Setting personal goals is not some kind of magic that will immediately make all your dreams come true. Of course, personal goals require commitment and action.
But they have a tremendous power to give meaning to a daily routine and transform your life to the better. This is what makes personal goals a common attribute of a happy fulfilling life.
But what is the best way to create personal development goals?
First, you need to define what you want to achieve.
Your personal goals need to be aligned with your values and be something you deeply desire. Nietzsche put it best:
“He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.”
Then, you need to create a plan for how you are going to achieve what you want.
And finally, consistently work on the realization of your plan.
Why Set Personal Goals?
Setting personal goals can help you improve any aspect of yourself or your life. Even if you have a perfect picture in your head and feel 100% motivated, the setting of a goal makes a huge difference.
Here are the main reasons why:
- You are in charge: it’s easy to assume that can we do everything and even more. Personal goals force you to take responsibility for the actual efforts and progress
- You see the small steps leading to a big picture: big goals can be scary. That’s why you need to break them into clear and manageable steps. This way, you have a clear road map that guides you on how to tackle your challenge. It also saves you from feeling overwhelmed and helps overcome a fear of failure
- It allows you to celebrate small wins: setting a formal goal and taking the necessary steps towards it is an achievement in itself. Moving from one step to another motivates and installs a belief that you can achieve your goal
Step 1: How To Choose Your Personal Goals
Are you’re ready to start creating your personal goals?
Truth is, most people avoid setting personal goals because they simply don’t know what they want.
And that’s why the first step is thinking long and hard what you want out of your life. Here, you need to define your “what”.
Here are some techniques to help you determine what you want and need in your life.
#1 The “Which? Why? What? How?” Technique
The first technique consists in asking yourself four questions:
- First, ask yourself which aspect of your life you would like to change most
- Then, think about why you want to change this
- How will that change make you feel? Thus, determine what exactly will make you feel this way
- Finally, ask yourself how you can make this happen and then make it your personal goal
#2 The Life Balance Chart Technique
This technique consists in drawing a little chart. Write down each of the various areas of your life – family, health, self-development, rest, career, finances, relationships, spiritual – in a new column or line.
Start by assessing your current happiness level in each of these categories by giving it a score from 1 to 10.
Now, think about what will make you be fully satisfied with this area so that you can assign 10 out of 10 points to it. Write down your ideas – you will be able to transform them into personal plans.
#3 The “Imagination Exercise” Technique
Another technique invites you to use some imagination.
For example, you may imagine yourself reading a book of your life.
Imagine that a person with an identical life has come to you asking for a piece of advice – something we all love to give. Give him/her your recommendations using responses such as “Why don’t you..?” and “It’s high time that you…”.
Another imaginary situation that will help you have a fresh new look at your life is a “memory loss” scenario.
Imagine you don’t know the reasons for your previous decisions and you don’t have to follow any earlier plan. Think about what you will do now. How you will live further.
Step 2: Write Your Personal Goals
After you have found several ideas for personal goals, it’s time to define them using SMART criteria.
A SMART personal goal should be:
- Specific: make your goals clear and well-defined. To “go on a two-week trip to Europe next May” is more specific than to “travel more”
- Measurable: avoid any abstract notions – you should be able to tick “done” any goal you set as well as any step it involves
- Achievable: think if goal depends on something you cannot affect. Make sure you have enough time and resources (money, free time, energy) to achieve it
- Relevant: your personal goals should be relevant to your life goals and feel rewarding
- Timed: set a deadline for achieving each goal and subgoal. Without a clear time-limit, a goal turns into a pure dream that you hope to achieve any other day
As a final step, test your goal for third-party interests.
Your goal needs to be your personal goal, not the goal of your parents, spouse, or society. If buying a large house or being promoted is not your dream, just don’t make it your personal development goal.
Thus, ask yourself frankly, “Do I really want this?”, “Will this make me happy?”
Step 3: Prioritize Your Personal Development Goals
After a thorough analysis, you might find several personal development goals you would like to set. Still, pursuing several goals at a time is overwhelming and daunting. Thus, you need to set priorities and focus on developing one aspect of your life at a time.
To decide, which goal you want to work on first, rate them from 1 to 10 depending on how important they are for you. Goals with the highest rating should be your priority for now.
Another way to prioritize personal goals is to connect the desired outcomes as causes and effects. You will be able to see that some goals will ease the other ones.
If I take professional training (1st goal)… I will be able to earn more money spending less time working (2nd goal)… Thus, I will be able to spend more time with my family (3rd goal) and take up the piano classes (4th goal).
So, start with those goals that begin your cause and effect chain.
Do not make your choice of the priority goal based on logic only. Take time to reflect on how you feel about your goals.
Which goal do you think about most often? Which outcome will make you the proudest and contented?
Is there one idea that flashes in your mind all the time?
Great! Then, do not refuse from pursuing it right now!
Step 4: Make Your Personal Development Plan
The next step of setting a goal will be breaking it down into tasks and creating a working plan.
Each task should be specific and have a deadline. Write them down to track your performance increase commitment to your goal. It’s like publicly accepting a challenge – you cannot simply ignore it or pretend you have never set a goal at all.
When writing, use positive language. It has a great impact on your own expectations of yourself. Use present tense and I-statements, e.g. “I have a healthy breakfast”. This will help your brain paint the right picture and make you feel that your goal is achievable.
It is up to you where and how to handle your plan. You may use a notebook, a journal, a Google Sheets file, or an online planning tool like Trello or Jira. “Assign” one task related to the goal for each day putting it on top of other daily plans. Or choose one day per week entirely for the tasks related to your goal.
Step 5: Reflect and Celebrate Success
Reflect on your performance at the end of each day/week. Ask yourself, “Why haven’t I managed to complete the task I have set for today?” and then revise your plan for the following day/week accordingly. To be truly productive, make reflection a planned activity.
Plan tasks that will allow noting positive results in the first two months. This is very important for motivation and forming a habit. At the same time, the very completion of tasks is a valuable achievement that is worth a celebration.
To make the celebration of success part of your routine, decide on a reward you will give yourself. You may give it when you have spent the whole week/month consistently completing all tasks.
A fun way to do this is also writing down one letter of the word “EXCELLENT” each day when you complete the planned task. When you were on top of your tasks for all 9 days – cross out the word and give yourself a present. When one day interrupts the flow, cross out the beginning of the word and start anew.
Personal Goals Examples
The following examples of personal goals will give you a better understanding of how you can improve different aspects of your life.
Academic goals refer to the education or qualification you want to gain. For example, it may be:
- Receiving a diploma or a certificate
- Getting professional training or hands-on experience
- Developing certain skills or habits
This does not necessarily have to be a skill you will need for work or will be able to monetize. For example, you might want to develop a reading habit that will make you a lifetime learner.
Career goals relate to work. Along with the most common goal of being promoted – climbing the corporate ladder – you may wish to:
- Get a higher paying job
- Be employed in another industry
- Reduce the number of working hours
When setting career goals, consider everything you will have to sacrifice (not only gain) to achieve your goals. A higher-paying job often means more stress and hectic schedules.
Is this something you are ready to?
Monetary goals are related to your financial life. Here are some examples:
- Getting a pay rise or a promotion
- Making a major investment (such as buying real estate or investing a quantifiable amount on the stock market)
- Reaching a certain amount in savings
In a consumerist society, it is very easy to make money a goal in itself. The truth is that money doesn’t bring happiness or fulfillment.
If you feel like you have been committed to monetary goals most of your life, think about learning minimalism instead.
To make relationship goals specific, think about how you can invest in them to contribute to positive change. For example, your goals may be:
- To tell one compliment to your spouse each day and organize a pleasant surprise twice a month
- Meet your friends at least once a month
- Call your parents each Sunday
Gary Chapman’s theory about the five languages to communicate love might help you decide what resolutions you need to make. According to Chapman, nurturing relationships begin with giving other people what they value most: quality time, words of affirmation, gifts, acts of service or physical touch.
Once you know what your spouse or children want and need, commit to giving it by setting a corresponding personal goal.
Fitness goals are about being healthy. Some examples are:
Be sure to consult specialists and credible sources, as following your dreams and assumptions might do more harm to your health than good.
Spiritual goals may be anything related to your inner world. For example, to strengthen your spiritual life, you may commit to:
- Development of emotional intellect
- Strengthening of your religious beliefs and following certain religious practices
- Voluntary work and charity
Whatever you choose – make sure this is something you want and need, not something that just sounds right.
Personal Goals Are a Lifetime Journey
Whether you want to be a better employee or a better parent, it is all about setting a personal goal and sticking to it. No matter how much time and effort they take.
The very process of pursuing them is very rewarding, as it makes you realize your progress each day.
But be aware: you need to revise your personal goals from time to time. Don’t be trapped into a goal just because it was what you wanted 2 years ago. Your goals should evolve with you.
From my experience, the best way to revise your personal goals is with weekly reviews.
In these weekly reviews, I go over everything I did and felt over the week. Additionally, I go over my goals and how am I pursuing them. If I feel like a goal is not worth pursuing anymore, I just drop it and make new priorities.
Make it a habit to question your personal goals. It can be scary and tiresome to think about your goals constantly. But if you don’t, you will waste your time going after goals you did not want in the first place.
A goal is not the culmination of your life’s journey. Rather, it is a milestone motivating yourself to take action every day.