Without a plan, a goal is just a wish. It takes deliberate steps to map out the best approach to achieving any worthwhile objective.
As you’re thinking about what you want to achieve in the next year, five years or even five days, these steps can help give life to your goals and make them more manageable - and hopefully, more reachable.
What do you want to achieve?
Just as important as keeping goals is deciding which are worth setting in the first place. Is it landing a job with your first choice? Securing an interview? Finding a mentor? Finishing training? Or even advancing to a leadership position?
Ultimately, the goals you set are based on where you are in your career, and they won’t look the same for everyone. Focus on what will benefit you.
Why do you want to achieve it?
You want your goal to become less of an idea and more of an action. Determine what greater outcome inspires the goal: Why will reaching it make a positive difference for you, or better yet, add value to your career? What will be the effect of reaching your goal?
Once you determine this, you’ll be able to think about the result’s bigger picture. Create a list of your objectives and the larger result of achieving that goal. It might help to put it into a formula you can resort back to when needed:
When do you want to achieve it?
Giving yourself a realistic deadline for meeting your goal will make you more likely to achieve it, especially when written down. Build onto your formula from the previous section:
Your goal + a specific deadline + your "why" (aka your intended result)
- Ex: If your goal is to find a mentor, you might jot down something like:
"My goal is to find a mentor by the end of January so I can receive guidance and learn better communication practices in 2021."
This takes your goal further than a concept. You now have an objective, a timeline and your intended outcome - which makes it easier to envision, and more likely to be continuously pursued.
How will you achieve it?
Once you’ve established the "what," "why" and "when," you can start focusing on "how" you’ll progress toward your goal. This involves building a set of steps to give your process more clarity and definition. You’ll be more likely to maintain your progress if you’ve already established how you’ll do so.
Let’s stick with the example of finding a mentor. If you were deciding which steps you need to take to find the right fit, you might start conversations with your close circle of colleagues about what you’re looking for in a mentor and gather their suggestions.
The next step might be working outward and asking leadership, a residency program coordinator or others who may be familiar with staff for their recommendations. Then, if you find someone at your facility who interests you, you can plan how you’ll reach out, make an introduction and ask about their willingness to provide mentorship.
Be as specific as you can when outlining the steps required to reach your goal. The more specific you are, the more likely you are to stick to them like an itinerary.
How can you measure your progress?
Say you wanted to lose weight. Would you gauge your progress based on the scale or how well you fit into an old pair of pants? There isn’t a wrong answer, but you want to be consistent about how you’re measuring your progress. If your goal is to land a job by the end of the year, you might assess progress based on the number of jobs applied to vs. interviews you’ve had or offers extended.
The key is to create some form of checkpoints. If we only set goals and determine success or failure based on reaching them alone, it can have a poor effect on motivation. Healthy pressure can be productive, but too much can have the opposite effect. Give yourself credit for the steps you take, even if they’re not the end goal.
What happens when you reach the goal? If you don’t?
Reaching a goal can be one of the greatest feelings - it’s hard work that’s paid off! But after you’ve given yourself a chance to celebrate your achievement, you don’t want to become stagnant. Goal setting should be a continuous process for those who want to keep growing and improving. Make sure you always have at least one goal in mind.
If you’ve followed all the steps, taken every action, stuck with your process and still don’t reach your goal by the deadline you’ve set, don’t be hard on yourself. Goals exist to help us become better, not to make us feel inadequate when we don’t meet them. Sit down with your steps and determine where things didn’t go as expected. Then, give yourself a new deadline and refreshed steps. Just because you didn’t reach your objective the first time doesn’t mean it was a bad goal; it might just mean you need a different approach or later deadline.
- Make sure your goals are attainable - Your goals and deadlines need to be realistic if you want any chance at maintaining or reaching them. Don’t push yourself past what’s doable.
- Get accountability - Share your goals and deadlines with friends, family, co-workers and colleagues, and ask them to check in every once in a while. This is a prime example of healthy pressure.
- Keep your goal visible - Put your written goal in a place where you’ll see it often (in your locker, on your desk, or even as your phone’s background).
- Plan a reward - Have a way to celebrate or something you’ll look forward to when you reach your goal. It’ll serve as a greater incentive.