Setting Goals

Goals are the destination points which determine our journey’s pathway.

Going through life without a defined set of goals is like taking a road trip to nowhere. You may have a fun and productive journey, but you will never quite know where you are going to end up.

Setting goals and defining the end points to where we are going is one of the first steps to taking hold of your future.

Setting Goals Forces Decision Making

Have you ever felt that you didn’t have total control of your life? Or maybe you have witnessed friends and associates who seem to be ‘hoping’ something in their career will finally go their way.

When you talk to many people just now entering the workforce, or those who have hit a rut in their career path- not to mention those out of work- one of the common inferences they make is the sense they have no control of their destinies. Their hope is for something positive, yet unknown, to just happen which will change their situation forever.

Will setting goals guarantee that you reach the destiny you are hoping for? No. Unfortunately there is no such guarantee.

Setting goals does force you to start considering how each decision and action you take will affect the destination to which you are heading.

Setting Goals Defines the Relationships We Need

I tell my students all the time that they should be setting goals that literally scare them. Scare them in the sense that there is a pending feeling that their goals are much bigger than anything that they can accomplish on their own. By setting such big audacious goals, they are forced to develop and rely on relationships to accomplish them.

Why is it important to set goals in this way? Why should we need to involve others in an exercise that may seem more personal than public? Simple. To accomplish more.

Sure, maybe many people are satisfied with not setting big audacious goals, or to attempt to impact the world in a big way. This is perfectly ok. However, this audience is not the audience I am writing to, nor is it the audience I am seeking to assist.

The S.M.A.R.T. Process

I first learned about the SMART process to forming goals in the fall of 2009, in a goal setting seminar put on for my students at the University of Houston. The seminar was on the importance of goals and forming them. One of the executives who was volunteering that day was from the consulting industry. His approach with the group of students he worked with was the SMART process, which is now the basis of goal formation I teach as well.

What is SMART? It’s an acronym for a specific format to goal setting. (see below)

S- Specific

M- Measurable

A- Attainable

R- Realistic

T- Time Bound

My take on this is probably very similar to what you will find if you Google the term and look up what everyone else says about it. However, I will differ some on the R- Realistic part. These are fairly straight forward, so I will touch on them. Perhaps these will serve for a whole set of other smaller articles.

S- Specific. Goals should be as specific as possible. Specificity helps keep you focused and helps in meeting the other parts of this format to both goal setting and attainment.

People have asked me how specific they should make this. The approach I take is one of layers. Initially as you start to form your goals, start at a high level. Then as you flesh the broad aspects of a goal or goals out, then you can start to break those goals out into smaller goals that feed into the larger goal.

M- Measurable. In addition to specific, the goal must be measurable. How will you or anyone else be able to tell where you are in the process, and more importantly when you have attained the goal? Measurable is very much a tangible aspect. There must be a definite point to which the goal is considered attained.

This is the one area that seems to really trip up people as they start to use the SMART process. If the goal is specific then the measurability of it should fall in line.

A- Attainable. This is the heart of the goal process. The goals need to be attainable; otherwise, we are just setting ourselves up for defeat and disappointment. Attainable does not equate to small or mediocre goals. On the contrary attainable just means that it’s actually possible. Becoming the next King of Jordan is probably not attainable for 99.999% of the people in the world. However, owning your own design firm, consulting company, or losing 30 lbs by next March- these are attainable.

This is where I really push my students to think beyond their own self-imposed limitations. If you are like the rest of us, you deal with limitations on what you feel you can do. The limitations we all face are compounded when we only think of goal setting and attainment as a singular process. However, by opening up this process to include the idea of developing relationships to help us attain our big audacious goals, the possibilities of what we can do expand exponentially.

R- Realistic. Initially this seems very close to what you might think of the attainable part. However, the difference is we have to dip our toes into the pool of reality. If you have never set foot in a gym, much less been one to get off your couch, then setting a goal of placing in the top 10% of those in your age category for the upcoming marathon- this is probably not realistic.

Taking into account what I wrote above, reality should push the boundaries of what you initially perceive to be so. There is a big difference between the reality of singularity and that of plurality. If you are going to conquer the world on your own, you will not realistically accomplish the same as if you bring an army.

T- Time Bound. All goals need an end point. The importance of an end point is that it forces us to keep on point. By setting a date or time period to which the goal will be attained by keeps us focused and accountable.

Start Forming Goals Now

If you have not formed goals yet, now is the time to start. Most likely you will need to revisit your goals and redefine them often. Life throws us curve balls, and presents opportunities that we cannot anticipate. It is ok to adjust and change your goals often if needed. Adjusting goals is not an indication of any early mistakes, it is an indication that you are flexible to new opportunities that life has given you.

I have heard people say that they are not ready to form their goals, because they are still figuring out life. At first glance this seems reasonable. However, it is actually a distraction. Life is never done. Assuming you are not a couch potato, then you will be discovering new things about yourself, life, and the world all the time. It is through these discoveries and new relationships that once perceived boundaries start to expand and open up.

Don’t wait for life to arrive at the right place before you start setting goals. Set goals now and adjust often. Goals are the destination points which determine our journey’s pathway.

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