Introduction to Goal Setting and SMART Goals

“Don’t be encumbered by history – go off and do something wonderful.”
(Robert Noyce, Co-founder of Fairchild Semiconductor and Intel)

If you want to do something wonderful, the first step is to decide what that something will be. Goal setting is probably the most significant factor in improving performance in nearly every area of life. Goals are not only great motivators; they provide a focus for your efforts and help you make decisions along the way.

This article deals with the practical side of goal setting and planning. When we set a goal we are actually stating how we would like to improve the world – specifically some aspect of it that we can control. So we can express the goal as a description of the improved situation. How would you like to change your world?

Start with the long-term view: what do you really want to achieve in your lifetime? Many people find this difficult: after all, it could be a long time, with many possibilities and opportunities. So put it another way: what would you really regret not having done or achieved in your lifetime?

Think about what you could aim for in different areas of your life:

  • Family
  • Career
  • Education and personal development
  • Hobbies and personal interests (art, music, intellectual pursuits, community, sports and fitness, etc)
  • Peer group: career, social and neighborhood

Whatever goals you can think of in each area, write them down – or put them straight into Goalscape!

Make sure your goals are SMART. They must be:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Ambitious
  • Realistic
  • Time-based

Test each of your goals against this list by asking pertinent questions. There is more background on SMART goal setting here.

Once you have collected all the goals you can think of, review them: narrow down your list and start to set priorities for those that remain. Consider what you have already achieved and how you did it; and where you have failed and why. What does this tell you about your strengths? Where might you need to develop and learn new skills? Answering these questions will provide clues as to which goals are within your reach.

Play to your strengths in terms of your talents and skills; yet look for ways to extend yourself beyond your comfort zone. Make sure you choose your own goals: those that are in line with your own personal values, rather than merely reflecting the expectations or wishes of others (parents, teachers or peer group). Do however share your goals with those close to you, especially where they are involved in a particular area – eg your partner, your boss and colleagues (for work goals), team members and coach (for sports goals) – and take their wishes and opinions into account.

Keep breaking down your big goals into smaller subgoals. Set their relative importances according to the contribution they make to their parent goal.

Always be prepared to add or change some of your goals and their relative importance. Set specific targets in the lowest level goals, decide how to measure your progress and enter it into your plan as you go. Checking off completed tasks and seeing your progress advance will make you feel really good! Celebrate your major achievements with everyone who helped you.

Future articles will include specific advice about working towards your goals; some background about why goal setting is so powerful; and how to make sure your goals are meaningful.

Marcus Baur

Marcus Baur

Marcus is the inventor of the Goalscape concept. After graduating in Architecture he sailed professionally, winning multiple international championships and becoming a double Olympian.

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