hand over desk holding note: set goals
Archive, Skills and Strategies

Why and How to Set Goals

Recently, I was reading a blog post about the goals of the month this mother had chosen to set for herself along with her status on the goals from the previous month. I immediately thought, what a fantastic way to succeed, I should make a post about tips for setting goals you will actually achieve. But first:

Why it is Important to Set Effective Goals

We’ve all faced situations in life where we don’t feel motivated to accomplish a certain task or complete a certain goal (cue flashbacks of grad school and dissertation). Usually this has to do with the complexity of the task or the length of time it will take to complete it. Sometimes it’s even about becoming paralyzed by the fear of failure.

Part of what makes this so difficult is that we fail to effectively plan and/or choose unrealistic goals or expectations of ourselves. Or perhaps we try and take on too much at one time and become disenchanted with the whole thing when we cannot possibly complete it all. The more we practice this behavior, the better we get at being bad goal setters. Or, in other words, practice makes permanent. If you practice something the wrong way, you better believe you will end up doing it the wrong way. Then, when our mood begins to suffer because we aren’t making any progress in life, we feel even less motivated and down the rabbit hole we go.

So, how do we begin changing these habits? Well aren’t you a lucky duck? I’m about to throw down a little enlightenment. (No but really, these methods are things you probably already know intrinsically, but have just not practiced often enough to make them habits, yet).

How to Make Achievable Goals (in no particular order)hand over desk holding note: set goals

Envision what you want

First and foremost, how can you set a goal if you don’t know what the heck you want? If your goal is vague, your path to get there is fuzzy too. Think of it like this, you get in the car to travel to a new vacation getaway you’ve never been to before, get all buckled up, and turn on the car. What’s next? Ah yes, driving! BUT, you’ve forgotten your GPS/cellphone/mapquest (does anyone still use that??). So, how are you going to get there? If you don’t have directions and you just start driving around meaninglessly, who knows what part of shady town you will end up in. You need direction. Short term goals are your directions to your ultimate dream or long term goal. You cannot make it to the top of a staircase without taking all the little steps in between, yes? Same deal with goal setting. You must envision where you want to be so that you have a destination to head towards. Otherwise, you will not succeed at anything.

Now, when I say envision, I mean detailed vision of your dream/long term goal. I mean, closing your eyes and seeing yourself in that moment and visualizing what that looks like to be living your dream. Think of a typical day in that life. Think of the smells. Walk yourself through every moment of it. Paint the picture because the more you do this, the more real this goal becomes. You are essentially providing clarity to your path. (It’s also super fun to do. I mean, who hasn’t thought of what life would look like if you won the lottery or inherited an assload of dough??)

Write it Down

Now, you’ve got your goal figured out and it’s time to start planning out how you will achieve it. This means you need to sit down and get comfy because you are now tasked with coming up with some of the medium sized goals you will have to accomplish before your dream comes true. For example, if my long term goal is getting a graduate degree, my medium sized goals are things like completing all my coursework, completing a dissertation, and completing all my internship requirements, etc. Once you’ve figured out as many of those medium sized goals as you can, write them down. I like to use the family tree layout, with the main goal on top and the branches coming down to the medium goals. Rinse and repeat for the short term goals.

Using the example above, my short term goals for completing my coursework would be making sure I have reliable transportation to each of my classes, making sure I have identified which courses need to be completed, making sure I have all of my books/materials/tuition taken care of, etc. From there, you keep adding more branches down until you feel you have successfully planned out each step you must take. It may look something like this, more or less:

flow chart to set goalsNow there may be a goal in which you are unsure of the steps you need to take to complete it. Don’t panic. Most of the time, as we focus on other parts of the goals, those steps become clear along the way. Alternatively, you may find you must add some goals or steps you did not originally account for. Again, don’t panic. Just factor those into the equation as they pop up.

Keep Track of Your Progress

As you complete each of these steps, cross them off your list! This serves two functions. First, it always feels pretty good to check something off of a to-do list. Second, when you start slogging through all the goals you have (and sometimes there are tons) it seems like the end goal is just too far away, and we end up feeling discouraged. A list showing how far you’ve come is so rewarding. Of course we know we have accomplished things to get us closer, but actually seeing it on the paper is so much more meaningful.

finger pointing to light bulb: good idea

Those are the biggest 3 tips for being successful in setting and achieving goals, but there are a few others that are vital to your success:

Make sure your goals are realistic. I can set my dream to be Meghan Markle, but since there’s already one in existence, it is unrealistic for me to have such a goal.

Be flexible. If you want to be a mechanic someday, just because you didn’t get the job you wanted in the shop you wanted doesn’t mean you have to abandon all hope of being a mechanic. Being overly rigid can discourage you from things that are totally achievable.

Ask for help. If you want to be a blogger, but you don’t know the first thing about the technical aspects of webpages, find someone who does. Research. Ask questions. Do not be afraid to consult with others!

Don’t let extraneous variables get in your way. Do not let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. That old saying, if there’s a will, there’s a way is completely true. Alternatively, do not let hurdles and potholes on your path stop you from moving forward. You will fail at things. Get up, brush off, and keep moving. Life is a journey and I don’t know about you, but I’m not letting anyone else take my steering wheel from me.

What do you think? Are there any important tips that have helped you achieve your goals? Let me know in the comments below.


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  1. I find setting goals quite helpful, telling others or making those goals public in any way pushes me to get them done too x

  2. […] This is great question that I feel everyone should be asking themselves on the daily. We must see movement forward or face stagnation. If we feel like we are spinning our wheels, but going nowhere, people become inherently depressed. Thus, to move forward, we require a destination, or dream, if you will. Only then will you be able to ask yourself what information you need to get there. Break the trap that I see others’ fall into time and again; Don’t wait until you’re in the car driving before you decide where the hell you’re going because that is incredibly stressful. Most people become overwhelmed with this strategy and do not accomplish anywhere near what they have the potential to accomplish. Poor planning = poor results. Be effective in your goal setting and use that as your compass. Read more about goal setting here. […]

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