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Setting goals is one of the keys to achieving more in life. People who are motivated to succeed in one or more areas of personal development can use goal setting to help them achieve the things they want.
Goal-setting research has shown that the mere act of establishing goals leads to higher achievement. Specific, challenging goals direct attention, marshal energy and effort, lead to the development of effective strategies and action plans, and motivate persistence to do what is required to succeed.
People can set their own goals, or coach others by helping them set personal development goals, by using the guidelines below.
SMART Goal Setting Works for Personal Development
Consultants and practitioners of goal-setting theory have identified a number of characteristics that help ensure that any goals established will have a high likelihood of improving performance. Some of these attributes of effective goals are summarized in the acronym SMART:
- S for Specific – specific goals are required for high achievement; vague goals often don’t work
- M for Measurable – so that one knows when progress is being made and when a goal is achieved
- A for Attainable – unrealistic goals are demoralizing rather than energizing
- R for Relevant – must be relevant to a person’s needs or wants to be motivating
- T for Time-bound – pursuit of a given goal needs to have a reasonable endpoint or deadline
Following the SMART guidelines helps ensure that personal goals are both motivating and realistic.
Personal Development Areas for Setting Goals
Life offers people many opportunities for personal development and setting goals can be a huge help. Some of these personal development areas are:
- Education – Educational attainment is a key predictor of success in life. For those who are beyond the normal years of schooling, life-long learning can help.
- Career – Choosing an industry or profession is a first step but specific goals can help direct a career path and lead to the kind of performance that results in promotions and career success.
- Financial – Setting feasible personal financial goals can help people stay out of financial trouble and reduce the stress produced by living beyond one’s means.
- Health – Nothing is more important than a person’s health, which is a key component of a happy life. Setting goals can help maintain or improve health, or help manage existing medical conditions.
- Physical Fitness – Because physical fitness is critical in supporting good health and lowering the risk of contracting numerous diseases and conditions, everyone should set goals in this area.
- Weight Control – Many people struggle with weight issues. Setting realistic goals to lose or maintain one’s weight can help lead to successful strategies and action plans.
- Relationships – Good personal relationships – with family, friends, loved ones, co-workers – are extremely important and merit setting goals for improvement or maintenance. Relationships are too often taken for granted.
- Enrichment – Each person has or can develop unique interests to make his or her life more meaningful. Setting personal enrichment goals can help fulfill those interests more effectively and efficiently.
People can set goals in one or many of these areas to help them become more accomplished or happier. But the goals that are set must really be important and motivating to the person setting them, or they may not have much effect. They should be framed in a positive manner — something to achieve rather than something to avoid. Goals should also be written down to show commitment.
Further Developing One’s Personal Goals
According to James Avey, Ph.D., Director of Northwest Center for Organizational Research, Central Washington University, personal goals can be further developed as follows:
For each goal an individual sets he or she should write down three to five milestones or “sub-goals” that will be accomplished on the way to the end goal. These milestones will help guide the way as well as monitor progress.
For each goal one should consider what obstacles might prevent it from being accomplished. Three to five obstacles should be written down for each goal, and then actions capable of overcoming those obstacles should also be developed and written down.
A simple example of a goal with milestones is to lose 12 pounds in three months and the milestones would be to lose four pounds each month. Possible obstacles might be the lack of time for physical activity, the lack of information on a trustworthy diet like The Mayo Clinic Diet, and sabotage by other members of the household. With motivation and a little thought, such obstacles are readily overcome.
Often a goal may require a detailed action plan covering what actions will have to be undertaken or new knowledge or habits acquired to successfully accomplish the goal.
Some goals may be so short term and simple that just listing them on a daily or weekly to-do list may be all that is required. An example is to buy a diet book. But there can be a long chain of means-end goals, sub-goals and strategies for longer term goals like getting an online degree while working.
Setting Goals Can Accelerate Self-Improvement and Personal Growth
On the way to personal development life events can easily knock people off track if they don’t use goals. People who do set personal goals for themselves tend to accomplish more than people who don’t.
There are well-researched and proven guidelines for setting goals that work, including the SMART method, making sure that the goals set are personally important ones, and can indeed be accomplished by the person setting them. Specific and challenging goals supply direction and energy leading to greater effort and persistence in their pursuit, and motivate the search for strategies and the development of action plans capable of achieving them.