How to set goals you can achieve

By Darrell Brown

At the start of each new year, many of us plan our goals for the coming year. You remember: I will lose 20 pounds, I will start exercising four days a week, I will give up sweets, or I will plan a trip abroad. So how many people truly set these goals? And how many will follow through?

Australian author and entrepreneur Leonie Dawson says only about 20 percent of people set goals, meaning 80 percent don’t set goals at all. On her website, Dawson explains that of the 20 percent of people who set goals, only 4 percent take the time to write them down and only 1 percent write them down and regularly review them. Why should we even attempt to set goals in the first place? Because it motivates us to achieve them. Think of the glory of running that marathon, getting a promotion, making a sports team or making the final payment on our car or home. Achieving a personal goal gives us confidence that we can achieve anything we set our minds to.

Goal setting is also a powerful way to motivate yourself to do something you might not normally do. We set one-year, five-year and even lifetime goals in such areas as career, education, finances, family, health and community service, to name a few.
One way of making personal goals more achievable is to be SMART. It’s a concept developed by George T. Doran in 1981 that has had plenty of variations over the years.

SMART goals are written using the following guidelines:
S — Specific
M — Measurable
A — Attainable
R — Relevant
T — Timely

People, as well as businesses, have found SMART to be a valuable and powerful tool. A goal to lose 20 pounds is specific. Can you attain that goal? Yes, you can! Is it relevant? Certainly to you, it is. Is there a way we can measure it? Yes, if you put a number to it — such as I will lose 20 pounds in six months. Your goals will be SMART if you can measure them, track them and achieve them in a reasonable amount of time.

“To achieve a major goal, first tackle a few small ones,” wrote Art Markman in a Feb. 24, 2017, Harvard Business Review article. Markman, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, says “to achieve a large-scale goal for the first time, it is best to work your way up through more-manageable projects.” Markman recommends shortening the learning cycle by first tackling a smaller project and getting feedback at that time.

The goals that work best usually conform to personal attributes or characteristics. In their book, Organizational Behavior, Don Hellriegel and John W. Slocum explain that goals should be difficult and challenging to achieve — but not impossible to accomplish. Goals should be clear and easily understood by all involved. When we set our personal goals, we know what is expected of us. When we set goals in business, all employees should know what is expected of them.

When it comes to setting business goals, some of us will be resistant. Resistance can be overcome by providing rewards and incentives. As you increase the number of goals you set, so will you increase acceptance and accomplishments. When individuals fail to meet a goal, negative consequences usually result, but when individuals successfully meet a goal, they become more confident and successful. They perform better and take pride in the achievement of those successes. Achieving goals can yield very beneficial results for both individuals and businesses.

Today I challenge you: Set goals, write them down and work to achieve them. Be motivated through the journey. It’ll not only give you confidence, but it’ll also make you better.

Darrell Brown, Ph.D., is a clinical associate professor of management and director of diversity at Indiana University Kelley School of Business Indianapolis.