Goals tend to be about increasing, decreasing or improving something by carrying out certain actions. Specificity is the key. So having assessed what matters most to you, having considered the areas of your life that you wish to improve and having focused on what is motivating you to make these changes, it’s important to set goals in the right way to give yourself the best chance of success.
When we achieve our goals, especially challenging ones, our belief in our abilities and our performance improves. So it’s in our best interests to give ourselves the greatest chance of achieving them. Here’s how:
1. Set SMART – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely – goals. To have the best chance of achieving our goals, research reveals that they should be specific and challenging, rather than vague and subjective. For example, “Do ten press-ups a day and increase by three press-ups per week” is better than “Lose weight”. Similarly, “Organize a fortnightly get-together with my favourite people” is better than “Improve relationships”.
• Specific goals are clearly defined and
vague goals that lack specificity, such
as “doing my best”, “increasing income”
or “losing weight”, are harder to achieve
and more likely to cause procrastination.
• Measurable goals enable us to know
precisely when we’ve achieved them,
when we need to persevere further in
order to attain them and how far away
we are from completion.
• Attainable goals are reachable,
taking the skills, resources and time
required in which to achieve them.
• Realistic goals are sufficiently
challenging to make them
worthwhile but realistic enough
to successfully achieve.
• Timely goals should have time-specific
target deadlines and be measurable, to
enable focus. In this way, it is clear how
you will achieve your goal through the
actions you take, and it is easy to know
when you have achieved that goal or how
far you have to go until you do so.
2. Frame goals using positive terminology. This makes them “approach goals” rather than “avoidance goals”. For example, turn “Stop eating junk food” into “Eat healthy food, including five portions of fruit or vegetables each day”. Goals should be framed in the positive because, according to author and coach Caroline Adams Miller who has studied eating disorders for decades, approaching a goal in this way uses less mental energy than avoiding it.
3. Set goals that balance attainability and ability. Goals can cause anxiety if they are beyond your ability, and boredom if they are below it. So goals should balance your skills and should be realistic.
More on goal-setting and happiness in Cheryl Rickman’s The Happiness Bible