There’s lots of advice out there about setting achievable goals, but there’s one thing that a lot of articles don’t cover. If you’re not in the right mindset, if you’re burned out, depressed, grieving, or just feeling low, the idea of setting and achieving goals can be … a bit alien. So, how do you set goals that are both achievable and just enough of a challenge to make you feel like you’ve accomplished something?
Why do you care about the goal?
Some people may argue that “well if I don’t achieve X by a certain date my boss will be annoyed, and I kind of need a job” is a suitable enough motivator. Or “If I don’t earn this much by the end of the month I’ll be in real trouble” is a great way to light a flame under their behinds, but it’s not living well if we’re just rushing to the next goal with our bums on fire.
What do you want to achieve this year? Why do you want to achieve it? How could getting to the goal improve your life? The goal has to be something meaningful to you.Once you know what you want to do, you can start looking at getting a realistic goal.
How are you motivated?
I remember when the Carrot team did a training session with Rachel Boothroyd. One of the things we explored was how we became motivated.
Some people can depend on internal motivation. If something is important to you and your life goals, you go out there and get it done. Other people (hi) need an external motivator. For me it’s very: “well, if I don’t do X it’s only me that it affects, so there’s no pressure, right?”
If you’re the kind of person that needs an external reason to meet a goal, maybe try to set one up before you start working towards it.
It’s not just about SMART
I’ve never gotten on with the whole SMART thing. It feels like it should be easy, but on the face of it, it doesn’t feel like it accounts for life getting in the way.
Of course, you should set a specific goal, and you should be able to measure your progress to it. But attainable is where it gets tricky.
It assumes that we know what goals are attainable for us. A lot of us don’t. We give ourselves too much to do, and then when something unexpected happens, and we don’t hit that milestone, many of us become disheartened. Sometimes we stop tracking progress altogether. The procrastinators among us will wait until the deadline and then sprint to finish it.
The SMART system is an important tool in achieving goals, but we need to be honest with ourselves for the system to be effective. Be less “in an ideal world, I will…” and more “at the bare minimum, I can do…”.
Put the goal(s) in writing and break down into stages
Last year, my mum died after a sudden, short, illness, and I had a mountain of things to sort out while being in nowhere near the headspace to do it. Quickly after that, I realised that I wouldn’t be able to stay in the family home, so I also needed to find somewhere to live.
One thing that helped me navigate the last year was lists. “Clear out 25 years of stuff, sort out mum’s finances and buy a flat” were intimidating tasks to think about, but broken down into stages like “call the energy supplier” made the process seem more achievable.
Finally, believe in your goal. There will be people out there who don’t agree with what you want. Some won’t think you can do it; others won’t understand why you’d want to do something like go into business for yourself, or work flexible hours.
The goals that you create have to be meaningful to you, because you’re the one who’ll be doing the hard work, and you’re the one who will make the sacrifices to get there.