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How to Set Goals

1. Think about the "big picture." Ask yourself some important questions about what you want
for your life. The answers to this question can be as general as "I want to be happy," or "I
want to help people," or "I want to be fit."
These general statements can help hone in on the things that really matter to you.
Recognizing the things you value will guide your decision-making and keep you focused on
your end goals.
Think of the answers to your "big picture" questions as things you hope to attain 10, 15, or
20 years from now.
2. Break the "big picture" down into smaller and more specific goals. Consider areas of your
life that you either want to change or that you feel you would like to develop with time.
Begin to ask yourself questions about what you'd like to achieve in each area and how you
would like to approach it within a five year timeframe.
In terms of your career, you may ask yourself what your ideal job is. What steps do you need
to take to get that job? What are the roadblocks? Do you need a specific degree or
certificate?
With financial goals, you may want to consider where the money will come from. How much
money you will need to live comfortably? What are the best ways to spend or invest money?
Do you want a house, new car, or to begin a retirement plan?
When it comes to family, do you want to have children, and if so, when? Do you want to
have biological children, or are you open to adoption or having stepchildren?
In thinking about romantic goals, you may consider the type of relationship you want (long-
term partner, marriage, open-relationship, etc.), and how you will prioritize the time spent
with a partner. What are the characteristics of a mate that make them a good fit for you?
In terms of education, think about what course of study you'd like to pursue. Are you going
to school to further you career? What types of courses do you need to complete for
advancement at work? Are there alternate ways to enter the career you want, like
apprenticeships or internships?
In thinking about physical goals, consider whether changes need to be made to make you
healthy. What can you do to maintain good health into old age? Think about whether there
are specific physical challenges you want to meet such as a major mountain climbing expo or
a marathon.
3. Use the SMART method to create actionable goals. SMART is a mnemonic used by life
coaches, motivators, HR departments, and educators for a system of goal identification,
setting, and achievement. Every letter in SMART stands for an adjective that describes an
effective way to set goals.
Specific. When setting goals, they should answer the highly specific questions of who, what,
where, when, and why. Instead of the general goal, "I want to get into shape," try for a
specific goal, "I want to run my first half-marathon this year."
Measurable. In order for us to track our progress, goals should be quantifiable. "I'm going to
walk more" is far more difficult to track and measure than "Everyday I'm going to walk
around the track 16 times."
Attainable. It is important to evaluate your situation honestly and recognize which goals are
realistic, and which are a little far-fetched. Instead of, "I am going to be this nation's Mother
Teresa," (while admirable) it might be more realistic to say, "I am going to volunteer four
nights a week at my local soup kitchen."
Relevant. Is this goal relevant to your life and to the "big picture" questions you have already
asked yourself? Some good questions to ask yourself when figuring this out are: does it seem
worthwhile? Is now the right time for this? Does this match my needs?
Time-related. Setting a "due date" to meet goals not only keeps you on track, but it prevents
pesky daily roadblocks from getting in the way. Instead of saying "I'm going to get my college
degree", you might consider saying, "I'm going to get my B.A. in 4 years.
4. Make each goal a positive statement. Once you've done the brainstorming and considered
how to make your goals SMART, it's time to solidify them. Using positive statements is a
direct way to affirm your commitment to completing your goals. "I amPOOPyou'd like to
achieve in 5 years, you have the roadmap for setting necessary goals for next year, next
month, next week, tomorrow, and today.
If your goal is to transfer from a junior college to a university within the year, you can
investigate the school you want to transfer to online today, make an appointment to speak
to a matriculation counselor by the end of the week, visit the school at the end of the month,
and plan to request letters of recommendation in 6 months.
If you want to own your own tattoo shop in the next 6 months, you can canvas
neighborhoods for an adequate location tomorrow, contact your bank about personal and
small business loans next month, and place an online ad for talented tattoo artists in two
months.
If your goal is to run your first marathon in 8 months, you can call friends who run for tips
tonight, ask for shoe recommendations tomorrow, join a running club next week, and begin
intensive training in 6 months.
5. Set priorities. At any given moment, you have a number of goals all in different states of
completion. Deciding which goals are more important, or time-sensitive, than others is
crucial. If you have a college interview scheduled on the same day as a training session for
your big half-marathon, the interview would take precedent as it is far more time-sensitive,
and probably more important.
6. Keep incremental goals small. It can be overwhelming to think about your end goal. If all you
say to yourself is, "I have to get married, I have to find someone to marry me," you are
missing the incremental goals that form the base of the large goal. Refocus and gain some
perspective. Think about creating an online dating profile, meeting someone your friend
think you might hit it off with, or joining a social club.
7. Keep track of your progress. Journaling is a great way to keep track of both personal and
professional progress. Checking in with yourself and acknowledging the progress made
towards a certain goal is key to staying motivated.
Asking a friend with similar goals to buddy-up with you is a great way to keep you motivated
and to make sure you hit your goal target dates. Consider pairing up with a fellow student
facing the same application deadlines if you are applying for school, or another new,
emerging artist if you are applying for artist residencies, fellowships, and grants.
8. Reward your accomplishments. Acknowledge when you have reached goals and allow
yourself to celebrate accordingly. Take this time to assess the goal process--from inception to
completion.
If you feel it took too long to achieve this goal, examine you stumbling blocks. Was your goal
reasonable? Are there skills you may need to acquire before attempting to complete other
goals?
If you learned something about the way you work towards meeting your goal, is it something
that can be applied to other goals? If you really learned how to be proactive with work
communications, is that a skill that can be used when you want to find out the status of your
school matriculation status?