Striving for more money? Looking for love? Success? Effective goal setting is somewhat of an art.
If you have a history of setting personal goals and failing at a good portion of them, this framework will completely change the way you set and achieve your goals.
A System To Achieve Your Goals
The first step is to set the right kind of goals, which can often be the hardest part. You’ll want to begin setting smart goals.
And while “smart” goals are great, you want to focus on setting S.M.A.R.T. goals. You may have seen this acronym before, but it’s important and warrants a review. The best way to set solid, achievable goals is to ensure they meet the S.M.A.R.T. guidelines.
First, take a few minutes to brainstorm. Grab a blank piece of paper or a notebook and jot down what type of goal you want to achieve. Typically, goals will fall into one of a few different categories or areas of life, including health, business, financial, relationships, or spiritual.
Whatever you choose, write a page heading for each category. Then…brain dump. Write all the different goals you’d like to achieve in that area of your life. This is casual; don’t focus on grammar or punctuation; just get everything that comes to mind out of your head and onto the paper.
Next, review your lists and decide how many goals you want to work towards in each category. Do you want to work on one bigger goal or multiple smaller goals? Are you focusing on improving your professional life, or is personal growth more important?
Once you have your list of goals, the next step is to classify them as short-term goals or long-term goals and determine their priority. Your list may include goals you want to achieve by next week as well as big goals you want to achieve decades in the future.
Now that you’ve determined which goals you want to work toward in the near future, you’re going to take each new goal and measure it against the following criteria to be sure it qualifies as a S.M.A.R.T. goal.
S – S stands for SPECIFIC. Is your goal specific?
When setting goals, it’s very important to be specific. For example, if you are setting a financial goal in your personal life, you don’t want to set a goal of “saving money.” While this may put you on the right path, it’s too broad. It will be hard to maintain focus and stay motivated to simply “save money.”
Setting a specific goal is important; therefore, a better target would be “I will save $10,000”. You want to phrase your goals with “I will” instead of “I want.” This primes your mind for manifesting your desired end result.
M – M stands for MEASURABLE. Is your goal measurable?
Measuring your goals or your progress is a great way to be sure you are staying on track. Quantifying your objectives allows you to measure your progress more effectively and determine if your hard work is paying off.
Keeping with our example of saving $10,000, this goal is measurable. You can check your bank account to keep track of your progress each step of the way. You can reduce expenses by a certain percentage each month to free up additional money to save toward your goal.
Ensuring your goal is measurable will help define actionable steps to follow along the way to success.
A – A stands for ATTAINABLE. Is your goal attainable?
It’s good to dream, and it’s great to “reach for the stars,” as you were probably told as a child. However, the only way you will achieve your goals is by making sure they are attainable.
You may have a major goal to save a billion dollars in two years. Could it happen? Sure, anything is possible, right? But realistically, this is a dream, not a goal. For the majority of the population, it is extremely unlikely they will save a billion dollars in their lifetime unless they own a huge corporation or come from generational wealth.
In contrast, setting a goal of saving $10,000 in two years is much more attainable. Setting attainable goals does not necessarily mean they won’t be challenging; it only means you are not setting unrealistic expectations for yourself, which often lead to failure.
Depending on the amount of money you make, it may not be easy for you to save $10,000 in two years, but if you work hard and stay focused, you will get there.
R – R stands for RELEVANT. Your goals need to be relevant. Relevant to your life and value system. If your goals are relevant, they will be more meaningful to you, and you will be more likely to achieve your goals.
What is your “why”? Why do you want to achieve this goal? What does it mean to you? What will it mean for you when you achieve it? Having a relevant goal will help you stay committed for the long haul.
T – T stands for TIME SENSITIVE. It’s imperative to set a timeline for when you want to achieve your goals. Giving yourself a deadline will help create a sense of urgency, which will continue to push you forward closer to your goals!
“I will save $10,000 by December 31st.” This goal is time-sensitive. If there is no completion date, how will you really know if you achieve your goal?
Keep Your Goals Front and Center
This is one of the most important steps. You’ve set your S.M.A.R.T. goals, you’re trekking along, doing great, but time goes on, and eventually, you start to lose steam. You may even forget about the goals you set. What do you do to ensure you achieve your goals?
You must have them visible at all times. Write them down. Send them out into the universe. There is just something about putting your goal down on paper and physically writing it. So start here. Write it down…..everywhere!
Write it down, put it in places you will see it, and see it often. Write your goals in your planner. Hang your goals on your refrigerator. Add them to the wallpaper on your cell phone…everywhere.
Yes, it might seem strange, but these are constant reminders all day, every day. Keeping your goals at the forefront of your mind really helps you stay focused and keep you accountable.
Track Your Progress
Proof of your own progress is incredibly motivating. When you are trying to lose weight, how do you feel when you step on that scale and see your numbers dropping? Or you try on your old jeans, and they finally fit again?!
Seeing your progress makes you happy, confident, and motivates you to keep pushing toward your goals. When you see progress, you are proud of yourself, and it makes you want to work harder to see even more progress.
Decide how you will measure your progress. If your goal is to get stronger, you can keep a workout log of how much weight you’re lifting.
If your goal is to save money, you can use a savings tracker. If your goal is to eat healthier, you can keep a food log.
Commit to checking in each week or month to see how you’re progressing towards your goals.
Review and Revise
What if you are tracking your progress, but you’re not actually making any progress? Where do you go from there? Goal setting is not a once-and-done feat – it requires constant tweaking.
Lack of progress usually means one of two things: either you’re not taking the necessary steps required to reach your goal, or you need to change your trajectory.
Determine a schedule to revise and review your goals. Some people commit to a daily review, or maybe weekly or monthly would work better for you. When you review your goals, set benchmarks where you expect to be in a certain amount of time.
Check your goals against the S.M.A.R.T. method again, and be sure they still meet the qualifications! Make sure they continue to align with your values as a person, and review your why.
When your why is clear, the how is easy. During the frustrating times when you feel your willpower waver, your “why” will push you through and keep you moving forward.
If your progress is not in line with what you have planned, it might be time to switch directions. Remember, your goals will change because you will change.
And that’s ok.
Revising your goals will help keep them fresh and renew your motivation.
Strive for Progress, Not Perfection
It can be very frustrating when you feel like you are not reaching your goals. It is important to focus on the journey as a whole.
You cannot give up because you feel like you are not reaching your goals as quickly as you wanted to. Or maybe it doesn’t look like you envisioned once you’ve reached the finish line.
Instead, focus on how far you’ve come. Focus on the new habits you’ve created. Focus on doing just a little better each day, and focus on taking action. If perfection is your goal, you’ll never achieve it, and you’ll always feel like a failure.
Follow these tips to set and achieve your goals, and you’ll find yourself more productive and successful in no time.
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Kristin Stones is the owner of Cents + Purpose, an online community dedicated to sharing practical personal finance content. Her mission is to equip women with the necessary tools and knowledge to take back control of their money and live a more purposeful life. She creates actionable content to help her audience achieve financial wellness using her simple approach to managing money - all learned through her personal experience of paying off almost $55,000 of debt in under two years.