Without goals we are not stretched. Being stretched mentally or physically is one of our basic needs, alongside the sense of achievement and satisfaction that comes from achieving not only the goal itself, but also from achieving each step along the way.
So, what are goals and how do we best go about setting them? We can think of goal-setting as creating a positive set of expectations. Those expectations then give our mind something to work towards, mobilising our resources both consciously and sub-consciously.
One really effective method of setting goals is by using what is called the SMART approach. SMART stands for:
Specific – If a goal is not sufficiently specific, it can become almost impossible to realise it. It’s a little like saying “I want to travel.” We need to identify things like where, when, how, with whom and for how long. Goals can often fail for lack of detail and sometimes just because they appear too enormous. Really unpack what it is that you want to achieve as well as all the steps involved in getting there. Some may not be immediately apparent until you stand back and think about them. For example, is there a skill you might need to learn or improve to help you achieve the goal? Is there someone’s help on a personal or professional level which you might usefully enlist in some aspect of the overall plan? Have you really built a detailed picture of how things will be for you after you have achieved the goal? We always need a compelling, detailed vision of what it is we want in order to achieve it. Most of the top athletes these days have learned how to rehearse their performance mentally in advance to achieve the best, priming themselves for success. We need to do this too. As Mark Twain said, “The secret of success is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks and then starting on the first one.”
Measurable – How will we know how well we are progressing? Measurement is best done in small steps, not least as it gives us the opportunity to give ourselves credit at every stage (which maintains and boosts our motivation to keep going) and the chance perhaps also to refine aspects of the goal along the way as we learn more about it.
Achievable – A goal needs to be something we have a genuine prospect of achieving. This applies not only to the goal itself but also to each step along the way. There is quite an overlap with being realistic here. We need to be clear with ourselves about how far the goal is within our control. Is it wholly within our control? Or is it something over which we have only influence and, if so, how much and how can we best plan to exert that influence to maximum effect?
Realistic – This is very much about setting realistic steps along the way towards the goal, pacing ourselves appropriately and compassionately.
Time-limited – Having established what and how, what about the time frame both for the goal itself and each step?
Whatever your goal for 2010 or beyond, using this approach will undoubtedly help. Above all, expect the best!