Updated: Dec 3, 2019
Setting goals is easy. Sticking to them...isn't. Learn how to effectively set and attain them.
You’ve tried setting personal goals, but never seem to actually achieve them. The story goes somewhat like this: You find yourself motivated and energized to “be healthy.” You decide to up your exercise regimen, eat healthier, and start meditating. You stick with some arbitrary plan for a few weeks, but can’t seem to keep the drive going for much longer. You quit and find yourself back at square one. You’ve done this whole starting-quitting cycle more than enough times, never reaching your goal. Where are you going wrong?
The purpose of setting goals is achieve them (obviously) so you can further your personal or professional life in some way or another. Sounds simple, right? Well, it can be. Of course there may be a few bumps and hiccups along the way to achieving your goals (it’s no perfect path), but if you follow a few strategies to really plan and prioritize your goals, you may find yourself actually achieving them.
Step 1: Think Big.
What are the things you want? If you fail to understand what it is you want, then it will make identifying goals much harder and your efforts will be rather directionless. So take some time to figure out what you want in the long-term (i.e., 5 or so years from now) and what you want in the short-term (i.e., within the next few weeks, months, or year). Some examples might be to improve your health, to graduate college, to get a promotion, to start a family, or to make partner at your future firm. These concepts are vague, but they provide direction. Start by writing out the things you want, both now and in the future.
If you need help figuring out what you want in your bigger picture, consider your values.
Step 2: Prioritize.
You know what you want, but you realize there’s a lot of things you want -- and each of those things are no small feat. Keeping your personal values and timing in mind, identify which are most important to you and which should be tackled right away, versus which can be saved for the future. Prioritize your bigger picture goals (again, take a pen to paper) to focus your efforts and start with the one that is most important and relevant to you now (this Prioritization Matrix can be helpful). Having too many areas to focus on at once may become overwhelming and you may find yourself feeling like you can’t accomplish anything at all. As you start to make substantial progress in one area, you can slowly begin chipping away at others.
Step 3: Start Small.
You’ve narrowed it down to your top priority. Now, break it down. There are multiple steps that can go into your bigger picture goal, and chunking those bigger tasks into smaller ones will make the process feel a lot less daunting. If you want to be your healthiest self in two years from now, what are the things you can do to get there? You can address a variety of areas: exercise, quality sleep, nourishing your body, or stress management. Again, if you have many areas to improve upon, you can prioritize those areas and start with one or two.
Step 4: Be SMART.
You’ve probably heard of SMART goals at one time or another. They are: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely. Use this format to start strategically planning how can you make advances towards your goal today, in the next week, and in the next month. Happy goal setting and achieving!
Think you've got it? Try this Goal Setting resource to help lay out your goals.
Additional resources for staying on top of deadlines:
Disclaimer: This website is intended as an informational resource from the perspective of an occupational therapist and should not take the place of professional medical advice.