Do you need help with goal setting in your personal life, professional life, or student life?
Are looking for a step-by-step guide to show you the right way to set a goal?
If you’re interested in setting a goal, you’ve probably got a good idea as to what you want to achieve in life.
You may want to find your dream job, run a marathon, lose those last 15 pounds, find the love of your life, or learn a new language.
Your end result is crystal clear in your mind’s eye.
You know exactly how you want things to turn out for you in future.
Yet for some strange reason, the process of goal setting appears to be a mysterious and somewhat confusing activity that leaves you scratching your head…
The real challenge (besides achieving your goal, of course) lies in succinctly articulating your desires into a clear and concise form.
The good news is that the process of goal setting is relatively simple.
And like many things in life, the process becomes easier and easier once you learn, and practice it on a regular basis.
In this post, I offer a practical goal setting how-to-guide to help you create solid, clear, and concise goals.
You’ll definitely want to keep this guide handy whenever you’re looking to set some goals for yourself either this year, next year, or any time in future.
Goal Setting 101
We all know setting a goal for ourselves is the first step in making our goal a reality here on planet earth. But have you ever considered the importance of clearly articulating your desires into a clear and concise form?
At first blush, setting a goal for yourself is oh-so-easy: you just state what you want. You can say you want to go back to school, buy a brand-new car, get married, pay off your debt, or any other goal of your choosing.
The process is fast, free, and yet can be extremely frustrating! Why is this the case?
Well, all of the items I described above are end results. Going back to school is clear as day as is paying off one’s debt.
But if you look closely, you’ll notice these goals are missing something. What in the world can they be missing?
The reality is that these goals are missing clarity and definition.
There’s absolutely no room for vagueness or generalities when setting a goal. Otherwise, you could reach a goal that looks like your desired goal but is lightyears away from your true desire.
For instance, is going back to school to become an accountant your dream, or would you rather go back to school to become a pastry chef? There’s a world of difference between the two!
The more specific you can be when setting your goal, the better chance you’ll have in actually achieving it.
Now, this whole process of goal setting and actually reaching a goal can be a bit abstract.
To help you better understand the importance of a well-defined goal, we’re going to tell the story using a simple analogy…
A Real-World Goal Analogy
A simple to way to think about reaching your goals is to liken them to playing a sport with physical goals.
Sports are loved the world over. And it’s easy to see why sports are so much fun to play and exciting to watch: players must perform of actions within some sort of constraint.
Without constraints or rules, games would be incredibly dull and boring. There would be absolutely no incentive to pass a ball to one’s teammates, strengthen a team’s defense, or shore up a team’s plays.
Let’s take a moment to unpack this a little bit further with the sports of soccer, hockey, and football.
Each of these sports have visible, physical goal areas or zones, along with some combination of netting and/or constructed metal bars.
At a very basic level we can describe object of each as such:
- The object of soccer is to kick a ball into the opponent’s goal
- The object of hockey is to hit a puck into the opponent’s goal
- The object of football is to get the football into the opponent’s goal zone
Can you see where I’m going with this?
In each of these cases, the goal areas or zones are clearly defined and marked. Whether you’re a player, referee, official, or spectator, you have a fairly good idea as to when a ball, puck, or football has entered the goal area or zone.
This all sounds simple enough, right? But what would happen if we didn’t clearly define the goal areas or zones for these sports?
You guessed it, there would be sheer chaos!
Let’s recreate this chaotic scene using the game of soccer as an example…
A Game Without Clearly Defined Goals…
Imagine a game of soccer without clearly defined goals.
Penalty box markings would be changed and moved by referees every five minutes. Goal posts would be made of bendable plastic, which would constantly flux and flex over the course of the game. Netting in goal posts would be unsecured and would flap about, blowing from one side to the other.
Can you imagine the type of soccer game that would ensue with such undefined goals? The game would be filled with complete and total confusion!
Players from both teams would kick balls into perceived goal zones, only to learn those goal zones no longer exist. Referees and officials would constantly argue about the validity of a goal. Spectators would be equally frustrated at their team being unable to score a goal.
Generally speaking, it would be impossible for any player to score a goal as there are no clearly defined goals zones or areas.
Goal Setting the SMART way
As we’ve seen in the soccer example above, having vague or undefined goals can be a truly chaotic scene.
If you are truly serious about reaching your goal, you’ll want to do everything in your power to make sure you create a goal that is clearly defined or concise. Otherwise, you’ll be living in the equivalent of a never-ending soccer game where you’d run around the field, aimlessly kicking the ball, hoping it will enter the goal sooner or later….
Are you ready to find out what it takes to turn your goal setting skills from good to great? It’s all about setting goal for yourself that is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-based, or SMART, for short.
You may or may not have heard of this goal setting method. Regardless, we’re going to thoroughly review each of the components of the SMART goal so you can get a real feel as to how you should construct your goals so you can actually achieve them.
Are you ready? Let’s get this goal setting party started!
You need a goal that is specific.
Far too many goals are too general in nature. Just think about any of these general goals that you’ve heard time and time again as in, “I want to be more healthy,” “I want to make more money,” or “I want to be more organized.”
While these are all nice goals to have, your goal needs to be something other than a clichéd cookie-cutter statement. It has to stand out proudly from the general goal crowd.
There’s no room for broad strokes here, you need sharp and clear lines to define your goal. The more specific you can be the better (just think about our soccer example from above)
When it comes to setting a specific goal, you have to be brutally honest with yourself about what it is you want to achieve. You have to drill down deep in your heart of hearts and specifically identify what it is you want to accomplish.
Let’s take a moment to look at some general goals and convert them into more specific goals. You’ll see how easy this is in just a moment:
- I want to be more healthy becomes I want to lose excess body fat
- I want to be more organized becomes I want to organize the papers on top of my desk at work
- I want to have less stuff becomes I want to sell unwanted articles of clothing to the local consignment shop
Here are some tips to help you set a goal that’s super-specific:
Think about how you’d like to transform your life.
Chances are something in your life is causing you pain, anguish, annoyance, or frustration. Perhaps you’re just looking to challenge or better yourself as a person. Take a moment to think about what you would love to have transformed in your life. Specifically speaking, what would you change? What would be different? What would be fresh, new, and exciting for you?
Determine if your goal passes the genie test.
Imagine a magic genie has suddenly appeared beside you. The genie will grant you one wish, any wish you’d like. The only caveat? You must be 100% explicit in your answer. Otherwise, you may get something you didn’t want. Now, take a moment to think about your goal as if it were your wish.
Is your goal clear enough for the genie grant you what you desire? Is it painfully clear and evident as to what it is you want when it comes to your goal? Remember, ask and you’ll receive. For example, if you tell the genie you want more money, it might give you a $1. Technically speaking, you’d have more money than you did just a few minutes ago. It would be much better to tell the genie you wanted a specific amount of money (more on that in just a moment…).
You need a goal that is measurable.
When it comes to setting goals, you need to have a way to quantify, or measure, your accomplishments. This seems like a no brainer, but you need to be able to measure, track, and record your results in a way that makes it clear to both yourself and to others.
The easiest way to make sure you have a goal that is measurable is to incorporate some sort of fixed number or amount to it. What’s more, you need to specify the type of measurement you’re going to use in your goal. Types of measurements can include things like: centimeters, inches, pounds, dollars, kilograms, steps, items, units, pages, people…and so on.
Let’s take a look at some general goals and convert them into more measurable goals:
- I want to lose excess body fat becomes I want to lose 10 pounds of excess body fat
- I want to organize the papers on top of my desk at work becomes I want to organize the papers on top of my desk into 15 file folders
- I want to sell unwanted belongings to the local consignment shop becomes I want to sell 25 unwanted articles of clothing to the local consignment shop
Here are some tips to help you set a goal that’s measurable:
Make sure your method of measurement makes sense for your goal.
It’s crucial you have the right method of measurement attached to your goal. Otherwise, you’ll be hard-pressed to track or evaluate your progress! For instance, if your goal is to write a book, you wouldn’t measure your progress by inches of text written, as in, “I wrote 5 inches of text today”. You’d probably measure your progress by number of words or pages written.
Does your method of measurement make sense for your goal? Could you describe your method of measurement easily to a friend or family member? When in doubt, double-check your method of measurement is truly in alignment with your goal and won’t cause you unnecessary confusion or complication in future.
You need a goal that is achievable.
When it comes to setting goals, you need to set a goal that you can reach or attain. Your goal has to be something that you can actually physically execute; achievable means you can actually achieve it.
Generally speaking, your goal isn’t going to go against, challenge, or break the laws of physics. In most cases, your goal will follow what is physically possible here on planet earth, right now.
Please note, this doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t set challenging goals for yourself that stretch the limits of the human body or mind. For most people, setting a goal that is achievable is one that they can truly, physically accomplish.
Let’s take a look at some unachievable goals and convert them into more achievable goals:
- I want to lose 10 pounds of excess body fat in 2 hours becomes I want to lose 10 pounds of excess body fat in 2 months’ time
- I want to organize the papers on top of my desk into 15 file folders without sorting each paper becomes I want to organize the papers on top of my desk into 15 file folders by sorting each paper into the appropriate file folder pile
- I want to sell 25 unwanted articles of clothing to the local consignment shop that’s been out of business for a year becomes I want to sell 25 unwanted articles of clothing to the local consignment shop that just opened last week
Here are some tips to help you set a goal that’s achievable:
Force yourself to take a reality check.
Once you’ve drafted your goal, set it aside for several days so you can get some healthy distance from it. Look at your goal 3-5 days later and ask yourself, “Given the laws of physics, does this goal seem achievable or unachievable?”
If you think your goal is achievable, you should revise it to a more realistic one. If you have any doubts, you may want to bounce your goal off of someone else (see next tip).
Get some honest feedback.
Find a trusted friend or family member who is brutally honest and supportive of your goal. Sit down with them and have them review your proposed goal with you. Ask them point blank if the goal is achievable given the parameters you’d given.
If not, ask them for their take on what would be a more achievable goal. You can then use this information to develop a more achievable goal for yourself. Remember, the idea here is for you to make progress.
You need a goal that is realistic.
Watch out daydreamers…it’s time to get your head out of the clouds. Your goal needs to be one that is totally realistic.
What this means is that your goal has to be 100% realistic and relevant to you, your life, and your lifestyle. This is important!
Your goal has to be relatable to your current and future goals in life. Remember, you’re setting your goal in the first place so you can improve yourself on a personal or professional level.
If your goal doesn’t help, assist, interest, suit, or inspire, you’ll just end up wasting your valuable time and energy.
Again, this isn’t to say you can’t take on challenges or push yourself, but you need to have a solid foundation that will set you up for success.
Let’s take a look at some unrealistic goals and convert them into realistic goals:
Scenario: You want to lose excess body fat by increasing your daily exercise, but hate going to the gym to workout.
I want to lose 10 pounds of excess body fat by working out at the gym becomes I want to lose 10 pounds of excess body fat by going for a brisk 30 minute walk each day, 5 times a week.
Scenario: You want to organize the papers on top of your desk, but you need help setting up a system that will work for you.
I want to organize the papers on top of my desk into 15 file folders becomes I want to hire a professional organizer to help me declutter, organize, and create a filing system for the top of my desk
Scenario: You want to get rid of your unwanted clothing, but don’t want to deal with paperwork or a consignment decision. You just want to be rid of your excess clothes, ASAP.
I want to sell 25 unwanted articles of clothing to the local consignment shop becomes I want to donate 25 unwanted articles of clothing to the local thrift shop
Here are some tips to help you set a goal that’s realistic:
Consider other aspects of your life.
Remember, the goal you’re setting for yourself doesn’t exist outside of your life; it is part of your life! As such, it will be subject to your daily routine, work, school, activities, chores, and relationships, and more.
Take a moment to consider what type of impact the goal will have on the rest of your life. Is your goal directly in line with your current and future plans? Are you willing to make changes in other areas of your life so you can reach your goal?
Check your calendar.
Before setting your goal, check your calendar or schedule. How do you spend your time on any given day? Do you have sufficient time to work towards your goal each day as you’ve currently described it? If not, you might need to revaluate and readjust your schedule.
Will you need to carve out time in your schedule specifically so you can work towards your goal? Will you need to cut back time spent on other pursuits in order to reach your goal? Will you need to make other adjustments with friends and family or at work and school so you can properly work towards your goal?
You need a goal that is time-based.
A goal without a deadline will continue on for the rest of your life until you die. This may sound a bit harsh, but it’s the truth. You have to create a deadline for your goal, otherwise, you’ll probably never get around to doing it.
Having a goal that is time-based gives you a sense of urgency and importance for you to put your head to the grindstone and work until you reach your goal. What’s more, a time-based goal allows you measure your progress in the timeframe you’ve set out for yourself.
Let’s take a look at some goals and convert them into time-based goals:
- I want to lose 10 pounds of excess body fat in the next couple of months becomes I want to lose 10 pounds of excess body fat by March 30th
- I want to organize the papers on top of my desk into 15 file folders becomes I want to organize the papers on top of my desk into 15 file folders by August 31st
- I want to sell 25 unwanted articles of clothing to the local consignment shop becomes I want to sell 25 unwanted articles of clothing to the local consignment shop by the first Monday of December
Here are some tips to help you set a goal that’s time-based:
Schedule your goal and key dates.
This sounds incredibly simple, and it is, but it is an important first step. Enter your goal start and end dates into your paper planner and/or digital calendar. You should also add in any other goal milestones or sub deadlines you may have.
Track your time on a daily basis.
Paying attention to the passage of time while you work towards your goal can be quite useful. There’s many different ways to do this: you can download and use a countdown app on your phone or computer, cross off dates on a paper calendar, drop coins or marbles into an empty jar, write down dates in a journal or notebook, cover a wall or area with sticky notes, or scribble hash marks on a wall.
Putting Goal Setting Together
Now that you’ve learned the SMART goal technique (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-based), it’s time to make sure your goal is truly a smart one.
Your goal should be clear and concise, so much so that is there absolutely no doubt as to what it is you want to achieve.
If you sense a bit of hesitation on your part, you’ll probably want to go back to the drawing board to refine your goal until is just right.
Here are three examples of general and SMART goals, crafted from the examples in this post:
General goal #1: I want to be more healthy
SMART goal #1: I want to lose 10 pounds of excess body fat by March 30th by going for a brisk 30 minute walk each day, 5 times a week.
General goal #2: I want to be more organized
SMART goal #2: I want to organize the papers on top of my desk into 15 file folders by hiring a professional organizer to help me declutter, organize, and create a filing system by August 31st.
General goal #3: I want to have less stuff
SMART goal #3: I want to sell 25 unwanted articles of clothing to the local consignment shop that opened last week by the first Monday of December.
How about you? What goals are you looking to set for yourself? What makes your goal a SMART goal? Why not share your goal with us below! Join the conversation and leave a comment below!
A version of this post appeared on the blog in 2018.
For even more time management help, check out The Order Expert’s Guide to Time Management, a self-guided eWorkbook designed to help you master basic time management skills.
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