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A mini-guide for getting realistic about your aspirations

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Complete my master’s degree, teach myself Spanish, stop biting my nails.These are all goals of mine. One I am currently pursuing (Spanish). One I have failed at miserably time and time again (nails). And one I have penciled in my five-year plan (master’s degree). 

Most of us have visions for our future. According to Psychology Today, whether personal or professional, goals are important to keep us feeling focused, productive and happy. However, as the Facebook updates continue to pop up on our smartphones, to-do lists get longer and weekend plans are made, it’s easy to get overwhelmed or distracted.

Suddenly, I find myself chomping on my fingernails once again.

While an Oprah-esque life coach might make this process easier, each of us has the ability to identify and realize our goals utilizing nothing more than our own momentum and a little thoughtful planning.

Jumping off Adaobi Okolue’s post on New Year’s resolutions, I have collected a few practical methods and tips to help set you on a successful path toward realizing your goals.

Goal Setting 101

So, maybe you’ve dabbled with the idea of starting your own Rush tribute band, but are unsure if you’ve got what it takes to make it through your first gig. Believe it or not, there’s an entire science to help you determine this before you even place your first “sick drummer wanted” ad.

Goal Setting Theory, developed by psychologist Edwin Locke, states that there is a direct relationship between how we determine and identify our goals and our likelihood for success. 

Locke cites five primary characteristics of a successful goal: clarity, challenge, commitment, feedback and complexity. He argues that goals are often not successful because individuals do not take the time necessary to consider all aspects of their objective before setting out to accomplish it.

When you begin to consider a new goal, ask yourself if it’s:

  1. Well-defined and measurable?
  2. Equally challenging and rewarding?
  3. Agreed upon by all involved?
  4. Able to elicit feedback?
  5. Complex or frustrating?

Answer these questions completely and honestly. If you like your responses, give yourself the green light to move forward.

If you prefer a more visual approach, try mind mapping your results.

The Power of Words: Turning Vision to Reality

Once you’ve secured a goal, put it in writing. The writing process helps to cement your objective in your mind by putting it into a concise statement. Try and use as many verbs and adjectives as possible. Specify as many outcomes, rewards, milestones and completion dates as possible. For example:

Instead of this:

“I want to start a Rush tribute band.”

Try this:

“Over the next six months, I will actively seek and recruit committed musicians to form a Rush tribute band. I will accomplish this by placing ads on Craigslist and begin practicing together every evening.”

Your next step is to expand on your goal statement; create an action plan. Just as you would if you were creating a plan at your nonprofit, outline individual steps, responsibilities, inputs, outputs, milestones, and measurable outcomes. Depending on the complexity of your goal, create daily or weekly to-do lists to measure your progress.

Having difficulties forming your plan? Try backward goal-setting.

Overcome Challenges

Prepare yourself for a road bump or two. During your planning phase, visualize any obstacles you may encounter. Plot out how you will respond, or try and eliminate obstacles all together by altering any conditions that may inhibit your success.

For added insurance, experts suggest enlisting the help of others. An arsenal of friends, co-workers or family members will help keep you accountable. If you prefer to take a more personal approach, try regular meditation or reflection on your goal, progress and ultimate reward.

Celebrate

Lastly, don’t forget to acknowledge your success. Reward yourself along the way, and celebrate your ultimate achievement!

What's really preventing you from goal setting? Goal setting or not, what's a recent accomplishment you've made, and how were you able to achieve it?  Share your comments below.

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