
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.
- 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
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