It’s time for everyone’s favourite topic – Goals! Wait! Don’t leave yet. I know that most people don’t love talking about goal-setting. It feels like something that gets repetitively raised with you by all the self-help books and inspiring people you look up to. “This is how I’m so successful”, they say. I’m not going to lie, I always used to put goal setting in the same category as ‘manifestation’ – thinking your way to success.
What I’ve realised really recently is that I’m the kind of person that’s actually really driven by goals. I’ve just never called them that, or when I have, I haven’t thought about them in such a mindful, targeted way. When I was 24, I set a goal to complete a half-marathon. I followed a 12 week training plan and managed to complete the full 21.1km. I never wrote anything down, I just in my head said, “I’m going to do this thing.” For a girl who grew up asthmatic, it was something I had never conceived of doing, and is still one of my proudest moments.
Like I said, I never sat down and really thought about the goal. It wasn’t as structured as goal setting can, and really should be. But having the finish line in sight, made me get up in the mornings at 6am and get in all my training runs.
Look at the finish line
What I’m getting at here is that by having a really clear end-point in mind, I was able to complete all the drudge work to get to my goal. Something I’ve realised during COVID-19 is that I find it incredibly difficult to motivate myself without that ending in mind. I’ve also found myself probably more depressed than usual during the lockdowns, because I have found it very hard to set goals. A lot of the time, it’s felt like we’re in this holding pattern where nothing is ever going to change.
When I found myself in this really depressed state, I realised that I needed to set targets for myself, even if they were mini goals – especially because COVID had derailed my perfect 5 year plan.
Believe it or not, I took up running again. I had let my running go over the past couple of years because I had gotten more into weight lifting at the gym. But with locked down gyms, running became the best alternative. I set a target to run 3 times a week so I could run 5km by the time lock down was over. Living in Melbourne, Australia we couldn’t leave a 5km radius anyway!
Spoiler alert – the lock downs are (mostly) over, and I’m hitting 5km in my runs easily now.
How do we set goals in a way that feels genuine and not forced? I want to set goals and actually care about them, not just do it because the self-help books tell me I should. There’s a lot of advice on this subject so I’m not going to spend too much time on it.
Be a SMARTy pants
Most people would have heard of the concept of SMART goals. Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely. I can’t advocate for this enough. When I was running my half-marathon, it was easy to accidentally hit all these requirements for a SMART goal. A specific and measurable distance, that was achievable and realistic for my fitness level, that happened at a certain time and date.
When talking about work and career goal-setting, it becomes a lot more murky. Firstly, you may have to set goals in conjunction with your boss. Don’t view this as a bad thing, particularly if you’re new to goal setting. They might be able to help with giving you some targets or objectives based on the business needs, as well as your career needs.
Secondly, you have to care about your job or the very least your career. If you are finding it hard to set future goals, consider if that’s because you don’t want your current career to be your future. In that case, set some personal goals around professional development or education. It could even be a goal to apply for 10 new jobs a month.
Lastly, I find I can get caught up in setting goals that are kind of skipping steps. A big example I can use is that I had a goal for a few years to do some professional development by completing a course of some kind. I left that goal unfinished for a long time, and I realised that the first goal should have been researching and finding the course that I wanted to complete. Education is a great goal, but if you have no idea what you want to learn, there’s no point aiming to do that.
I KISSed a goal and I liked it
Time to throw another acronym at you – KISS. This is not just the name of my favourite band (yes actually), but it stands for Keep It Simple, Stupid. If you set a really complex multi-faceted goal, you won’t be able to approach it at all. It will simply be too intimidating and appear impossible to complete. Keep it simple, and put away your 5 year plan when you’re working out your goals for the next quarter.
Goals can and should change depending on what’s happening in your life and your feelings. Nailing 5 years worth of goals in one go is not realistic. You can definitely have long term goals, but be prepared for them to change and invest time in fulfilling the short term ones. The short term ones might help fulfil the long term ones anyway.
Don’t forget to include some personal goals in life that have nothing to do with work as well! Goals can help us grow as human beings too, not just help with being super successful workplace warriors.