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Goal setting – Why & how

Goal setting; some of us love it, some of us would rather pull our own teeth out. But no matter which camp you fall in, goals are important. Nearly every successful person has goals (and it’s how they became successful). They give us a path to follow and something to aim for. As humans, we always work better when we have a plan and a direction, and good goals can give us both of those, but the process of coming up with them can be frustrating.

Why? Because when you set yourself some goals you have to ask yourself some of the tough questions. Like, ‘who am I?’ and, ‘what do I want to do with my life?’. But there’s a way to make goal setting easy – read and learn…

Don’t just ‘wing it’

Making up goals on the fly (often when someone asks you what your goals are) is often a recipe for not succeeding. Setting good goals takes time and involves a few steps – something that’s difficult to replicate in about 3 seconds under pressure.

The best (and most powerful) goals are the ones that are well thought-out, broken down into stages, then backed up with a solid plan to cover each stage of your journey.

Compare it to driving into town. Say you know you want to go to town, but you’re not sure what you need to do there today. You may get in the car (or on the bus), but where are you driving towards? How long will it take you to get there?

When you do get to town, what are you going to do? Is it likely that you’ll achieve much, or is the plan to just wander around for a bit until you find something interesting to do?

People don’t do this – because it’s a waste of time.

When you go to town it’s for a reason – to meet a friend, do some shopping, check out the library, watch a movie or even just chill. You have a goal (the thing you want to do), then you enact a plan to get there (ask mum for the car, walk to the bus stop or hop on the train). You’ll make sure you’re wearing the right clothes, and you’ll have anything you need with you (like money for the movie).

Successful trip? Yes.

It’s a basic explanation, but it’s no different to setting life, health or career goals. Apply the same logic to life – without a goal in mind, there’s a good chance you’ll spend plenty of time ‘wandering aimlessly’ from job to job or bored and unfulfilled in a job you don’t love.

Good vs not-so-good

People often say that ‘good’ goals are SMART – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time Bound.

But that’s more for checking your goals are ‘good’ once you’ve finished setting them. Good goals need to do more than just be within reach:

  • Goals must be meaningful to you –  not things your friends are doing or your parents, teachers or peers think you should do.
  • Setting unrealistic goals might mean that you give up before you achieve them, or you spend way too much time chasing the impossible.
  • You need to know the time frames for your goals – it’ll help you measure your progress and keep you accountable.
  • Avoid ‘negative’ goals. For example, if you want to lose weight, you’re basically focusing on the fact that you’re unhappy about your weight now. Rephrasing it to ‘be healthier’ is much more positive and appealing goal and you’re more likely to stick with it for longer.
  • Setting too many goals will be overwhelming and not achievable. Remember you only have limited time and energy, and goal setting comes in between other elements in your life, like school, study, family time, hobbies, sports, etc… It’s better to achieve a handful of good goals than fail by doing 20 at once.

We suggest you follow these 5 steps when setting goals:

Step 1

Find a quiet place, take a pen and paper, and brainstorm. List what’s important to you, what makes you happy, and what lifetime ambitions you have – don’t be afraid to put down things you think are impossible.

Step 2

From the ideas you came up with in Step 1, come up with a list of between 1 and 3 main themes to turn into goals. Write them down and try to be specific – not just ‘I want to work with animals’, make them more like ‘I want to work with dolphins and protect marine biodiversity’.

Step 3

Now we cull. Decide which of the goals appeal to you the most and genuinely reflect your interests and passions. Which ones are you happy to put aside for now, and which ones do you want to focus on? Don’t discount goals because you think they’re impossible – keep those ones, as you might just start on them next year or when you’re older.

Step 4

Allocate a time-scale to each goal, i.e. short term (in the next few weeks, months), medium (1-5 years), or long term (5-10 years or more). When do you want to achieve them by? Some goals are better suited to the short term – ‘completing a marathon’ probably doesn’t need to be a 5 year goal, while others are going to take 10 years or longer to bring to life.

Step 5

Lastly, you need to make a plan so you have a map to follow on your journey. This step can be a bit tricky, and is where lots of people come unstuck, so we’ve gone over it in detail for you below.

Put your goal setting into action

This bit should take you around 30 minutes for each goal, so refresh your coffee and set your phone to ‘do not disturb’.

The gathering stage

First, you need to get all the information in the one place. Some things you’ll already know, but other pieces of the puzzle need to be brought together, so search the web for info and ask people who are already on a similar path to where you want to be.

Write everything down:

  • What are the things you have to do first? Do you need to go to uni or TAFE? Do you have to be over 18, or have your driver’s license?
  • How much will it cost? And are there other ways of paying for it? If you think a goal is too expensive then look for financial support programs, as there are lots of scholarships available to apply for.
  • How long will it take? If you need a 3 year degree plus work experience and you’re in Year 9, then we’re talking about a long term goal (and that’s great!).
  • How much time will it take each week? Can you do a little bit each day, or do you need to set aside chunks of time?

The planning stage

Take all the information and start planning what you need to do and when. A great way to do this is with a big sheet of paper – put your goal at the bottom of the paper, then work backwards to now.

Unless you’re working with a short-term goal, break down your big goal into a series of short- and medium-term goals that will get you where you want to go. For example, if you want to become a marine biologist, the first thing you need to do is get into university, so make that your mid-term goal.

Work backwards – look at your long-term goal and figure out how you can work towards it, this could help with your medium and short-term setting and planning.

Balance – life is all about getting the balance right and this undertaking is no different. If you love chocolate but eat it all day every day, you’ll end up sick of chocolate. So even though your goals are something you’re interested in, remember not to make plans that will swamp the rest of your life. Or you might end up getting sick of your goal and end up giving up.

Accountability – share your plans with someone who will motivate and encourage you, keep you on track and celebrate your successes with you. There are also plenty of apps and programs that can help you keep track of how you’re going update you on how well you’re progressing. We’ve listed a few of them here:

Stay on track – cross off items on your planner, keep a note of all your achievements and celebrate your successes. (Don’t forget to add them to your resume).

Before you know it, 5 or 10 years will have passed, and you’ll be reflecting on all you’ve achieved in that time. You might be in the place you imagined at the beginning of your goal setting process, or you might be somewhere else entirely – either way, you’ll have achieved lots along the way.

Don’t stress

Remember, it’s okay to ditch a goal if it’s not working out. Life is short, so just pick something new that’s aligned with where you want to be in life. Only do as much as you have the time and enthusiasm for, so you always have a good chance of succeeding.

Goals aren’t about adding extra pressure to your life. The reason for setting goals is to help you achieve more, not less, and ensure you’re happier with your life along the way.

Whatever you choose to do – stay focused and good luck!

You can find more goal setting tips on our website here.


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