It’s a loaded question, isn’t it? A question filled with lots of metaphorical implications. But from a more practical standpoint, we need to check in with ourselves from time to time. We need to make sure we’re intentionally following an actual path rather than meandering aimlessly. That means setting goals. Whether you’re talking about your personal life, your work life, your hobbies, or even starting a new business, you need to know where you’re going if you’re ever going to get there.
We know what’s coming next month. The beginning of a new year always seems to signal the kind of reflection that prompts us to want to change things. Read more. Get more exercise. Stop smoking. Pick a “thing” you could do more of or do better, and someone has made it their New Year’s resolution. And then by about mid-March, they’re back to the same old ways.
Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail
We’ve heard about the fate of the best-laid plans, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make plans. In fact, the more vividly you can imagine the outcome of the change you want to make, the more likely you are to make that change. That is partially because envisioning the end result motivates you to create a path to get you there. Handwaving vaguely in the direction of “better” isn’t enough. Allow yourself to really think through what it would take to make that change. Lay out all the steps. Be prepared to get derailed, but realize that there is more than one path forward.
Once you have a good concept of what the journey ahead might look like, you need to define it. Most large-scale changes happen over time, not overnight, over a series of steps both large and small. Let’s look at the components of a SMART goal:
- Specific: Knowing what you want is the first step to getting there. This is why you need to spend real time thinking about exactly what you’re trying to achieve.
- Measurable: How much of a change are you trying to create? When will you know when you’ve achieved it? You have to quantify your progress.
- Attainable: This is where the specter of realism rears its sometimes-ugly head. Though sometimes people feel like even the smallest change is impossible, it’s also worth noting what kinds of change you actually can accomplish. There’s nothing worse than setting a goal you could never reach, and then never reaching it.
- Relevant: You are much more likely to achieve a goal that is relevant to your past experiences. This is a time to focus on your strengths and assets, and use them to your best advantage moving forward.
- Time-Based: All good things take time. And as we said earlier, you might get derailed. Collectively we as a society can be incredibly impatient, both with ourselves and with others. Understanding how much time it might take to make that change is the culmination of all the other pieces of a SMART goal.
Accountability is Key
All the goal-setting in the world won’t matter if you don’t take the steps toward those goals. And as you move ahead, track your progress. Take pride in every step, particularly if the journey is a long one. Some people shy away from measuring progress, but as we saw above, it is a critical part of goal setting. If you’ve done your homework regarding goal setting, you already know how much time it will likely take. So break that progress up into smaller tasks that you feel more comfortable measuring. The more successes you allow yourself to have along the way, the more likely you are to reach your ultimate goal.
The Power of Belief
All of this preparation lays the groundwork to reinforce belief in one’s self. Lack of self-confidence often stands in the way of achieving personal goals, and yet, setting goals and achieving them builds that self-confidence! The two are closely intertwined. But if low self-confidence gets in the way of setting goals that build self-confidence, then what?
This is the major stumbling block that keeps people from achieving the success they want. So take that, realize if it is an issue you struggle with, and simply start small. Think of small changes that could lead you closer to your ultimate goal. And no matter what, don’t give up!
What Happens Next?
That’s up to you. Find some quiet time to reflect on the past year, and really let yourself imagine what the coming year could bring for you. Be realistic, but don’t be afraid to push yourself a bit! And once you’ve decided on some SMART goals for yourself, get going! And to track your progress, check out these apps that can help you on your way. You can do it!