It’s almost time for the new school year to begin. A new start. A blank slate. A time to look forward and see what you want to accomplish in this brand new school year with nothing in your way. This year is a chapter of your book just waiting to be written.
You have big plans! You want to make progress, to learn, to grow, to finally get to where you want to go! And yet, how many times in years past have you thought this very thing only to reevaluate a few months later and realize that you’re no closer to where you want to go than you were at the beginning of the school year?
How do you get from here to there?
How do you begin to move towards accomplishing those big plans?
How do you actually make progress?
The simple answer: By setting goals and working toward them.
But here’s the thing: It seems like everyone is talking about setting goals and how you should have goals and how you should accomplish your goals…and yet no one ever talks about how to create and set goals in the first place!
It’s almost like everyone is saying “swimming is great! You should go swimming! Learn how to swim! Just jump in the pool!” I agree, swimming is great. Learning how to swim is a very useful skill. However, you can’t just walk up to a pool and jump into the deep end, hoping against hope that as soon as your body is in the water somehow it will automatically know what to do. That’s a recipe for disaster!
When you’ve never learned how to swim, you don’t need someone to tell you how great swimming is. You need someone to get into the pool with you and start teaching you step by step how to go from sinking like a rock in water (literally!) to learning how to swim and propel yourself from point A to point B!
I don’t want to be another voice just yelling at you that you should do something. Let’s break this idea down and walk step by step through the process of setting goals. You see, this process doesn’t have to feel difficult or overwhelming or intimidating. In fact, it can be rather fun!
Let’s get started, shall we?
Phase One :: Acknowledging the Facts
Let’s face it, when you start talking about setting goals, it’s very easy to get intimidated right away, isn’t it? But why do you get intimidated? Is it because you’re setting goals that are so far out of reach that it’ll take you 10 or 20 years to get there? Or it is because you don’t understand what a goal is?
Let’s go back to the beginning: What is a goal? According to dictionary.com, a goal is “the result or achievement toward which effort is directed; aim; end.” So, in other words, a goal is simply the place where you want to arrive. The place where you want to end up. When all is said and done, you want to look back and say, “I was there, but I focused my energy and I went from there to here.”
Phase Two :: Types of Goals
Did you know there are different types of goals? Oh, yes, you can split up your goals into categories: personal, professional, health and fitness, personal growth and development, financial, and more. These categories are very helpful and should be used. But even before you hit the different categories of goals, did you know that there are different types of goals?
Some goals are short-term goals: things that can be accomplished in a month or even a day.
Some goals are long-term goals: goals you know you can accomplish but that will take you a longer amount of time to get there, say 1 year or 5 years.
Some goals are flat-out stretch goals: Dreams that when you write them down, you have no clue how long it will take you to get there and no clue how you’re going to get there.
So, what type of goals should you have? Personally, I think you need all 3 kinds! You need the goals you’re able to accomplish in a day or a month.
You need bigger goals that you have to work for, but that have clearly defined small steps in the right direction. This lets you see some fairly immediate results which in turn gives you the motivation to keep going.
You need longer-term goals so you can constantly be moving from where you are to where you want to be.
And you need stretch goals to do just that – stretch you beyond what you thought was possible in the moment.
Phase Three :: Dream Big to Set Your Goals
So now that you know about the different types of goals, how do you go about identifying your goals? There are a couple things to remember in this phase:
- This is a space for dreaming. Allow yourself to dream big. Don’t worry about those boundaries that you tend to create for yourself, but really allow yourself to dream.
- Don’t think about how you’re going to accomplish the goal right now, just focus on the ending point. Where do you want to be in 1 year, 5 years, 10 years? Where do you want to end up? What is the end result of what you want to accomplish?
- This is a space for not only dreaming about where you want to be years down the road, but thinking through some of the things you want to see happen soon. Those things you want to accomplish within the next month or 6 months.
So how do you do it? Meet my best friends in this phase: a timer, a sharpie, a pack of post-it notes, and a wall or mirror! Allow me to explain: Start by setting your timer for 30 minutes. These 30 minutes are for dreaming, for focusing on the end result, not on the steps to get there.
When the timer starts, start writing down where you want to be, the things you want to accomplish. Write down one thing on each post-it note. Once you write down that one thing, pull the post-it note off the pad and stick it to the wall or mirror. Don’t worry about organizing them or making them look pretty. This stage is all about dreaming and getting your thoughts down on paper.
You can also use a piece of paper and a pencil or pen for this stage, but the post-it note method helps when you get to the next couple phases and start organizing your goals. Nothing beats the easy maneuverability of the post-it notes!
One more thing: Allow yourself to use the full, uninterrupted 30 minutes here. Don’t cut yourself off, but allow yourself to dream. In a perfect world, where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10 years? What does that look like?
Phase Four :: Identify Your Individual Goals
Now that all these things are out of your head and onto paper, it’s time to make some more sense of them. Many times when you first start writing down your goals, there is no rhyme or reason to the way that they come out of your head. Don’t be surprised if a lot of tasks come out of your head and land on a post-it note as you’re thinking about your goals!
So, your first step in organizing your goals is to look at what you’ve written and identify the tasks that belong on your to-do list. Grab those post-it notes and move them over to the side.
Now it’s time to put some rhyme and reason to all those thoughts starting at you on those post-it notes! Your next step is to group your goals/ideas into categories. Here are some categories to get you started:
- Personal Growth
- Home Improvement
Keep in mind that these categories are just suggestions. You may use all of them or only one of them; you may add 5 different categories of your own or only add 1 category of your own. Don’t get hung up on the idea that you need to have something in each category – these categories are simply suggestions to help you see how you might best group your goals and thoughts.
This phase is made particularly easy with post-it notes: simply rearrange the post-it notes into different groups until you have them all sorted into categories.
Now, some of your categories may only have one or two things in them while others may have many things in them. That’s okay! It’s all part of the process! Nowhere is it written that you have to make a specific number of categories or even have a specific number of items in each category. These are your goals. These are the dreams and plans that you want to accomplish. They’ll be specific to you!
Once you have your goals grouped into categories, arrange each category in order from short-term to long-term to stretch goals. In other words: what are the things that are doable first, what things will take a little more time and a few more steps, and what are those goals that are great to have, but it will take a lot of work and many steps to arrive at your intended destination? Keep in mind that a lot of your short-term goals may be the stepping stones to accomplishing your long-term goals!
Phase Five :: How are You Going to Get There?
Now comes the practical stage: How are you going to get from where you are to where you want to be? What are the steps that will propel you along this journey?
This is where goal-setting seems to get the most challenging. It’s so easy to sit down and say, ‘Next year, I want to be living a more organized and less chaotic life. I want to plan better and not always be rushing last-minute to do everything.’ Wonderful! That is a great goal! But how on earth do you get there?
You see, if you don’t have a plan to get from where you are to where you want to be, your goal will just be a dream that, sadly, never turns into reality. The different between a goal and a dream is that a goal has steps you can follow to start propelling you in the right direction – in the direction of making your dream reality.
So, what are you going to do to get where you want to go? What small steps can you begin taking that will move you closer to your big goal? Some of your practical steps will be things you can do immediately and some of them will build on each other. Some of them will be one-time things to do and others will be creating a new habit you’ll need to do over and over again.
Let me see if I can explain this a bit better. Using the example above, here are some steps that you might create to bring you to your goal:
- Find and print or purchase a planner.
- Set aside 30 minutes to write down all of your commitments in the calendar of that planner
- Every morning, commit to reviewing the schedule for your day for 90 seconds.
- Every Sunday evening, commit to reviewing what is coming up in your week for 5 minutes.
- To look ahead and keep a list of things that need to be done (birthday presents to be purchased, meals that need to be planned for people coming over, etc.).
Notice that in this scenario, the steps are not crazy huge. They’re not extremely complicated. They’re small steps that are very doable and easy to accomplish. Yet, these small steps, when taken consistently over time, will continue to propel you towards accomplishing your goal.
Phase Six :: Write it Down!
Up until this point, you’ve been working with post-it notes on a wall. While, I absolutely love this method for working through your initial thoughts, I can tell you from personal experience that this is not a good long-term place for keeping your goals! The vacuum cleaner likes to eat them, children like to play with them and rearrange them, the stickiness starts to wear off and they fall off the wall… And, yes, all of these and more have happened to me!
There’s a very easy solution, though. Now that you have your thoughts organized and pulled together, simply write down your goals and the steps to get there on a piece of paper.
Phase Seven :: The Hardest Part of All
Now comes the hardest part of all: Making it reality! I don’t know about you, but as hard as it is to set goals and figure out the steps to take to accomplish your goals, that piece seem so easy when it comes to this one:
Making it reality.
This is where the plan is put into action.
This is where the rubber meets the road.
This is where you take all those plans from just ideas on paper and turn them into action.
Again, remember, it’s not all about making that one huge leap from here to there. It’s all about small, consistent steps in the right direction that will begin moving you in the direction of accomplishing your goals.
Think about it this way: if you take a small step closer to you goals, you’ll be closer to accomplishing your goal today than you were yesterday. If you do nothing, you’ll never get closer!
A Final Caution
Setting goals is daunting. Sometimes it can be downright scary thinking of where you want to be and how you can start taking steps to get there. It’s so easy to get paralyzed by fear or indecision or not having the perfect goal before you even start.
Don’t get so focused on trying to set the perfect goals that follow the perfect formula that you miss out on setting any goals at all. The idea here is not immediate perfection, but simply progress.
If fitting your goals into a formula is helpful for you, then by all means, use the formula! But don’t allow yourself to get so stuck on trying to make your thoughts fit a formula that you miss out on setting goals or working toward your goals. The most important part of this entire process is to set goals that you can start working toward accomplishing in whatever form works best for you.
Start right here, right now, wherever you are.
You know something? You can do this! You can accomplish your goals and dreams. Many times, you just need a plan to get there. So what are you waiting for? Grab your timer, grab that paper or post-it note pack and pen and start dreaming big!
- Finding Perspective When You Feel You Have None
- Choosing the Perfect Calendar for You
- Finding Your Perfect To-Do List
- 3 Paralyzing Myths and How To Overcome Them
Elizabeth Tatham, founder of Inspiration in the Everyday, is a homeschooling momma of 5 who loves helping other homeschooling mommas create a unique homeschooling adventure your kids will love…without the overwhelm! Join in on the journey with 7 simple steps to make your homeschooling day go faster, easier, and with less tears here.