Setting your goals is crucial for success. Without a set destination, the path of your journey will likely be a long and winding one. The goal you set shouldn’t be your final destination; it should be a check point. You really need to think about what your goals truly are and should be. Here are some criteria for setting your goals:
1. Get specific. No, really. Very specific.
Taking the time to get specific and spell out exactly what you want to achieve removes the possibility of settling for less — of telling yourself that what you’ve done is “good enough.” Thousands of studies have shown that getting more specific is one of the single most effective steps you can take to reach any goal.
Instead of “getting ahead at work,” include a concrete long-term goal, like “a pay raise of at least $_____” or “a promotion to at least the ____ level.” Also detail the specific medium-term steps it will take to get there. Has your manager asked you to improve in a certain technical area? Do you know that there are interpersonal issues holding you back? If you know you need to communicate better, make your specific goal something like, “listen attentively without interrupting.”
When what you are striving for is vague, it’s too tempting to take the easy way out when you’ve gotten tired, discouraged, or bored. But there’s just no fooling yourself if you’ve set a specific goal — you know when you’ve reached it and when you haven’t. If you haven’t, you have little choice but to keep working toward it if you want to succeed.
2. Think about what you want and what stands in the way. Mentally go back and forth.
This strategy is called mental contrasting, and in a nutshell, it involves thinking optimistically about all the wonderful aspects of achieving your goal, while thinking realistically about what it will take to get there.
First, imagine how you will feel attaining your goal. Picture it as vividly as possible in your mind. Next, reflect on the obstacles that stand in your way. For instance, if you wanted to get a better, higher paying job, you would start by imagining the sense of pride and excitement you would feel accepting a lucrative offer at a top firm. Then, you would think about what stands between you and that offer — namely, all the other really outstanding candidates that will be applying for the same job. Kind of makes you want to polish up your resume a bit, doesn’t it?
That’s called experiencing the necessity to act — it’s a psychological state that is crucial for achieving any goal. Daydreaming about how great it will be to land that job can be a lot of fun, but it won’t get you anywhere. Mental contrasting turns wishes and daydreams into reality, by bringing into focus what you will need to do to make them happen.