Effective Goal Setting

Goals are set on a number of different levels:

  • First you decide what you want to do with your life and what large-scale goals you want to achieve.
  • Second, you break these down into smaller and smaller targets that you must hit so that you reach your lifetime goals.
  • Finally, once you have your plan, you start working to achieve it.

Your Lifetime Goals

The first step in setting personal goals is to consider what you want to achieve in your lifetime. This exercise gives you the overall perspective that shapes all other aspects of your decision making. To give a broad, balanced coverage of all important areas in your life, try to set goals in some of these categories (or in categories of your own, where these are important to you):

  • Artistic: Do you want to achieve any artistic goals? If so, what?
  • Attitude: Is any part of your mindset holding you back? Is there any part of the way that you behave that upsets you? If so, set a goal to improve your behavior or find a solution to the problem.
  • Career: What level do you want to reach in your career?
  • Education: Is there any knowledge you want to acquire in particular? What information and skills will you need to achieve other goals?
  • Family: Do you want to be a parent? If so, how are you going to be a good parent? How do you want to be seen by a partner or by members of your extended family?
  • Financial: How much do you want to earn by what stage?
  • Physical: Are there any athletic goals you want to achieve, or do you want good health deep into old age? What steps are you going to take to achieve this?
  • Pleasure: How do you want to enjoy yourself? - You should ensure that some of your life is for you!
  • Public Service: Do you want to make the world a better place by your existence? If so, how?

Once you have decided your goals in these categories, assign a priority to them from A to F. Then review the goals and re-prioritize until you are satisfied that they reflect the shape of the life that you want to lead.

Also ensure that the goals that you have set are the goals that you want to achieve, not what your parents, spouse, family, or employers want them to be.

Staying on Course

Once you have decided your first set of plans, keep the process going by reviewing and updating your to-do list on a daily basis. Periodically review the longer term plans, and modify them to reflect your changing priorities and experience.

Smart Goal Setting Tips

A useful way of making goals more powerful is to use the SMART mnemonic. While there are plenty of variants, SMART usually stands for:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

For example, instead of having “to sail around the world” as a goal, it is more powerful to say “To have completed my trip around the world by December 31, 2025.” Obviously, this will only be attainable if a lot of preparation has been completed beforehand!

The following broad guidelines will help you to set effective and SMART goals:

  • State each goal as a positive statement: Express your goals positively - 'Execute this technique well' is a much better goal than 'Don't make this stupid mistake'.
  • Be precise: Set a precise goal, putting in dates, times and amounts so that you can measure achievement. If you do this, you will know exactly when you have achieved the goal, and can take complete satisfaction from having achieved it.
  • Set priorities: When you have several goals, give each a priority. This helps you to avoid feeling overwhelmed by too many goals, and helps to direct your attention to the most important ones.
  • Write goals down: this crystallizes them and gives them more force.
  • Keep operational goals small: Keep the low-level goals you are working towards small and achievable. If a goal is too large, then it can seem that you are not making progress towards it. Keeping goals small and incremental gives more opportunities for reward. Derive today's goals from larger ones.
  • Set performance goals, not outcome goals: You should take care to set goals over which you have as much control as possible. There is nothing more dispiriting than failing to achieve a personal goal for reasons beyond your control. These could be bad business environments, poor judging, bad weather, injury, or just plain bad luck. If you base your goals on personal performance, then you can keep control over the achievement of your goals and draw satisfaction from them.
  • Set realistic goals: It is important to set goals that you can achieve. All sorts of people (parents, media, society) can set unrealistic goals for you. They will often do this in ignorance of your own desires and ambitions. Alternatively you may be naïve in setting very high goals. You might not appreciate either the obstacles in the way, or understand quite how much skill you need to develop to achieve a particular level of performance.
  • Do not set goals too low: Just as it is important not to set goals unrealistically high, do not set them too low. People tend to do this where they are afraid of failure or where they are lazy! You should set goals so that they are slightly out of your immediate grasp, but not so far that there is no hope of achieving them. No one will put serious effort into achieving a goal that they believe is unrealistic. However, remember that your belief that a goal is unrealistic may be incorrect. If this could be the case, you can to change this belief by using imagery effectively.