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Effective Goal-Setting
by TeenHelp August 9th 2015, 12:53 PM

Effective Goal-Setting
By Jess (i_like_black)

Goals are a good thing to have in life. Having something to work towards can help develop a sense of achievement and can also combat symptoms of mental illness. Being aware of a direction builds a sense of purpose, and it is well recognised that having a sense of purpose contributes to a person's longevity.

Something that commonly trips people up with goals is that they know what they want to achieve but not how to achieve it. Having a vague sense of what is to be achieved is not the same as having a clear plan, and for goals to be reached effectively, there needs to be a clear plan in place.

So what is an effective way to set a goal? And how will it be achieved once it is set? A commonly used tool for goal-setting it to set SMART goals. SMART is an acronym, identifying that goals should be:
Realistic and
Sports coaches and psychological professionals often use this method of goal-setting because its effectiveness and validity has been proven to work.

For a goal to be Specific, the person setting the goal must know exactly what is to be achieved. As an example, “get fit” is too vague. A more specific goal would be something like, “be able to run 5 km in 35 minutes,” or perhaps, “be able to cycle non-stop for 45 minutes”. By making a goal specific, it is easier to see when the goal is close to being achieved.

The next part of the acronym requires that a goal be Measurable. This is important, because being able to measure progress towards the goal is one of the best ways to maintain motivation. If it is possible to see the progress that has been made towards the goal, then continued effort becomes more satisfactory. To make a goal measurable, there needs to be a start point, and a place where the goal would be considered achieved. With the example of running 5 km in 35 minutes, the starting point would be to time how long it initially takes to run 5 km, then each time the run is repeated, and compare each subsequent time to the start time. In this way, progress towards the goal can be clearly seen through being measured.

The next two parts of the acronym are vital to the eventual achievement of the goal. The goal must be both Achievable and Realistic. To make a goal Achievable, it needs to be practical and fit the abilities of the person setting the goal. It is not practical for a student who struggles to pass each class to set a goal of straight A's – what would be more achievable would be to set a goal of improving by one or two grades. If a goal feels unattainable, motivation declines and the probability of achieving the goal also drops. It is, therefore, incredibly important to set goals that are achievable.

Being Realistic is a part of goal-setting that many people struggle with, particularly those who exhibit traits of perfectionism. However, a goal that is not realistic is unlikely to be achieved, even in the long-term. Part of setting a goal that is realistic involves accepting things the way they are. It is unrealistic for the majority of people to expect to become an instrumental virtuoso in under a year, even with twice-daily practise and adequate tuition. On the flip side, it is perfectly realistic to set a goal of basic instrument proficiency to be achieved within a year. Keeping goals realistic means that is easier to see progress.

The last part of a SMART goal is that it is Time-lined. The other four parts of the acronym establish what the goal is, how it's going to be measured and a rough idea of how it's going to be achieved. The final part of the acronym requires a time-frame, or a time-line, for the goal to be achieved in. The time-line can be as simple as a date the goal is preferably achieved by, to a detailed outlining of what steps towards the goal should be taken or achieved by certain points in time. By giving a goal a time-line, tracking progress becomes easier, because there is a clear end point and this also contributes to increased motivation.

Other ways to be effective in achieving goals include building structure, reinforcing achievement, and setting micro-goals. Having a way of living that is generally well-structured and contains elements of routine means that when it comes to setting goals, there is already something in place that allows time to be allocated towards working on goals.

It is important to have positive rewards for achieving goals. For some, simply the knowledge that a goal has been achieved is enough, but for many something extra is beneficial. The simple thought of, “If I do this, then I get this,” is a major motivator for most people. For example, with reducing self-harming behaviours, it could be something like, “If I don't self-harm today, then I get to watch an episode of my favourite show.” The rewards are different for everybody, but it helps if they are tailored to the individual and ideally a reward should reflect the amount of effort put into achieving the goal. Providing positive rewards for achieving goals makes it easier to set new goals and work towards them.

If a goal seems too big, even though it has been defined as achievable and realistic, then setting micro-goals can be of benefit. Setting micro-goals involves taking a part of the goal, and breaking it down to its absolute minimum. For example, if the goal was to brush teeth for two minutes twice a day, and that seemed impossible, then it could be broken down to standing in front of the bathroom mirror for a minute twice a day. Simply by the process of knowing that something is being done towards the goal, the actual act of achieving the goal becomes simpler. With this example, it is quite possible that simply by being in the bathroom, near the mirror, the decision to brush teeth anyway – in very much an “oh well I'm here already” way – is likely to be made on at least half of the occasions, leading to an increase in both goal-directed behaviour, and actions that contribute to the achievement of the goal itself.

Having goals and things to work towards is an important part of people's lives. Sometimes it is hard to think of long-term goals to work towards, in which case it is a good idea to set smaller, short-term goals to still provide a feeling of purpose whilst trying to figure out what those bigger, long-term goals might be. Sometimes just the process of achieving a goal can let a person know if that sort of goal is important to them or not.

Goal-oriented behaviour is an innate part of being human. For a long time, the general goal of being human was to create more humans, whereas in the modern world, there is much more variety in the goals available to be worked towards and achieved. Not only is achieving goals incredibly fun and rewarding, but it can also increase your self-confidence as you become more aware of your abilities through accomplishing your goals.
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