You work hard but you’re not getting ahead in your job. You’re not making as much as you feel like you deserve. Or maybe you just feel stuck. Does this sound like you? If so, you’re likely wondering what’s going to help you achieve the career and financial success you want.
The answer is goals. Yes, you need to set goals. “The benefits of setting goals is really to help yourself achieve what you want to achieve,” said Elizabeth Koraca, an executive coach and career strategist. “You have to have clarity on what you want and a clear path how to get there.”
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Last updated: Aug. 16, 2021
Figure Out What You Want
Before you can set goals, you must figure out what you want. You have to have a vision for your life, Koraca said.
If you’re unclear, Koraca recommends asking yourself what excites you. Think about what you would do if you could do whatever you wanted. When she goes through this exercise with clients, Koraca usually finds that what people want to do is not that unrealistic. And once you know what you want, you’ll have the motivation you need to set and stick to goals that will help you achieve your dream life.
Set SMART Goals
One of the strategies that career and life coach Allison Task uses with her clients is SMART goal setting. SMART is an acronym for the ideal characteristics of goals:
Specific: Goals should be detailed.
Measurable: You should have criteria for measuring your progress.
Attainable: Do you have the ability to achieve what you want?
Relevant: Your goals should be consistent with your values.
Time-bound: Goals should have a timeframe for completion.
“By using this framework, you are more likely to achieve the goal, because you will think through the specifics of what needs to happen for you to do it,” Task said. A bad goal, for example, would be, “I need to lose weight.” Task said a SMART goal example would be, “I will lose 25 pounds over the next six months in time for my best friend’s wedding.”
Write Down Your Goals
When setting goals, it’s not enough to just think about doing something, Koraca said. “If you don’t write them down, any goal you might have will be swirling around your head,” she said — and you’ll be more likely to forget it.
Not only should you write down your goals, but also you should put that document where you can see it. “If you can have those goals printed out and visible, even better,” Koraca said. Hang up your list of goals in your office, on your bathroom mirror or on your refrigerator as a constant reminder of what you want to achieve.
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Create an Action Plan
Your goals document should actually be an action plan, not just a list of what you hope to achieve. Koraca recommends listing your vision at the top. “Don’t hold back,” she said. “Put what you really want in that vision.” It should be as detailed as possible, and below it, you should list your top five goals for the year to help you get closer to your vision.
To create an action plan, write January through December underneath your goals and the specific steps you want to accomplish each month that will make them happen. By creating an action plan, you can see that your goals are within your reach. “It gives you a sense of feeling in charge instead of frustrated,” Koraca said.
Set a Timeline for Achieving Goals
Both Koraca and Task recommend setting a timeframe for achieving your goals. Those deadlines need to be realistic, however. For example, if you want to go from earning $50,000 a year to $500,000 a year, you might be setting yourself up for failure if you give yourself only 12 months to achieve that goal. A more realistic timeframe might be at least five or six years to get on the path to riches.
Koraca recommends using a planner or the calendar app on your phone to schedule due dates for your goals and action steps. But don’t try to tackle too many goals at once. “Take your time with it,” Koraca said.
Break Goals Down Into Small Steps
When you start to feel overwhelmed by trying to achieve your goals, turn your milestones into “inch pebbles,” Task said. In other words, break down your big goal into small things you can do each week to inch toward it.
“The more we build up successful habits, those inch pebbles build up,” Task said. Your confidence will increase as you accomplish each small task, and you’ll be motivated to keep working toward your bigger goal.
One of the best things you can do to improve your chances of achieving your goals is to create a method of accountability, Task said. “Whether it’s a professional, best friend or spouse, share your goal with someone and make sure they can help you hold yourself to it week to week,” she said.
Perhaps even more important than finding someone to hold you accountable is being accountable to yourself, Task said. This goes back to your vision and having goals that are relevant. You need to have a reason why you want to achieve a goal. “Tell it to yourself why it’s important,” Task said.
Monitor Your Progress
Monitoring your progress is part of the measurable component of SMART goals. Track what you’ve done and what you need to need to do to move closer to your goals.
Task said she asks clients every couple of weeks to rate their progress on a goal on a scale of one to 10. That helps them get a better idea of where they stand. Tracking your goals also can help you celebrate your successes and give you the motivation you need to continue.
Let Others’ Success Motivate You
It’s easy to fall into the trap of comparing what you have achieved — or haven’t achieved — with what others are doing, especially considering that most people broadcast their successes on social media. Koraca calls it the black spiral of misery. “If you focus on someone else, that’s where all your energy is going,” she said. “You’re not moving forward to where you want to go.”
Instead of being jealous, both Koraca and Task recommend figuring out what the person who has what you want has done to get there. If you know that person well enough, ask him or her to share some tips with you.
Learn From Setbacks and Adjust Your Goals
If you’re having trouble achieving something on your action list, don’t assume that you’re failing. Instead, Task said you should ask why it’s not happening. “Maybe it’s the wrong thing, and it’s not working,” she said. You might need to find a new approach or even re-examine your goals.
The important thing is to get clear on what works for you because there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to goal setting. “You want to change course if something is not working for you,” Koraca said. “I can’t stress that enough.”