Millions of people right now are thinking of personal goals they want to set for the new year, and while their intentions are good, in too many instances the goals they will set will fail to ever materialize. Why do so many people see their goals fizzle out so soon? Of course, setting up goals for future positive change is a meaningful part of the goal-setting process, but if you are setting goals based solely on hope you’ll likely find yourself as part of the group of people who never seem to see their goals come to fruition.
The art of effective goal setting
Athletes set goals all the time, and they may be good models to use when examining how everyday people can also set — and achieve — their goals. One way to start the conversation about goals is to use the old saying “A goal is a dream with a finish line.” There are two important features about this statement — first, goals should be dreams that you set, not goals that other people tell you to pursue. By setting personal goals, you will increase intrinsic motivation (the kind of motivation that comes from within), and thereby improve your chance for eventual goal attainment. It’s also important to note that goals should have “finish lines,” or measurable dates, if they are to be closely monitored for later success.
When it comes to goal setting, the process used to set goals may be just as important as the goals, or dreams, pursued by the individual. Unfortunately, too many people set vague goals that are impossible to measure, setting themselves up for goal failure, loss of confidence, and sometimes even mood state concerns. One quick example of poor goal setting is to start the year by saying you will get in better shape for the new year. While this fuzzy goal sounds good on the surface, we really don’t know what “better shape” means, nor do we know what efforts will need to be made to get in “better shape,” and we also don’t know how to measure our progress toward “better shape.” In this example, the chances for future improved health is extremely limited, and if better health does occur it’s more likely a product of chance, not goal setting.
Quick tips to help with goals
Since the new year is just days away it’s important to revisit the basics of goal setting to help improve your chances for a great year. After brainstorming ideas for things you want to improve, consider refining your goals with the following psychology tips.
- Make your goals specific. Steer clear of stating goals that include “better” or “improved” since those words tell you very little (again, what is “better health?”). Instead, be specific with the things you want to improve — a student might set a goal for a 3.0 GPA, while an athlete might set a goal to bench press 225 lbs. If it’s better health you want, try setting goals around an ideal weight, blood pressure, or specific daily exercise routines to improve muscle mass while eliminating fat.
- Make your goals measurable. Again, goals don’t mean much if you can’t measure your progress so that you know when the goal is reached. Sure, it’s assumed that you want the new year to be better than the last year, but what do you need to do in order to see improvement? Think about developing your goals into efforts that can be measured, like hours of study, number of miles run, or a daily caloric count to monitor food intake.
- Develop goals you can control. If your goals are based on luck or the help of others, you are already starting the new year with minimal chances for positive outcomes to occur. Successful people know that the best chance for reaching personal goals begins with the idea that you actually have a direct influence on reaching them, and that by relying exclusively on outside variables the chances for success will be compromised as a result. Instead of hoping to make a lot of money this year, instead drill down on the things you need to do in order to make it occur (i.e. revising your resume, actively pursuing new job leads, and maximizing your performance at your job).
Setting effective goals takes work, but the efforts you make to do it right will save you from future frustration, unnecessary stress, and eventual goal failure. The first three steps to successful goal-setting are making goals specific, measurable, and completely under your control. Additional ideas after developing strong goals include writing them down, and creating daily-, short-, mid- and long-term goals. Stay focused, optimistic, and energized, and you might be surprised at the things you achieve in the new year – good luck!