Whether you imagine yourself as a goal setter or not, you naturally create goals and go about achieving them — it’s what humans do. You wake up and feel thirsty, so you pour a glass of water. As basic and simple as that sounds, you realized a goal.
Of course, setting goals for yourself professionally can feel more intimidating and involved. When the timing, reality and likelihood of achievability mix with inspiration, you feel ready to hit the gas and achieve your first milestone. Ask yourself what you’re aiming for, if it will matter and why. Goal setting is more than “If you build it, they will come.”
Half the battle is setting an achievable goal — if the bar’s too high or too low, you won’t be as committed or inspired as needed to make it happen. Then, what you do achieve misses the mark or doesn’t even make a splash.
Aim beyond mediocrity and use these five tips to set goals for better outcomes.
1. Where Are You?
To know where you begin, you must know where you are. In storytelling, a writer starts in medias res, or in the middle of things. It’s difficult to set goals for yourself because you’re living life in a mess of circumstances, factors and the hamster wheel of your brain.
The adage “Nothing in life is certain” holds a terrifying truth for dreamers in its potential for creation and destruction — or worse, stagnation. Doing nothing feels safer, but where you are is full of action. Your dreams shift, but what do you hold at your core? How have you changed as a professional? Where are you?
Take out a pen, put it to paper and let it all out. Where are you?
2. Where Am I Aiming?
Now that you know where you are, you know more about where you’re headed — even if that’s solely based on where you definitely don’t want to be. Get to know your audience, resources and other necessary components. Use your five senses to judge your surroundings and the timing of your goal. Where are you aiming?
3. Include a Reassessment Period
When goal-setting, include a reassessment period to make improvements or adjust your actions or time frame. Life happens, and other priorities redirect your attention and commitment. Sometimes, what you thought would work doesn’t, and you must tinker with the process or find different ways to achieve your goal.
Results, no matter how off the mark, serve an essential purpose in reevaluating the goal and its process. Changes take support, negotiation, work and follow-up as you work with outside resources and others to achieve your goal.
Changes are not the same as improvements, so be patient with yourself. Propose a change and test it out. It’s in trial and failure that you make a breakthrough. Define your goal, assess and collect information and reassess — make changes to make improvements, but know it will take time. It’s an open and continuously cycling process, not a closed one.
4. Get Comfortable With Change
Try, try and try again. Change will get you every time, so get comfortable with it. You still must do the work, and improvements are made with effort and innovation. The latter comes when you get outside of the box, especially when you know its perimeters.
Change is the friction pushing you forward, and no matter how you must readjust or reassess your aim, your vision holds true when you leave enough room. Focusing on a narrow goal gives you tunnel vision because you fail to see the alternative, better ways of achieving your goal. So, focus on the journey, remembering to ask yourself “Where am I?”
You’re more likely to achieve your goal when you stop focusing on the destination — otherwise, you miss the moments before the fatal crash putting your objective out of commission. Keep checking the pulse of your goal.
5. Celebrate Failure as a Scientist
Failure is opportunity. Failure offers information. Failure lends a lens for revision.
Celebrate failure with these perspectives. Approach your goal as a scientist would, readjusting what the truth of the situation is to you. Don’t stigmatize yourself for being wrong about a hypothesis — focus on the process and experiment to find success. When you move toward failure strategically, you appreciate and celebrate it more easily as an intrinsic part of the innovative and creative process.
Many startups fail, and entrepreneurs go on to create new ventures. Passion and vision bring them back to try again every time. Entrepreneurs are tinkerers at heart with a desire to impact the world. Celebrate failure as a scientist would.
Keep learning, fall in love with change, celebrate failure, continuously observe and question where you are to know where you are headed and, perhaps most importantly, keep testing and reassessing.
It’s not the destination that matters when you aim for a goal, though that sounds counterproductive. The journey you take to get there matters the most. Remember, you’ll never see the entire forest if you spend your time too focused on each individual tree.
Setting goals is as natural as breathing or getting up to get a glass of water in the morning. To achieve better outcomes, breathe and try again with enhanced focus.