Once you know where you stand, it’s time to write down where you want to end up. On paper.
When setting personal goals, we recommend following the SMART guidelines to make sure you avoid getting discouraged and actually reach them. Because we all know how easy it is to botch those resolutions, right? Here’s how SMART goals work:
General goals tend to get lost in the busyness of our daily lives. When you get specific with your goals, you’re much more likely to accomplish them.
This is a general goal: I want to go to the gym more in 2015. This is a specific goal: I will join a walking club and walk for an hour before work on Monday/Wednesday/Friday.
To get started, consider the five W’s:
Who: Who is involved?
What: What do I want to accomplish?
Why: What’s the specific reason, purpose or benefits for accomplishing the goal?
When: What’s the time frame?
Establish criteria for measuring progress on each goal you set. Ask yourself: “How will I know when my goal is accomplished?” When you measure your goals, you stay on track and are that much more likely to see your progress and reach your target timelines—you also tangibly experience the momentum that keeps you going!
When you focus on only the goals that are most important and most attainable to you, you’ll be that much more likely to accomplish them. In addition, you’ll develop the exact abilities, attitudes, and skills to reach them. Think of it this way: you can reach almost any goal when you plan wisely, within a realistic timeframe—and the goal that might have seemed far away and out of reach eventually moves closer and closer to completion. Set a goal that you’re willing and able to work toward. Attaining your goals happens not because your goals shrunk but because you grow and expand to match them.
Your goal shouldn’t be something that is standing on its own. Think about how this goal relates to your company’s goals or to your personal or professional goals. How is it pushing you, or your company, forward? How does it tie in with your short and long-term goals? If your goal isn’t relevant to other goals you have, it might be difficult to dedicate the time and energy needed to see it through. Your goal can (and should) be aspirational, but just make sure that you can really make substantial progress. If you’re setting goals but not reaching them, you may need to scale back.
Every goal should have a time frame. Without one, you have no sense of urgency to accomplish your goal. If you want to lose 10 pounds, when do you want to lose them by? “Someday” won’t work. But if you anchor your goal within a timeframe—“I want to lose 10 pounds by May 1st”—then you’ve set your unconscious mind into motion to begin working on the goal before the deadline you’ve assigned.
Now that you know what SMART goals are, I encourage you to take the time to come up with 3-5 (or more!) of them. I like to write mine down in my day planner and check-in with them once a month to see where I stand on my progress.
Also, I never worry about having to change my goals—life happens and it’s fine to adapt, so long as you use your best judgment. For instance, editing a goal because you don’t know where to start is not a good reason. If you don’t know how to accomplish a goal, find friends and family to talk to about it. Get their advice on where to start, but start somewhere!