Goal Setting: A How-to Guide

January is a time for reflecting on the past year and looking forward to the next. Now is the time of year when we tend to set goals for ourselves, calling them “New Year’s Resolutions.” We proclaim things like, “I will quit smoking this year,” or “I will save more money,” or “I will lose those ten pounds.” We don’t always stop and think about these resolutions as goals. We say these things, but we don’t always stick to them because they aren’t measurable and they aren’t meaningful enough for us to hold ourselves accountable.

Setting goals for ourselves is difficult because it requires genuine self-reflection. The most important thing is that we are realistic about our goals and that we think about them in the long-term. Resolutions are things that you hope to change that year. Goals are often major lifestyle changes. Try the following sequence of steps for goal-setting.

Step 1: Start by focusing on something you really want to achieve. In other words, how do you envision yourself in the future? This is the result, not the goal. This achievement MUST be something you’re passionate about. Without passion, there is no motivation. Really think about why you are doing this…you need to have a WHY.

Step 2: Take the result you envision and define the big goal you want to achieve. It has to be something you can measure and track. Put words to it. Write it down.

Step 3: Set smaller intermediate goals that will move you toward your larger goal. If you create milestones for yourself, the big goal doesn’t seem insurmountable. Congratulate yourself when you reach these milestones and use that as further motivation.

Step 4: Once you reach your first larger goal, always set another. Goal-setting is more effective if you make it a habit. If you’re not constantly working toward something, there is a risk of slipping back into your old ways. Remember, the goal can be something new or even to continue to maintain the progress you have made at the level you achieved.

Now let’s take a real-life example to demonstrate how it works:

Suppose you think to yourself, “I want to have enough energy to play with my grandchildren.” This is something you could easily be passionate about, but it is a RESULT, not a goal. The goal has to be measurable.

To define the goal, change the words to “I want to increase my energy level.” You can measure that in a number of ways, such as how many flights of stairs you can go up without getting out of breath, or how long you can do a particular activity (i.e. play tennis, ride a bike, etc.).

From there, you could perhaps set an intermediate goal of adding ten minutes the first month and twenty minutes the second month to the amount of time you are able to walk at a brisk pace.

Once you are able to increase your energy to the level you set (your larger goal), set another goal for yourself, even if it is just to continue operating at the new energy level for the next six months. Continue repeating the cycle.

Finally, if you need help defining and refining your goals, you could benefit from working with a personal trainer. When you have a person there to help set reasonable and achievable milestones as well as keep you on track and remind you of your “why” (that motivation and passion that got you started in the first place), the process will go much more smoothly. A trainer can map out a path to success and guide you as you work to achieve it.

Wishing you drive and perseverance to achieve all your goals in 2013!