“A goal is a dream with a deadline.” -Napoleon Hill
It’s that time of year again, when we look optimistically forward and envision all we’ll have accomplished by this time next year. But how often do we set goals in January only to have them fizzle and fade by March? There’s an art, and some science, to designing successful goals. Here are some strategies for setting goals that you can conquer.
1. Start with what matters. The most successful goals are meaningful. Sometimes we think about what we want to accomplish without really diving into why. How will accomplishing a goal change your life? Maybe it will allow you to spend more time with your family, or work with more engaging projects. Having a clear sense of your “why” is what will keep you moving through all the challenges and hard work. And remember to stay positive! When you set goals, think about what great things might happen, rather than aiming to avoid failure – “Don’t bomb this test again!” Negative goals trigger your brain’s inhibition systems and can make you less effective.
2. Bite-sized is best. Break your big goals into manageable chunks. If your goal is to get a raise, what specific steps can you take? Are there particular skills or certifications that will make you a more valuable employee? If you’re tackling an intimidating course of study, set small goals, like x number of videos or pages to read per week. Don’t wait until the end to reward yourself; celebrate weekly or monthly accomplishments.
3. Just do it. Actionable goals are more successful than general ones. And the most successful goals are built on good habits. If your goal is to train more, set a time and place, and commit to a specific action. You might watch one Nugget every morning with your coffee, work through two exam questions after lunch, or spend ten minutes reviewing your notes before bed.
4. Apply some pressure. Setting deadlines, and being accountable to others, is a great motivator. Registering for your exam, or setting up a time to share your new skill with co-workers gives you a reason to buckle down.
5. Plan to fail. Willpower comes from the part of your brain that also manages your focus, short-term memory, and the ability to complete abstract tasks – the same functions you need for work and exam prep. Studies show that the more you use this part of your brain, the weaker your willpower, so it’s best not to rely on a will of steel when it comes to accomplishing your goals. Build training into your “path of least resistance” by making it a part of your workday, or temporarily blocking distracting sites on your computer.
How do you set successful goals?