Setting Personal Goals that Work for You
When you think about goal setting do you get excited? Or do you groan and think, “ugh, is it THAT time of the year again?”
The Importance of Setting Personal Goals
The world we live in today requires that we are intentional and mindful about managing the stress in our lives. While stress is not inherently bad, and some stress is a motivator, excessive or chronic stress leads to adverse mental and physical consequences. It makes sense prioritize goals and activities that help us manage stress well since that will influence our ability to achieve all other goals and aspirations in our lives.
Beyond the day-to-day management of our “to do” lists, many of us feel a pull toward personal growth and self-actualization. When we engage in the same habits each day that keep creating the same life, we may feel bored or uninspired. Creating goals and working toward them feeds our inherent human need for self-mastery and accomplishment.
Kinds of Goals
Personal goals are areas where we want to make a change in our lives. These goals can include weight loss, physical fitness, improving our relationships, or perhaps becoming more connected to our spirituality. In order to be effective, personal goals need to be rooted in our true desires. When we put others’ desires ahead of our own, these goals are not as effective. What do you truly want? What are your intentions in achieving the goal? It is worth considering what we truly want, and what emotion we believe we will have when attaining the goal.
Most companies have a practice of setting goals on a periodic basis, annually or quarterly to help employees stay on track with work that is expected. This activity allows you to think about goals that are realistic and possibly career goals that will challenge you to grow further to stretch in your capacities. Whether you want to be promoted, or take on a new assignment to learn a new skill, or consider a side hustle, take some time to reflect on goals that excite you.
Life goals are bigger personal goals that may take years or decades to achieve. Some examples of life goals include buying a house, starting a family, or launching a business. They can include learning to play an instrument, traveling the world, or writing a book. Life goals can be a guiding force behind some of the smaller personal goals we set month-to-month or year-to-year. They are based on our deeper desires for meaning and purpose in our lives. When our life goals are aligned with our values and desires, we live more purposeful and fulfilling lives.
How to Set S.M.A.R.T. Goals
Setting S.M.A.R.T. goals is a way to start as you gain confidence in the skill of personal goal setting.
The goal should be something that is clear and specific. For example: “I am going to change my eating or drinking habits” is too general. We might instead commit to a specific action: “I will drink water instead of soda with my lunch.”
When goals are measurable, we can evaluate them more easily. Declaring that we will “walk more” does not help us evaluate our progress. If we decide will go for a walk 4-5 times per week (for at least 10 minutes each time) we have a clear measure for whether we achieved this personal goal.
When we are starting out at goal-setting, particularly if the goal requires behavior change, it is helpful to set smaller, achievable goals. If you do not have any exercise as part of your daily habit, then planning to exercise for an hour a day could result in “backlash.” You may feel disappointed if you cannot meet this unrealistic goal. This could make you less likely to set progressively more challenging goals. Instead, make the short-term goal achievable (“I will walk for at least 10 minutes, 3 times a week”). This way you will build trust and confidence as you begin honoring commitments to yourself. This will allow you to move toward bigger goals.
Personal goals should be relevant to our own desires in our lives, not based on what other people want. When we create goals based on our personal values and long-term desires, we allow the fuel of our excitement and determination to help achieve our goals.
Setting specific timelines helps create accountability related to progress. Personal goals like meditating every day might start with 5 or 10 minutes a day for 2 weeks to start. Or longer-term personal goals like starting a business may have multi-year and quarterly interim goals in order to break the goal into measurable check-points.
What to do When You Miss Your Goals
We may not always fulfill our goals. This is actually one reason some people fail to set goals. They may have set goals in the past, and they were disappointed if they did not achieve them. Self-criticism may have come up. So they are reluctant to try again. When you feel blocked from setting life goals, consider getting support through coaching, counseling or accountability groups.
Identify Your Roadblocks
One relevant factor if you miss a goal is that you did not adequately plan for likely or unanticipated roadblocks. If you plan to get to the gym three times a week but have not packed your gym bag the night before, you are less likely to follow through on that commitment. So to achieve that goal, set a calendar reminder for the night before, reminding you to prepare by packing your bag. Planning ahead for how we will deal with anticipated roadblocks (including the excuses we might make when the time comes to work out) creates a stronger intention rather than letting us off the hook with a convenient excuse.
Realize that nobody is perfect and that it is okay and normal not to execute perfectly on your goal. Have compassion for yourself. Achieving your personal goals require resilience and perseverance. The good news is that these qualities are built over time with practice.
Get Started Again
Setting personal goals that are achievable (perhaps smaller ones at first) can help you build up your trust and confidence in yourself. If you do not make it the first time, reflect on what you learned. Can you find ways to make it easier for yourself? Can you invite an accountability partner or a coach to encourage you and support you?
Sociologist Martha Beck advises people to set “wildly improbable goals” in order to challenge our assumptions about what we can do in the future. If we set goals that are slightly out-of-reach, we must grow in order to fulfill them. This is a more advanced practice, for when you have built up your self-confidence in the skill of achieving personal goals.
It takes courage to set big goals. Your self-doubt will come up when you set challenging goals. If you adopt a growth mindset you will overcome obstacles in reaching our life goals. Have fun with it and enjoy the process. When you build the skill of personal goal setting you may achieve more than you thought was possible!
Achieving your goals is an important process, but sometimes you need a little help. ThriveTalk is here to help match you with the right services and counselors to help you set and achieve your personal goals and create real change in your life.
- Kelly McGonigal Ted Talk “How to Make Stress Your Friend.” https://www.ted.com/talks/kelly_mcgonigal_how_to_make_stress_your_friend?language=en
- Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html
- La Porte, Danielle. (2014). The Desire Map: A Guide to Creating Goals with Soul. Boulder: Sounds True, Inc.
- Brooke Castillo (The Life Coach School podcast). https://thelifecoachschool.com/podcasts
- Rubin, Gretchen. (2017). The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles that Reveal How to Make Your Life Better. New York: Harmony Books.
- Beck, Martha. (2002). Finding Your Own North Star: Claiming the Life You Were Meant to Live. Harmony, reprint edition.
- Dweck, Carol. (2016). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York: Ballantine. Updated edition.