Effective goal setting requires the ability to visualize your desired future and create an actionable plan to take steps towards that vision.
Most people will lead you to believe that the best way to set goals is the SMART goals framework. SMART is an acronym for:
- Specific (simple, sensible, significant).
- Measurable (meaningful, motivating).
- Achievable (agreed, attainable).
- Relevant (reasonable, realistic, and resourced, results-based).
- Time-bound (time-based, time-limited, time/cost limited, timely, time-sensitive)
While SMART goals may sound strategic, there are flaws overlooked with this method:
1. When it comes to your personal goals, there is no one size fits all. You must find the means to stay motivated and the method that works best for you. Smart goals encourage setting sensible, attainable, reasonable goals – not the kind of descriptors that get me excited but are underwhelming and uninspiring.
2. This method of goal setting was created in the ’50s and hasn’t evolved much since. It also hasn’t shown to be effective for long-term or challenging goals. It works if your goals are basic, boring, and easily attainable.
SMART goals are for people who want to stay in their comfort zone and play it safe. While there are some aspects I like about SMART goals, the inflexible nature doesn’t leave room for the necessary trial and error process where real growth develops.
Your goals are meant to challenge you and push you outside of your comfort zone. Not only do I want to attain a goal, but I also want to achieve growth, I want to learn, I want to push past the ideology I have for myself and the world around me.
For that reason, I disparaged the old boring rules of setting goals and forged my path to create the 5 principles for goal setting.
1. Set effective goals
While the SMART goals rule says to set attainable goals, I say set effective goals. What does that mean? An effective goal is one that is well defined. You should have a clear understanding of what it takes to achieve your goal. Think, “what does the end result look like? What obstacles will potentially stand in my way?” and “why is this goal important to me?”.
Setting a compelling goal means visualizing the desired outcome and having a plan of action along with a solid understanding of what the journey will look like to get there. Writing these goals down in detail is a key component of successful planning.
Why is this method more likely to help you attain your desired outcome? It is theorized that visualizing your goals and writing them down increases the chances that you will achieve them. Studies show that when we write down our goals, they are stored in our brain’s hippocampus, making us more likely to remember them. In turn, we more efficiently focus on them.
2. Create an action plan
It’s not enough to visualize a goal and write it down. If you want to achieve a goal, you need to create actionable steps that will bring you closer to your desired outcome. Especially for long-term goals, it is helpful to break things down into smaller, more manageable pieces.
The method of planning that you will follow will depend on your objective:
How much time do I want to spend?
How long will it take to achieve my goal?
How complex is my goal?
It will help you to write down the action steps you want to take as micro-goals. Micro goals should all be small steps working to achieve your larger overarching goal. I’ve created an easy-to-use template to help you with your “roadmap” to plan action steps easily.
Some goals will require more complex planning. In that case, I recommend a project planning system such as Asana. It is a handy tool to effectively look at all of the steps you need to take and systematize them in a way that seems manageable.
3. Embed positive habits
It is easier to stay motivated about a goal when you can immediately see the results of your efforts. Planning smaller goals, following through with them and reaping the rewards, will help make these daily/weekly behaviors part of your routine.
Creating a new routine and incorporating new behaviors can be challenging at first. Studies suggest that a vital piece of integrating a new practice is experiencing instant gratification or the lack thereof. Psychologist Wendy Wood explains that willpower and motivation are not issues when trying to stay committed to achieving something. The hard part is creating new routines that feel rewarding.
If you want to create a new habit and embed that habit into your life permanently, you have to find a way to make it automatic. The behavior needs to be rewarding and provide instant gratification.
While you are working at your goal, try to listen to something motivational. It will raise your dopamine levels,
“Dopamine is an important brain chemical that influences your mood and feelings of reward and motivation.” – Healthline
Our actions and attitude connect the act of being productive with positive emotions about achieving your goal. I just recently started listening to the motivate app. If you are looking for some inspiration and dopamine boosting affirmations, you can try out the lite version.
4. Focus on ONE thing
Success comes down to the ability to be extraordinarily good at one thing. If you are always chasing the next shiny object, you will never find success with anything.
James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits, gives a great example of this “Imagine a small rowboat. Your goals are like the rudder on the boat. They set the direction and determine where you go. If you commit to one goal, then the rudder stays put and you continue moving forward. If you flip-flop between goals, then the rudder moves all around, and it is easy to find yourself rowing in circles.”
When you do find your one thing, commit to it.
5. Learn from others success
We’re not all lucky enough to have a mentor who can guide us, but that doesn’t mean that we can learn from other people’s success. Mentors don’t have to work with you directly to be influential. Research the people who came before you and have achieved what you are setting out to accomplish. You can learn a lot about your journey by knowing more about someone else’s. Pay particularly close attention to what mistakes they made on the way to success and how they remedied their mistakes.
Marie Forleo has always inspired me, she was a bartender in New York before becoming a business conglomerate. I follow her journey because she started from a similar background as me – a young girl living in a big city with no money, but a lot of ambition and aspirations.
Don’t just find someone who has a similar goal but also a similar starting point. You will have more takeaways if you can find commonalities between your story and your mentors.
Your goals take time, energy, and dedication to achieve. They are NOT just about setting your sights on something and going after it, they are not about the journey either, at least not completely.
Goal setting is a significant part of your evolution. It is the discovery, realization, and satisfaction of knowing what you want and going after it. People go through their entire lives searching for “purpose” or “meaning”, but those things are not found or discovered. There is no preemptive message waiting for you to find.
You create clarity, you decide your purpose, and you conclude your life to mean whatever you like.