A Simple Primer on Goal Setting

How do you go about making change happen in your life? When you look at what is and what you want things to be, how do you bridge that gap? If you’re anything like me, you’re already thinking of the year ahead which is still pretty fresh. How will it be different than last year? What do I want to accomplish?

This is where we enter into the realm of goals.

A couple of days ago, I was talking and sharing with some of my close friends here at graduate school about our health and fitness goals for this year. One of them suggested we commit to a couple of short-term individual health goals. It was a brilliant idea. Doing this as a group is exciting, we get to support each other and cheer each other on along the way, we also get to hold each other accountable. Better yet, we committed to this challenge in writing and put our signature next to our goals for the next 31 days. We further committed a significant amount of money that will go into a collective “pot”. Those that fall short of their goals lose their contribution, but those who achieve the desired goals at the end of the month get to share the cash between them. How’s that for motivation!

Over the years, through trial and error, I’ve learnt some valuable lessons about setting goals. I’d like to offer some of the best practices that have truly made a huge difference in my goal setting experience. There’s tons of advice online, but here are some goal-setting principles I subscribe to:

  1. Commit to few in number. Studies show that you can’t really focus on more than 5-7 items at one time. Instead, focus on a few things and stand a better chance of accomplishing them.
  2. Write them down. This is a critical set to success. When you write your goals down you begin to set things in motion, your resolve is strong.
  3. Keep them “S.M.A.R.T.” As you know, this is a well-documented acronym. Goals must include these five criteria:
    • Specific—identify what you want to accomplish in as much detail as possible.
      • Bad: Read more.
      • Good: Read 30 books this year.
    • Measurable—you can’t manage what you don’t measure. Make your goals quantifiable. This will help you identify when exactly you hit your goal.
      • Bad: Save more.
      • Good: Save $3000 more than last year.
    • Actionable—start every goal with an action verb (e.g., “quit,” “run,” “finish,” “eliminate,” etc.) rather than a to-be verb (e.g., “am,” “be,” “have,” etc.)
      • Bad: Be more healthy.
      • Good: Eat a good breakfast everyday.
    • Realistic—Remember to keep you feet on the ground and not build pies in the sky. Your goals should stretch you, but be realistic about them. Wander outside of your comfort zone, but not too far.
      • Bad: Run the Comrades marathon.
      • Good: Train for the next 10km race.
    • Time-sensitive—Give a realistic deadline for each goal. A goal without a date is just a dream. Make sure each goal has a set due date attached to it.
      • Bad: Lose 25 pounds.
      • Good: Lose 25 pounds by September 30th.
  4. Review your goals often. Review your goals often. This will motivate you and keep you focused. It’s what turns them into reality. You can review them daily, weekly, or monthly. It’s up to you. The goal here is to inspire you and make them part of your daily to-do list by identifying the next step to accomplishing each goal.

Goal setting is exciting and fun if done right. Psychology Today says that people who create goals and pursue them live happier and more meaningful lives than those who don’t.

Write some goals down, then make a plan to work on them consistently. Take it from me, it pays rich dividends. 

What is your experience with goal setting? Share your thoughts below.

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