Once you have decided what you want to do, clarifying your goals is vital. Whether your decision is to work on personal development, go back to school or start your own business there are steps you can take to promote success. After all, jumping in with both feet does not mean jumping in blindly. Benjamin Franklin said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” When you set out on a new journey, the following can be beneficial.
Clearly define your long-term goal. Yes, you have made your decision, you know which way you want to go. Be certain you know precisely where your path will lead. Simply saying, “I have decided to go back to school” leaves many questions unanswered: Where will you go, what will you study, how will you pay for it, will it affect others, will you continue to work full time…? Be clear in your purpose and write down as many details as you can. If a stranger were to read your goal he or she should know exactly what you are hoping to achieve. As the saying goes, “Leave no stone unturned.”
In addition, write down why you have chosen this goal. It might sound unnecessary or silly, but having this written down can be beneficial later. For example, I went back to school to work on my PhD. By the time I graduated it had been seven years since I began and I honestly had no idea what my thinking was in the beginning. When I thought about what I wanted to do when I finished friends asked, “Why did you go back originally?” I had no response and not remembering why I had gone back in the first place made it difficult for me to know which way to go once I completed the degree.
Make sure your goal is realistic. If your goal is to open a new business do you have the financial means necessary, do you have the business know-how, do you have ample support resources available to you? There are wonderful quotes about how you can achieve anything you want and all you have to do is believe and it can be yours. Sorry folks, but that is not true. Simply put, there are limits to what each of us can achieve, so being realistic in your goals is a must.
The goal is to set yourself up for success, not to romanticize the impossible. Yes, there are motivational stories about people who achieve the seemingly impossible, but these stories are extremely rare and that is precisely why they catch our attention. After all, if such accomplishments were commonplace we would not pay them much heed and there would not be books written and movies made about them.
Your goal will be challenging – it might be the most challenging thing you’ve ever done – but it needs to be achievable.
Your goal should have a measureable outcome. Make sure you can answer the following questions:
- When will you begin?
- How will you know you are making progress?
- What will you do if you run into obstacles?
- Do you have a fall-back plan?
- How will you know when you have achieved your goal?
Again, these questions might seem unnecessary, but they can keep you on track. When you first set out to achieve a new goal there is a freshness about it that can be inspiring. That feeling is typically short-lived as you begin the actual work. You will have moments when you get a second wind, but you will spend most of your time self-motivating, plugging away from day-to-day chipping away at your block of marble trying to find the sculpture underneath. Many goals are daunting to complete – going back to school, starting a new business, losing weight, getting in touch with your true self – these goals are not for the faint of heart. The better prepared you are when you set out, the more likely you are to reach the summit.
Break large goals into smaller goals. You’ve probably heard this before, but it is important to include here. Taking on a large goal can seem overwhelming so breaking it into smaller more manageable goals can prove productive. John C. Maxwell has written more than 60 books. When asked how he managed such a feat he said, “One word at a time.” Sometimes, it would seem, less really is more!
Remain fluid in your goals. Your goals – both short and long-term – might need to be revamped along the way. Things will not always go as planned and the more flexible you are in what you expect from yourself, the more quickly you will recover if you are hit with something unexpected. Cautionary note: Make sure you do not revamp your goal every time things get difficult or it seems scary. Remaining fluid simply means to remain open to the possibility that there are times when rethinking your goal is called for.
When you have your goal clearly stated and have worked through the how, why and when it will happen, you can hit the ground running. You know where you are headed and when you will start, you have a road map of how to get there, you have decided how you will know you are making progress and not just driving in circles, you have thought through what to do if you hit detours or road blocks and you will know when you arrive. Success is never guaranteed. Life can hit you hard. As Sylvester Stallone said, “Life’s not about how hard of a hit you can give, it’s about how many you can take and still keep moving forward.”
The hits will come as they always do, but if you take the time to think through and document the above tips, you are more likely to get up and keep moving forward. Make your decision, clearly define your long-term goal, make sure the goal is realistic and has measurable outcomes and then begin. If you follow these steps you should know precisely where to put your feet as you take those first steps. What steps would you add to this list? What steps do you think can be eliminated?