Personal Goal Setting

Why Set Goals?

“Life’s a long, long journey” so we are told, and most of us would not set off on a journey, even a short one, without some idea of where we wanted to go. Yet many people travel on life’s journey with no sense of direction at all.

They travel the by-ways and highways of life taking side roads, detours, even re-tracing their tracks from time to time, and while they may have exciting experiences on their journey, while they may meet interesting fellow-travellers, learn a great deal and see some pretty scenery, they may also be disappointed when they reach their final destination in life.

On the other hand, those life travellers who do have a clear knowledge of where they want to go, who can point themselves in the right direction, and who know when they want to arrive, travel as the Romans did, in straight lines and with great efficiency.

Most of us have careers to think of, futures to secure, people to provide for, things to do. We need maps! We need direction. We need an itinerary. In other words, we need to set ourselves goals.

Goal setting is a very powerful technique that can yield strong returns in all areas of your life.

Benefits of personal goal setting:

  • Clear and focused direction giving a sense of security and purpose.
  • Maximum use of time.
  • Enthusiasm is high for what you want.
  • Moving steadily towards and achieving the results you really want and ultimate success.
  • Boosted self-esteem, confidence and belief in your ability to make things happen and feel in control.

Research (Damon Burton, 1983) has shown that people who use goal setting effectively:

  • suffer less from stress and anxiety
  • concentrate better
  • show more self-confidence
  • perform better
  • are happier and more satisfied.

Choosing Your Personal Goals

When you are developing your goals, you’ll want to give yourself a peaceful environment so you can brainstorm. And, you do want to brainstorm, which means: you write it ALL down, and you throw out nothing, no matter how ridiculous it sounds. When you try to mix brainstorming and practicality, you always lose the benefit of brainstorming. You’ll have time later to be practical with your list.

To learn rules of writing your goals down click here

Sometime during this brainstorming exercise, you ought to do like Steven Covey recommends and visualize your funeral. What would be said about you if it were held today, and how does that differ from what you really want to be said about you? Did you leave your family with a financial situation that you really want them to have? From my own experience, I mustily sadly suggest that you also visualize the funeral of your dearest loved ones. You may think you are being as good to your family as you can be, but I assure you that you will wish you had done far more for them if you lose one of them.

Dream of everything you want, and have always wanted in every facet of your life.

Consider what you would do if you had no limitations. Consider what you would do, be, have if money and health (for example) were not obstacles for you. Also, think about the people you admire and what it is that they have, do, and are that you want to emulate. Note that you might even want to consider one of these people to be your mentor, to help you think through these areas (at least partly), and to tell you what he/she has found to be effective for them.

One convenient way of creating your list of goals is to fill in the blanks under the following categories:

  • What you want to BE
  • What you want to DO
  • What you want to HAVE
  • What you want to GIVE
  • What you Don’t want to BE, DO, HAVE, and GIVE

Click here to learn how to make your personal goals S.M.A.R.T.

To give a broad coverage of all important areas in your life, try to set goals in all of the following categories:

Financial and Career
Do you enjoy your work? Do you feel you are making a contribution to society? Are you living up to your potential? Have you achieved a satisfactory standard of living? Have you planned for your children’s education? What about your own retirement?

Social and Cultural
Does your circle of friends enrich your life and contribute to your sense of fulfillment and well-being? Is there at least one other person with whom you can discuss important life experiences? Do you have interests outside of your career and family (e.g., sports, theater, outdoor events)?

Spiritual and Ethical
Have you ever articulated specific personal values to yourself? Are you living up to those personal values? Is religion important to you? If so, are you happy with the way you are practicing your religion? If not, have you reconciled your relationship with a higher power or with the universe in general?

Family and Home
Have you realized your dream in terms of your home and family relationships? Be sure to use your own personal standards rather than society’s standards.

Mental and Educational
Did you accomplish the educational goals you set for yourself following high-school graduation? Are you still growing and learning? Do you invest in your continuing education on a regular basis?

Physical and Health
How satisfied are you with your current level of physical health? Are you living up to your own standards in terms of diet and exercise? Are you fit enough to do the things you want to do?

Once you’ve brainstormed your list of goals (which you may want to do over the course of a couple of days or weeks), then you can play Mr./Ms. Practical with the list and weed out the ones that just don’t make sense. One way of thinning out the list is to ask, for each goal, “Why do I want this and what good will it really accomplish?” When you find a goal that doesn’t have a good answer to this question, you’ve found a goal you can toss.

Also, as you go over your list of goals, you ought to think about how to prioritize them. Not all goals are going to be equally important. You can prioritize them by area (Personal, Family, Spiritual, Professional, Financial, so forth), with each area having a Priority 1 and a 2 and … Or, you can prioritize them absolutely, with respect for area, as 1 through 109 (or whatever). I vote for prioritizing by area, since priorities change too much as your life circumstances change. (It’s a lot easier to make minor mods to one or more areas than to have to redo your whole list of priorities based on changes in your circumstances and preferences.)

Be sure to set big goals as well as multiple goals. Big goals force you to reach in and use the potential that is inside of you. Long-range goals help you to overcome short-range failures. They can also help you to change your direction without going back on your decision.

Whether or not they ever reach the goals they have set, people who set big, long-range goals have been found to have higher self-confidence, higher self-esteem, and greater personal motivation. The bottom line is that more than half the rewards and benefits achieved from goal-setting comes from actually taking your first step in that direction, regardless of the consequences.

Develop The Plan

Then, it’s time to buckle down to turn the list into action steps.

Decide which goals are to be long-term goals and which are to be short-term and which fall somewhere in between. Then, starting with your short-term goals, visualize what it will take for you to accomplish the goal. This will help you in breaking the goal down into steps. Of course, you also need to set deadlines for each of these goals (and steps).

If any of your goals address making a change of habit, you should note that many researchers have found that it takes about 21 days to change a habit. You’ll want to factor this into your planning. Also, when changing a habit, you’ll want to find ways to give yourself positive reinforcement for making changes.

There is a very simple five step process that you can go through to set any goal whether personal or professional. To be effective, the goal you choose must include all five of the following steps:

  • Identify your goal by writing it down
  • Set a deadline for the achievement.
  • List the obstacles to overcome in accomplishing your goal.
  • List the skills and knowledge required to reach your goal. What do you need to know?
  • Develop a plan of action to reach your goal.

Staying On Track

Once you have decided your first goal plans, keep the process going by reviewing and updating your to-do list on a daily basis. Some people recommend doing this as the last thing done the day before, others as the first thing done in the morning – this is up to you. Periodically review your other plans, and modify them to reflect your changing priorities.

Constantly Evaluate Your Progress
Having an action plan is not enough. The captain will have to constantly evaluate his progress in order to be sure he is on target. Unforeseen obstacles are sure to arise, such as a hailstorm, or increased southerly winds. As a result, he may have to increase his speed or guide the boat in a more westerly direction. In other words, notice what is working and what is not. If an approach is not working, don’t waste your time with it. Change your approach.

Never Lose Sight of Your Goal
Take the time to review your goals every morning when you get up and every night before you go to bed. This will keep them fresh in your mind. If you think reviewing your goals twice a day is too much to ask, maybe you should reevaluate what it is you want. Ask yourself, “How important is it to me that I attain my goals?”

Don’t Procrastinate

Procrastination is a “silent killer”. Understand that the only way to achieve your goals is to take action! Knowledge means nothing if you don’t apply it. How many people have you come across with an unbelievable amount of education working a mediocre job? The world is full of people who don’t apply their knowledge. On the other hand, chances are you know of people with less educational background who apply everything they learn. These people are usually the ones who are most successful in all areas of their lives.

Do something right now that will help you to achieve your goals. There is no time like the present! Get the ball rolling. Each step you take brings you one step closer to the life you want.

Remember the motto, “The road to Someday, leads to the town of Nowhere”. Someday is today!

Finally, you ought to have your key goals in front of you on a regular basis. You should look at them at least weekly to ensure you are making progress and to see if you need to modify your plans in anyway.

There are various ways of accomplishing this periodic review and planning activity. A simple one is to have a memo set up on your Palm or PocketPC in which you have listed your key goals, so that you can review the memo periodically. Of course, you should also have ToDo items set up for each of these key goals.

Another way of organizing your goals is to use a project planner or a database manager.

Achieving Goals

When you have achieved a goal, take the time to enjoy the satisfaction of having done so. Absorb the implications of the goal achievement, and observe the progress you have made towards other goals. If the goal was a significant one, reward yourself appropriately.

With the experience of having achieved this goal, review the rest of your goal plans:

  • If you achieved the goal too easily, make your next goals harder
  • If the goal took a dispiriting length of time to achieve, make the next goals a little easier
  • If you learned something that would lead you to change other goals, do so
  • If while achieving the goal you noticed a deficit in your skills, decide whether to set goals to fix this.

Failure to meet goals does not matter as long as you learn from it. Feed lessons learned back into your goal-setting program.

Remember too that your goals will change as you mature – adjust them regularly to reflect this growth in your personality. If goals do not hold any attraction any longer, then let them go. Goal-setting is your servant, not your master – it should bring you real pleasure, satisfaction and a sense of achievement.