We all have goals – some big, some small, some safe, and some bold.
We wish to become a painter, to move to a new house, to write a book, to eat healthily, to exercise more, to become less anxious, and to run a marathon.
The list is endless, if ill-defined. And yet, how much do we really want each one?
If something is vital to us, we need to make plans.
So, how do we do this?
Goal setting is widely accepted as the most effective way of focusing our attention on the right activities, energizing us, and increasing our commitment (Sheard, 2013).
And yet, unless the goal is well-formulated, the strategy appropriate, and the actions directed, it will lack purpose, relevance, direction, and accountability (Ogbeiwi, 2017).
Thankfully this is an area that has received considerable scientific attention.
Goals are most effective when we use well-formulated frameworks that provide a logical, reliable platform to plan and monitor its completion.
Use the techniques and tools that follow to inspire you and find out what you want to achieve, why, and how you are going to do it.
This article contains:
- 3 Ways to Set Achievable Goals
- Our 5 Favorite Goal-Setting Worksheets
- What Are SMART Goals: A Template
- Goal-Setting Tools for Therapy and Coaching
- 2 Templates for CBT and DBT
- Worksheets for Teachers and Students
- Goal Planning with Children
- 2 Templates for Businesses and Employees
- Worksheets for Achieving Life Goals
- A Look at Daily and Weekly Goal Planners
- A Take-Home Message
3 Ways to Set Achievable Goals
There are many types of goals. But ultimately, all goals boil down to one thing.
We need to move from one state to another: from where we are now to where we want to be.
Firstly, what sort of goal do you want to achieve?
- Outcome goal – I want to be the best at X in the world.
- Performance goal — I want to better at X.
- Process goal — I want to train or practice at doing X.
- Delivery-focused goal — I want to deliver a change, such as a business, technology, or construction project.
The type of goal will influence your approach.
Goals should be meaningful. They should challenge us, change us, and sometimes lie in the Discomfort Zone.
In Your Best Year Ever, Michael Hyatt outlines four steps (modified below) for defining goals that stretch us and help us overcome our in-built resistance:
- Acknowledge the value of moving outside the comfort zone.
Accept that comfort may not lead to growth.
Recognize and acknowledge that there is value in discomfort.
- Lean in
Take the opportunity to challenge yourself.
This may require a change in mindset.
- Recognize your fear
Own the negative emotions that arise.
Decide if the rewards outweigh the fear.
- Don’t overthink it
Avoid ‘paralysis by analysis.’
Sometimes you take the next step even when the end goal remains unclear.
Humans have a set of innate psychological needs: one of which is to add meaning to life (Ryan & Deci, 2018).
Does this goal align with your overall life goals?
Use the steps below—similar to the Best Possible Resilient Self technique— to focus on becoming more aware of the most meaningful things in your life (modified from Ivtzan, Chan, Gardner, & Prashar, 2011, & Ivtzan, 2016):
- Sit comfortably, relax
- Become aware of your breathing
- Inhale deeply and slowly
- Concentrate on each breath; observe it
- Visualize yourself in the future, living a full and meaningful life
- Connect fully to the experience
- Try not to dwell on how you got there
- Shift attention to your body and feel the sensations that arise
- Breathe into and explore these sensations; let them spread over your whole body
- When you open your eyes, you should experience the full effect of the meditation
As you refine your goals, make sure they continue to align with the picture you have created of a meaningful life.
Our 5 Favorite Goal-Setting Worksheets
Write down and regularly review your goals.
The more vividly they are captured, the more likely you are to accomplish them.
The GROW model (Goals, Reality, Options, and Way Forward) is a simple but highly effective method for setting goals, recognizing where you are now, and identifying what to do next (Whitmore, 2014).
Complete the four worksheets as follows:
- Establish where you want to be.
- Where do you want to get to, and how will you know when you arrive?
- Complete the Goal Setting Worksheet with your answers.
What is Reality?
- Where are you right now with this goal?
- What are the issues and challenges?
- How far are you away from your goal?
- Complete the Reality Worksheet with your realistic insights.
What Options do you have?
- What are the options for overcoming the obstacles in your way?
- How do you get to where you want to be?
- Complete the Options Worksheet with the options available to you.
- What will you do?
- Convert the options into actions.
- Complete the Way Forward Worksheet with your completed plan of action.
The Wheel of Success
What abilities do you have, or need, to deliver your goals?
The Wheel of Success identifies the skills and abilities that promote your very best performance (Whyte, 2015):
- Identify a list of performance attributes required to perform successfully.
- Assign a score (0-4) to each that truthfully represents where you are now.
- Assign another score (0-4) that identifies how good you believe you need to become.
For example, a runner training for a fast marathon time may have the speed but lack endurance:
|Attributes for marathoner||Current ‘self’ rating||Future ‘target’ score|
By scoring where you are now (blue) and where you want to be (green), it is possible to focus time, energy, and resources, on improving areas where you fall short.
Improving Your Skills
How do you improve the skills you have identified?
Thankfully, we know the answer.
Research has confirmed that deliberate practice results in expertise:
- The task should be neither too easy nor too hard.
- Ongoing feedback is required to optimize performance.
- The opportunity must be there to repeat the task, correct errors, and improve.
The quality and the form the deliberate practice takes is more important than the number of hours devoted to performing the task (Ericsson, 2007; 2012).
What Motivates You?
Identify and connect with the motivation behind each goal.
Intrinsic motivation—being driven by internal rewards—increases engagement and the likelihood that you reach the goal (Ryan & Deci, 2018).
Michael Hyatt suggests (modified from Your Best Year Ever, 2019) that you:
- Connect with your why: identify your key motivations.
Why is this goal important?
Write the reasons, prioritize, and connect with them.
- Master your self-motivation: identify your reward.
Identify and anticipate the reward of completing the goal.
Recognize what is personal to you, rather than extrinsic rewards, such as financial gain.
- Build your team: identify who can help.
Your bonds with friends, family, and colleagues can help fuel success through learning, encouragement, accountability, and competition.
Goals that align with your values—personal growth, contributing to the broader community, etc.—are strong intrinsic motivators and increase vitality.
The Flow of Success
Are you ready to begin setting clear and defined, SMART goals?
Follow the steps in the below diagram (adapted from Achieve the Impossible, Greg Whyte, 2015):
If you answer ‘no’ to any of the questions, then you must revise the challenge, or the environment, before setting the goal.
Once you have answered ‘yes’ to all three questions, you are ready to define the goal to meet the challenge head-on.
What Are SMART Goals: A Template
Goal setting not only helps you to complete the task, but also impacts wellbeing, represents your strive to achieve personal change, and enhances your meaning and purpose in life (Sheard, 2013).
To achieve something big, you need to break it down into a set of smaller, manageable tasks. Each time you complete one, you move nearer to the overall goal.
The widely used SMART, or slightly extended SMARTER, template ensures that each goal or sub-goal is realistic, achievable, and time-bound.
Specific – Goals should be clear and concise.
Measurable – What does success look like? How is it measured?
Achievable – The goal or task must be challenging but possible. Gently pushing the limits encourages improvement and growth.
Relevant – Does the goal fit with your overall life goals and core values?
Time-bound – When will you finish?
Exciting – What enthuses you? The benefits should be worthwhile to maintain commitment.
Reviewable – Circumstances change. Revisit the goals and revise them if needed.
The SMART Goals Worksheet offers a valuable tool for defining and documenting a SMART goal.
Goal-Setting Tools for Therapy and Coaching
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a solution-focused therapy, ultimately aiming for the client to become their own coach (Neenan & Palmer, 2001; Wilding, 2015).
Goals should target the problem to be explored and outline the time available.
Setting New Goals in Therapy
What is it you want to achieve? How do you want things to be different?
The following steps (modified from Wilding, 2015) help you set appropriate therapy goals:
- What is it you really want, or wish for?
I wish I could find someone special in my life.
I wish I had a job that I was passionate about.
- Spend time imagining what it would be like if it happened.
- Change the wording from ‘wish’ to ‘would like.’
I would like to find someone special in my life.
I would like a job that I was passionate about.
- These statements feel different. ‘Would like’ is very positive, it suggests doing something about it, rather than sitting back and wishing.
Well done! You are well on the way to having a set of goals.
Prioritize your Goals
Some goals are urgent but do not need analysis.
Acting upon them will immediately make your life better.
I would like to get the car fixed.
I would like to visit my mother; she is unwell.
Prioritize your goals and tackle the urgent ones first.
Act or Think Differently
Are the goals achieved through action or a change in the way you think?
Label your goals as either:
- Something that you need to do. (Action)
I’m not very confident in giving presentations – work on it.
- Something that you need to think about differently.
I’m not very tall – learn to accept who you are. (Acceptance)
Labeling each goal will confirm whether you need to work on how you think, behave, or both.
2 Templates for CBT and DBT
Coaching needs to be goal-driven to maximize its benefits.
The following two worksheets will help:
Coping Styles Worksheet
If your coping strategies are not effective against the problems you face, then a set of actions are needed to direct the best way forward.
The Coping Styles Formulation Worksheet identifies a list of problems, potential coping strategies, and the advantages and disadvantages of each one.
Mindfulness is often taught as part of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). Clients are helped to gain awareness of their thoughts and feelings and eliminate behaviors that interfere with goals (Soler et al., 2012).
Being in the right state of mind and grounding yourself in the present can help you identify and deliver your goals.
The 3-Step Mindfulness worksheet is deceptively simple but provides a valuable way of practicing mindfulness throughout the day and bringing awareness to the present.
Worksheets for Teachers and Students
Goal setting is crucial to maximize and direct limited resources in education.
However, the teacher’s and student’s state of mind are equally important.
Motivation to Learn
Like all of us, students and teachers need to be motivated to meet their goals.
This Daily Motivation Awareness exercise encourages voluntary, or autonomous, motivation linked to goal fulfillment (Ryan & Deci, 2018).
A series of awareness questions are asked throughout the day to understand your emotions:
- What am I doing?
- Why am I doing it?
- Where is it taking me?
Understanding our motivations and how they align with our basic psychological needs can help us set personal, exciting goals.
Mindfulness in Schools
Focus and attention are hugely important to the completion of goals. The absence of either will lead to an environment of distraction.
The Teaching Kids to Thrive worksheet discusses what mindfulness is, and is not.
It helps to provide sufficient distance from disturbing or unwanted thoughts to act and deliver on outcomes.
Goal Planning with Children
Setting goals for children can be challenging.
Lack of focus, ease of distraction, and failing motivation are all possible challenges to overcome.
And yet, children asked to engage in a goal they value, are likely to expend more effort, and perform better (Koufoudakis, Erwin, Beighle, & Thornton, 2016).
Meaning and Valued Living
An excellent starting point for setting goals with children is to identify what inspires a sense of meaning in their lives.
Start by downloading and working through the 3 Meaning and Valued Living Exercises.
Children need to gain an understanding of their strengths, along with what they find difficult.
The Self Awareness Worksheet is written for young children but is valuable at any age.
Through helping a child to understand what they are good at, what they find hard, what they like, and don’t like, it is possible to define a set of goals that mix strengths and weaknesses.
Goals, at any age, should be challenging to encourage growth, but not beyond the child’s ability to complete, or they risk becoming disillusioned and giving up.
SMART for children
SMART goals are an effective way of directing focus in children.
The Student Goal Setting Worksheet is simple to complete, even for young children. Here is an overview of the questions asked:
- I am good at X.
- I am bad at X.
- What will I improve?
- How will I make these improvements?
- If my plan doesn’t work, what will I do?
Working through each of the five questions will help a child to understand which goals are important to them.
2 Templates for Businesses and Employees
SMART Goals for the Business
Many employees are comfortable with the idea of setting SMART goals.
However, despite the familiarity, its value within the work environment is often underestimated.
When taken seriously, SMART goals can motivate employees to succeed beyond their current level of expertise and identify future opportunities for training and development (Clough & Strycharczyk, 2015).
Visualization of your Future
Focusing on positive mental images can prepare and protect our minds, help us cope with change, and increase self-belief.
Mentally working through each step in as much detail as possible—imagining sounds, smells, touch, thoughts, emotions, and physical responses—on our way to hitting goals can feel as real to the mind as actually performing the activity (Clough& Strycharczyk, 2015).
- Think of what you want to achieve.
- Imagine completing it successfully.
- How does it feel? How do you react?
- What do others look like?
- How do they react?
Imagine feeling confident, in control, and enjoying the challenge and the moment.
Worksheets for Achieving Life Goals
What are your dreams? What is important to you? What do you want to accomplish in life?
Document your life goals to provide the focus you need to make hopes and dreams real.
Martin Seligman’s PERMA model helps us to understand the elements of our lives that promote happiness.
Download the PERMA worksheet to understand your five core elements of wellbeing:
P – Positive emotions
E – Engagement
R – Relationships
M – Meaning
A – Accomplishments
A Look at Daily and Weekly Goal Planners
Having a physical copy of your life goals and the daily and weekly goals that work toward it can make them more real.
Review and change the goals over time, in line with your situation, your feelings, and what you want.
The Create a Legend Life Planner is available from Amazon and provides a high-quality home for your life goals.
The 90 Day Smart Goal Planner Calendar & Journal is also available from Amazon and uses SMART goals to target what you want to complete and change over the next three months.
A Take-Home Message
Imagine acting on the dreams that you keep tucked away: the ones that seem too big, or too personal, to share.
Make them real. Write them down as goals.
Let them inspire you and transform the world around you. Use goals to become the best possible you.
So, go ahead, take the resources from this article, and identify significant goals that excite you. Break them down, define them as SMART goals, and turn them into something realistic and achievable.
By crafting them into something tangible and working through the individual actions, you will grow into the person you need to be to complete them.
Goal setting provides you with a means to navigate through a complex world and will encourage your long-term persistence.
Don’t let your goals remain a list of wishes.
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