Goal setting 101

Defining your goals is no simple process. There are often many areas of our lives that could be improved. It probably seems overwhelming to set a concrete goal and form a plan of attack. So where do you start?

Don't be intimidated. Real goals require real effort to both write and achieve. Incorporate the basics of goal setting into your life this year, and you'll be tackling that dream of losing 20kg, running a marathon, or purchasing your own home in no time.

Why bother setting goals?

Do you want to live your life as the little kid in the back of the car whose destination is entirely determined by the adult driving? Of course not. But living life without goals can be like that. What's more, even once you get your hands on the wheel, it's not enough just to know your ultimate destination unless you also have a roadmap and know which signposts to follow along the way.

Goal setting is your roadmap for life. Taking the time to write them down, figure out how you are going to get to your final destination will ensure you don't miss them (or take the scenic route).

Goal Setting Step-by Step:

Step 1. Be SMART and don't play DUMB

Aim to create goals that follow this acronym: 

  • Specific - instead of "I will get in shape," think, "I will exercise three times a week for 20 minutes"
  • Measurable - set standards so that you can actually know whether you're making progress or not, and ensure that you are monitoring your own progress
  • Attainable - choose a goal that will stretch and challenge you, but not so unrealistic that it stops you from trying to achieve it. 
  • Relevant - pick a goal that is meaningful to YOU (not your mother!). If it inspires you and you own it, you'll make it happen. 
  • Timed - attach a day, month and year to your goal and decide when you want it to be achieved by. Being vague about the deadline will give you a licence to keep procrastinating, and will ultimately prevent you from making your goal into a reality. 

In his book Employee Engagement: Why People HATE Working For You, James Adonis warns against unwittingly self-sabotaging all your SMART goals by interspersing them with DUMB ones. Here's what he suggests you avoid at all costs:

  • Directed - goals that are given to you by someone else, instead of being self-created
  • Unaware - goals based on hidden expectations that others may have of you
  • Many - you should focus on 3-5 top goals max: it's called goal setting, not scatter gunning
  • Boring - create goals that challenge and excite you. If you're just bored looking at it, you'll hardly be motivated to achieve it

Step 2. Commit - Put pen to paper!

Once you have a SMART goal you are happy with, translate it from an abstract concept in your head into real words on a real page - you'll be surprised at the result! You'll start being more intentional about achieving your goal, you'll start noticing opportunities relevant to you achieving it, and (slowly but surely) your dream will begin to materialise. 

Step 3. Make a plan

Aim to be as detailed as possible in your plan. Be specific about what steps you are going to take each week to take you towards your final destination. Create checkpoints where you can measure your progress and celebrate your success so far. Poor planning and organisation in these early stages can put you in danger of losing momentum down the track, even meaning you end the year right where you started, realising that all your previous effort was in vain.

Step 4. Overcome obstacles

As soon as you set a goal, and begin to take steps towards achieving it, obstacles are sure to come up in your path. However, it's always possible to turn a setback into a setup that spurs you on to moving forward once more. The trick is to work out how to tackle obstacles before they happen. Good planning and foresight are key.

For example, if you know that the month of June is a particularly busy one at work, and you have a tendency to make poor eating choices when you're stressed, make sure your fridge is fully stocked with lots of healthy snacks, before June comes around. Thoughtful planning will ensure you stay committed to your goal even in the tough periods when you are tempted to leave it behind.

Step 5. Stay inspired

We've all had that experience before of making a big goal at the beginning of the year, tackling it head-on for the first 3 weeks before facing a setback and then losing momentum for the rest of the time.

So what is going to help you stay connected to your goal?

  • Find yourself a whip. This term comes from party-based politics where the 'whip' is a person appointed to ensure commitments are kept on all sides, offering incentives and dishing out punishments. Try appointing someone you trust to hold you accountable - a friend or colleague who is tough enough to stand up to you and loving enough to keep your best interests at heart.
  • Make your goal visible and accessible. Try writing your goal down on a colourful piece of paper, and surround it with images and words that remind you of your dream and what it will be like when you achieve it - get creative! Getting those words into your subconscious - where deeply embedded bad habits and beliefs live, and real, enduring change happens. Having your goal repeatedly accessible will influence you subliminally in surprising ways. Then watch as real, enduring change happens in your life.

Step 6. Celebrate!

It's important to acknowledge your achievements with a reward. Buy tickets to a concert that you've been looking forward to, or plan a weekend away. Even better, gather some friends who have been supporting you in the journey towards your goal and celebrate success together. 

Written by Oonagh O'Reilly & Natalie Saar

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