How to Set Goals You’ll Actually Follow Through On
I’m not a big sports fan, but I have to admit I’m a fan of Michael Jordan. He wrote, in his book
I Can’t Accept Not Trying: Michael Jordan on the Pursuit of Excellence:
I approach everything step by step….I had always set short-term goals. As I look back, each one of the steps or successes led to the next one. When I got cut from the varsity team as a sophomore in high school, I learned something. I knew I never wanted to feel that bad again….So I set a goal of becoming a starter on the varsity. That’s what I focused on all summer. When I worked on my game, that’s what I thought about. When it happened, I set another goal, a reasonable, manageable goal that I could realistically achieve if I worked hard enough….I guess I approached it with the end in mind. I knew exactly where I wanted to go, and I focused on getting there. As I reached those goals, they built on one another. I gained a little confidence every time I came through.
…If [your goal is to become a doctor]…and you’re getting Cs in biology then the first thing you have to do is get Bs in biology and then As. You have to perfect the first step and then move on to chemistry or physics.
All those steps are like pieces of a puzzle. They all come together to form a picture….Not everyone is going to be the greatest….But you can still be considered a success….Step by step, I can’t see any other way of accomplishing anything.
Research has shown, over and over, that specific, challenging goals help people perform better than people who are given easy goals, vague goals (such as “do your best”), or no goals. The same studies show that goals can relieve boredom, increase your satisfaction in yourself and your performance, and increase your confidence and your pride in the work that you do.
And the happier you are with your accomplishments, the more willing you are to push yourself further and see how much more you can do, and how much farther you can go. Future challenges become motivators, and motivators push you toward success.
The question remains; how do you set goals that you will actually meet? All it takes is three easy steps.
1. Identify what works.
Everyone has a unique set of strengths and weaknesses making some people excel in one area while others struggle through it. Use your strengths to combat your weaknesses. If your goal is to live a healthier lifestyle but you dislike the gym and are too busy, incorporate physical activity into something you already do by riding your bike to school or the office. You’re much more likely to stick with your goal and meet it by using a strength to adjust for a better fit for you and your lifestyle.
2. Identify what doesn’t work.
Identifying what doesn’t work is easier than identifying what does work. Along these lines, the path you take towards your goal completion can be optimized for more efficient uses of time, money, and energy. If your goal is to become a doctor but you’re getting Cs in Biology, identify what’s holding you back from that B. If you’re having a hard time studying for exams, create flashcards and run through them with a friend. If you’re overwhelmed by all the work you need to put in, set goals within your goal that are smaller stepping stones for your main goal to avoid discouragement. When setting goals, identifying what doesn’t work and finding an efficient replacement will motivate you to reach your goal.
3. Move forward, not backward.
It can be so easy to forget about a goal and lose sight of the end prize from time to time. Don’t let a setback be the reason you don’t reach your goal. Trying to retroactively make up for a goal will only discourage you and deter you further. For example, if your goal is to read 15 pages of a book a day to finish it by the end of the month, but you forgot to read the last 4 days, don’t try to read 60 extra pages in a day to catch up. Re-evaluate your end date or pages per day. Move forwards towards your goal without being held backward.
Maybe your ultimate goal is to become a respiratory therapist, a hospital administrator, a business mogul, agraphic design superstar. Focusing on your current, immediate goals—from your current assignment to your next class, to your next hour in the clinic. Build small success after small success to create the ladder that you’ll climb to get you to where you want to be.
Tana Sanderson is the Director of Admissions for California College San Diego. With 18 years of higher education administration and classroom experience, she has served as the chief operational, academic and business officer for both non-profit and proprietary colleges. As a past Dean and Regional Director, she provided direction and leadership, managed the financial aid, academics, career services, distance education, and admissions departments. She has a Master of Science degree in Communications and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism from San Diego State University. She has doctoral coursework in business. Tana is a native San Diegan.