Personal goal setting is something that most of us engage in at one time or another, usually around the beginning of the year, in the form of the infamous New Year’s resolution. While those goals are usually left behind before the first day of spring, it’s true that setting personal goals in a meaningful way can help us focus on what we really want and need to accomplish.
As for examples, that really depends on what area of your life you’re concerned about. The key is to be realistic and take your own personality into account. Don’t expect yourself to make a 180 lifestyle turn; in most cases that’s not likely to happen. But you can make changes gradually and accomplish goals over the long term.
Here are a few thoughts for different areas of your life:
School: Improve grades by a full GPA point (say, from 2.5 to 3.5). That’s more do-able than saying you’re going to make straight A’s for the rest of your life. After you accomplish the 3.5, you might shoot for the vaunted 4.0.
Work: Try for an improved performance evaluation—you don’t have to become a CEO right away. If you want a new job, make it your goal to put in 10 applications and get 5 interviews (depending on the job you’re looking for you can adjust these numbers up or down). You can’t force someone to hire you, so that shouldn’t be how you rate your success, but you can control how hard you work to get that new job.
Health: If you’re inactive, start walking a mile a day. It only takes about 20-25 minutes. You don’t have to go to a gym or a track—you can just walk around in your yard. If you eat a lot of junk food, start cutting down. It’s hard to quit the sugar and salty snacks cold turkey, just set a goal to cut down a certain amount per week. It’s easier than you think.
Personal Relationships: You can’t control other people, so don’t set your goals based on the behavior of others. Your goal should be about how you interact with others. Want to improve your relationships? Make it a goal to ask a couple of people a day about something in their own lives. We love to talk about ourselves and we really like the people who are willing to listen to us while we do it.
The most important thing to remember is this word: Sticktoitiveness. You might have to look at it closely to figure it out, but it means to keep on trying. If we set a goal and don’t accomplish it, our first reaction is to give up, say we failed, and leave it behind. But I can tell you from personal experience that it is possible to fail at a personal goal repeatedly, and then one day suddenly find the determination to succeed at it. I did this with smoking. I struggled with this for years, and then one day, on my humpteenth try, I just quit. It wasn’t easy, but I kept setting it as goal and the last time I tried, it worked.
I’ll close with one of my favorite quotes. This is from Michelangelo, about 500 years ago:
“The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.”