Setting a Goal
Importance of Goal-Setting
Having a goal can be an excellent way set yourself down a positive path. Goals can serve as anchors as you navigate through the reentry process. Rather than exhausting yourself aimlessly chasing after things you want, or are told to want, it can be extremely helpful to take a moment to think about what it is you want and how you can go about getting it. Goals, even the small ones, can help keep you focused, hold yourself accountable and instill confidence. While it can be easy to live everyday going through the motions, setting a goal allows you to take control of your life and change its direction. As you start to think about what goals you might like to set for yourself, consider where you are now and where you would like to be in 1 month, 6 months, 1 year, or even 5 years. Then, using to the list below as a guide, create goals that can act as stepping stones to help you achieve your larger objectives.
Make them “SMART”: A “SMART” goal is one that is:
Specific: The more specific you can make your goal, the more likely you are to accomplish it. Focus on when, where and how you plan to achieve your goal. It may feel awkward or unnecessary at first, but the simple act of writing down your plan will help to make it feel real.
Measurable: When setting a goal, make sure you establish a way to measure your progress. Answering questions such as “How much?,” How many?,” or “How will I know when it is accomplished?” will help you understand how your progress towards your goal can be tracked.
Achievable: This can be the trickiest part. When you set your goal, you want to strike a balance between feeling challenged and feeling overwhelmed. It’s important to strive towards a goal that pushes you mentally, emotionally, and/or physically, but you want to be sure that your goal is realistic. For example, if your goal is to quit smoking, depending on who you are, quitting cold turkey may not be the most realistic decision. However, setting a goal to only smoke “X” number of cigarettes per day for a week may be a more achievable goal to start with that sets you on the path towards your ultimate goal of quitting.
Results-focused: To achieve your goal, it’s important that you keep your eye on the prize. Focus on the result you are trying to achieve, rather than the activities that help you achieve it. The results are tangible; however, the activities are not.
Time bound: Every goal needs a deadline. When setting a time limit for your goal, you want to be sure that it is practical, but that it also creates a slight sense of urgency so that you are motivated to work towards the results you are trying to achieve. Answering questions such as “What can I do daily to achieve this goal?,” What can I do weekly to achieve this goal?,” or “How much time per day or week can I dedicate to this goal?” will help you establish a realistic time frame.
Put your goals in writing
The simple act of writing down your goal can make it seem more real and tangible. It’s one thing to hold a goal in your mind and to say that you will achieve it, but it is an entirely different thing to commit your goal to paper and to set out exactly how you plan to achieve that goal.
Identifying and understanding the underlying reasons why you want to achieve your goal will help keep you motivated. Think of it this way. Answering the “Why?” question will help you identify the purpose behind your goals; it will help you identify the underlying hopes and aspirations that you have for yourself, and the goal that you’ve made is designed to help you get there.
For example, you may decide to set a goal to exercise three times per week. When you ask yourself why, you make the connection that you want to exercise because you want to live a healthier lifestyle. Now, you have an overarching purpose that can help motivate you to continue exercising three times per week.
Keep your goals close by
Once you have written your goal down, keep it with you. This can look differently to different people. Maybe you keep your goal in your back pocket so that you can refer to it when you are feeling disheartened or discouraged. Maybe you keep your goal by the bathroom mirror so that you are reminded of it every time you brush your teeth. The point is to put it somewhere you can see, so that you are regularly reminded of what it is you are working towards.
Have an accountability partner
This piece of advice goes together with the “Establish a Support System” section. Ideally, the people you rely on as a support system will be people with whom you can share your goals. Much like the act of putting your goals in writing, the act of saying a goal out loud can be helpful because you are now being held accountable by not only yourself, but by someone who you trust and respect. Keep in mind, that you may want to be cautious about who you share certain goals with. It’s important that you feel supported, and not criticized. Before you share your goal(s) with someone, consider whether they will be a positive or negative influence as you strive to reach your goal.
Focus on the positive
When drafting goals, it’s easy to phrase them in the negative. Rather than focusing on what you cannot do because of the goal you’ve set for yourself, focus on what you can do instead.
This advice is two-fold: to start, keep your goals small and small in time. What do I mean by that? Well, if you are unfamiliar with this goal-making process, it’s important to ease yourself into this way of thought. By setting one or two goals at the start, and by confining those goals to one- or two-week time frames, you will be familiarizing yourself with the process as well as gaining confidence and momentum as you make your next set of goals.
Be kind to yourself
If you follow every suggestion on this list except for this one, you will be missing a critical component of the goal-making process. It’s important that you are not only kind to yourself as you create your goals, but also as you work towards your goals. While it’s true that goals are made so that they can be achieved, it is equally true that sometimes life happens, meaning you will need to periodically reassess, or re-make, your goals. Sometimes, especially at the beginning, you will create goals that are too big or unclear. Sometimes a life event happens and you won’t be able to achieve your goal by the time you initially specified. That’s okay. Life happens. Be kind to yourself, take a deep breath, and reassess where you are at that moment and how you can get to where you want to be.