If you enter “goal setting” in a search engine, you’ll come across many articles about achieving your objectives at work. You might even find resources for students.
But what about your personal life? If you’re so busy setting goals in every other category, can’t you relax when you’re not at work?
You can certainly take it easy. But don’t neglect to set goals in your personal life too.
In fact, you should set some goals for your leisure time. You might also create New Year’s resolutions, bucket list objectives, and other personal goals.
Once you are adept at the practice, setting goals won’t feel like work. You’ll find that you get more of what you want from life when you plan it out.
But setting goals isn’t the same as scheduling. You can be organized without setting goals and vice versa.
In this article, we discuss the importance of setting personal and professional goals and give you some tips on how to do it.
Why Should You Set Personal and Professional Goals?
If you don’t have goals, you have no way of knowing where you are in life. It’s like being underwater in the dark; you don’t know which way is up.
You can certainly be productive without having goals. If you’re a positive person with strong values, you’ll likely take action that brings you success.
But where do you go from there?
The things that you achieve without goals can make you feel good, help you buy a new car and live an enjoyable life. Without goals, however, it’s hard to answer the following questions:
- What is my purpose in life?
- What more can I achieve?
- How do I live a meaningful life?
- Have I reached the apex of my life?
Setting goals can help you foster your self-motivation, which is your drive to do anything in life. Self-motivation influences your desire to meet certain standards, make commitments, act on opportunities and keep going when you’ve experienced obstacles.
To improve your self-motivation, you should learn to set goals. To enhance your goal-setting prowess, you also need to be self-motivated. When you work on both of these factors in conjunction, you create a cycle that can feed off of itself and propel you through life.
Taking Ownership of Your Goals
The endowment effect says that people are more likely to keep something they already own than to get that item if they don’t have it yet. It’s an economic principle, but it’s related to social psychology. The endowment effect applies to goal setting because it indicates that you will be more committed to your goals if you take ownership of them.
For this reason, it’s essential to set goals that resonate with you instead of pursuing objectives that someone else has set for you. It’s also crucial to align your goals with your values, which we’ll talk more about below.
The endowment effect also explains why it’s important to set personal goals along with your professional goals.
Professional goals are often one step removed from your personal goals. They’re more likely to be associated with an extrinsic motivator, such as money, fame or recognition.
Your personal goals have a better chance of paralleling your values. In other words, you already feel ownership of your personal goals because you’ve probably subconsciously been pursuing them all your life anyway.
Therefore, adding goals that are intricately related to the ones that are already part of your life makes them more powerful.
A study by Cornell University exemplifies another way of looking at this. The researchers gave some participants a mug. After the students already had the mugs in their possession, they were offered to trade the mugs for a bar of chocolate. Most of the students preferred to keep what they already have.
The mugs were not inherently more desirable than the bar of chocolate. The study facilitators went on to demonstrate this by giving out chocolate bars to another group. When they offered to swap the candy for the mugs, the group wanted to keep the chocolate.
The point is that the initial item didn’t have more value than the product that was offered during the trade. It was only considered more valuable because it was already in the participants’ possession.
This shows that when you take ownership of something, whether it’s a piece of food, an object, an idea or a goal, you’re more likely to hold onto it and refuse to give it up. It becomes merged with your sense of identity.
Some ways to take ownership of your goals include:
- Sharing your vision with people that will support you and not try to cut your goals down
- Getting in touch with the reason why you want to pursue these goals
- Choosing how you’re going to take action toward your goals
- Realizing that you can solve your own problems
How Do You Know Where to Focus Your Goals?
Working toward a meaningful goal is exciting. It makes you feel like you’re living with purpose. Achieving your goals is fulfilling.
However, many people make the mistake of plowing forward to change things in their life without taking inventory of their current situation. It’s vital to gain an awareness of where you’re at right now before you can implement adjustments.
If you’re wondering where to focus your goals, consider using the wheel of life, a tool that’s often used in psychology and coaching.
The wheel of life asks you to rate your satisfaction in the following areas:
- Friends and family
- Personal development
- Fun and recreation
- Contribution to society
You can add or remove categories that don’t pertain to you. However, the above groupings are generally useful for most people.
If you set the categories up on a wheel, you’ll end up with a circle that’s divided into eight slices. Imagine that there are 10 concentric circles drawn inside the circle. The one that’s closest to the center will have a rating of 1 on the satisfaction scale. The one on the outer edge of the circle is a 10.
Draw a dot on the line that reflects your satisfaction in that area. When you have rated each category, draw a line from one dot to the next, moving adjacently from slice to slice.
You’ll end up with a visual representation of your satisfaction with the various areas. You can use this image to help you set goals.
Questions to Ask Yourself
Here’s how to deal with your scores in each category:
- 8 to 10 – Don’t stop setting goals just because you’re satisfied. Make sure that your goals in these areas help you maintain your high level of contentment.
- 5 to 7 – Where can you improve? Make sure that your goals help you maintain your current level of satisfaction and allow you to enhance what’s not working.
- 1 to 4 – You have a lot of opportunities for improving your satisfaction.
Some questions to ask to set effective goals in each category are:
- Why did you give yourself this score?
- What is your ideal score?
- What would you like your score to be in 3, 6, 9 and 12 months?
- How would the wheel of life need to look for you to feel balanced?
You might want to save the wheels that you complete. You can use them as assessments to determine how your goal setting processes have worked for you.
Your Professional Goals Should Parallel Your Personal Values
Some people have many lofty professional goals. They may want to be the CEO of a company, further their education and improve their networking skills. Even if they achieve all of these goals, they may not be happy.
What’s the point of working so hard if you’re not living according to your values? You may think that your professional values involve earning money, gaining recognition and having plenty of responsibility.
But the principles that drive your career success should be aligned with your personal standards. If your career goals aren’t aligned with your personal ones, you may not find true happiness.
When you focus on your career without setting personal goals as well, you may find a certain level of success. However, you could end up counting down the days until you retire.
Is this possible in a workplace that relies on several people for the organization’s success? Many guidelines for professional goal setting involve getting everyone on board with the same goal. Does that mean that individuals must give up their personal goals to achieve their career objectives?
This is where you can see that the hiring process is extremely important. When bringing on employees, you have to make sure that their personal goals will help them work toward the professional goals that your company values. That’s one reason that employers ask personal questions in job interviews. If the life that someone leads is inconsistent with company culture, that person may not be the best candidate.
How to Align Your Personal and Professional Goals
As you work toward professional success, always keep your personal goals in mind. You’ll achieve a better work-life balance, and you’ll likely be more satisfied in all areas of your life.
Here are some tips for marrying your personal and professional goals.
1. Look at Both Sides
When you’re setting time-bound professional goals, ask yourself where you want to be in your personal life within that same period. For example, if you want to work at your company’s headquarters 500 miles away within 2 years but don’t want to move away from your hometown, you’re going to experience some friction.
Goals that don’t line up with the way that you want to live your life simply aren’t realistic. Don’t set goals with the hope that something will magically change to make them work for you.
2. Take Action Steps That Satisfy Personal and Professional Goals
If taking care of your body is just as important as putting in your best effort at work, make sure that you work time for exercise into your days. Perhaps you go to the gym on your lunch break or decompress after you clock out by going for a run.
It’s easy to neglect your personal life when things get busy at work. Some people just go through the motions at work when their personal lives feel heavy or dramatic.
When you wake up in the morning with the intention of meeting personal and professional goals, you won’t let either side of the equation take over. This is a great way to feel balanced and avoid overwhelm.
3. Listen to Your Intuition
When you’re working on goal setting, you probably use a lot of logical thinking. However, when you’re focusing on your thoughts, you might ignore your gut feelings. That would be a mistake.
Your brain uses a combination of logic and emotion when making decisions. No matter how adept you are at weighing objective information and using rational thinking, you need to pay attention to your intuition.
Many people don’t like to hear this. Gut feelings don’t seem reliable. But they have a 50/50 chance of being right.
If you’re an analytical thinker, you probably don’t place a lot of importance on gut feelings. If you’re a social or conceptual thinker, however, you might rely on your feelings to tell you what to do.
When you’re trying to reach your goals, you need to listen to your intuition. You should address those feelings that tell you that you’re not on the right path, you’re working too hard or you’re neglecting your values before you travel too far in the wrong direction.
4. Don’t Get Discouraged
You’re bound to get bogged down by circumstances in your personal and professional life. However, when your values and goals in both areas are aligned, you’re more likely to stay on track.
Let’s say that your personal life is taking a hit at the moment. If your personal and professional goals are aligned, then you can still make strides in your personal life by focusing on your career. When you’re not feeling motivated at work, staying consistent with your personal goals can help you maintain momentum.
Life often delivers variables that are beyond your control. That’s why it’s so important to set goals that you can control. Even when things feel out of hand, you can continue to take action on your goals when you’ve set them correctly.
How to Help Your Employees Set Goals
If you own a business or manage a department, you might be setting goals. However, are your employees doing the same? You can improve operations just by getting everyone on board with this important practice.
Vince Lombardi said, “Individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.” If your employees aren’t setting personal and professional goals, they aren’t contributing to the organization’s culture as much as they could. When individuals are successful, your entire company will be more successful.
Model Professional Goal Setting
You can help your employees set goals by modeling the practice yourself. Don’t be shy about sharing your goals.
A study from the Dominican University of California found that telling friends or colleagues about your goals makes them more likely to come to fruition. In the study, almost 75 percent of the participants who updated their friends about their goals succeeded in accomplishing them. Only 35 percent of the volunteers who didn’t share their goals met them.
You can certainly share your goals with your employees verbally. However, research shows that writing goals down increases the likelihood that you’ll achieve them. Therefore, you may want to create a goals board where all of your employees can share their goals.
The mere act of writing uses different neural pathways than simply thinking about a goal. If you add color and creativity to your writing, you may solidify the goal even further. Encourage employees to use colored markers and sticky notes to embellish the goals board.
Seeing your goals in front of you can also help you break them down into smaller pieces. As long as your goals don’t rely on other people, they can be achieved by breaking them down into smaller chunks.
When you write them down, you don’t have to hold the big picture in your mind. You can ask yourself what baby steps you need to take to get closer to your goals. As you see these materialize on paper, you can work more strategically.
Set SMART Goals
In 1981, the SMART acronym for goal setting was introduced to the public. Each letter stands for a different word that describes the most effective goal setting practice. Goals should be:
Over time, people have assigned other words to the acronym. The letters can stand for the following:
- S – Specific, significant, sensible, strategic, self-owned, simple, stimulating, stretching
- M – Measurable, meaningful, manageable, motivating, maintainable
- A – Assignable, achievable, attainable, action-oriented, appropriate, ambitious
- R – Realistic, rewarding, relevant, results-oriented, rewarding, reviewable
- T – Time-based, timely, trackable, time-lined
It’s not crucial to remember all of these options. What’s important is understanding the basics of setting effective goals.
Goals should be exciting enough to make you enthusiastic about meeting them. They should be challenging so that you grow as you work toward them. However, they shouldn’t be so daunting that you can never achieve them. Finally, they should be specific enough that you can track and measure them. Always assign a time frame to your goals.
Set HARD Goals
HARD is another acronym that you can use as a framework for your goal-setting process. It stands for:
- H – Heartfelt
- A – Animated
- R – Required
- D – Difficult
HARD goals can help you make the transition from setting consistent and realistic goals to achieving objectives that are going to allow you to accomplish great things. Some critics of the SMART goals framework say that limiting yourself to setting practical goals can only get you so far. You can’t realize your full potential if you play small.
With HARD goals, you practice getting out of your comfort zone. Setting the bar higher allows you to take more risks and experience greater growth.
If you’re new to goal setting, establishing HARD goals may be overwhelming. It’s important to stay within your comfort zone when you’re developing consistency with goal setting so that you don’t get ahead of yourself. Once you’re experienced, though, the sky’s the limit.
To determine whether your goals are heartfelt, ask yourself why you want to achieve the goal. The reasons can be intrinsic or extrinsic. However, they have to be powerful enough to spark some passion within you. HARD goals are grounded in profound desire.
Animated goals are so clear that you can watch yourself achieve them. When you picture your objective, you should be able to visualize exactly what you’re doing and what your life looks like at that point.
An example of a solid animated professional goal would be, “I want to be the supervisor of the customer service department and oversee a team of employees.” A poor example would be, “I want to get ahead.”
Required goals have steps that are necessary to pursue today. If your goals are too far in the future or unrelated to the rest of your life, it’s easy to procrastinate on your journey. To make sure that your goal requires you to take urgent steps, ask yourself, “What do I need to have accomplished within the next six months to achieve that goal?”
You can break that question down into smaller time frames. Ultimately, you want to set goals that require you to take the first step, no matter how small it is, today.
To make sure that your goals will help you grow, ask yourself, “What skills do I need to accomplish this goal?” This introduces a level of challenge that can motivate you. Working toward the skills means that you’re also moving toward the goal. As you achieve the skills, you can celebrate your progress.
Being able to imagine your goals using all of your senses lets you picture the victory. Think about an athlete who is getting ready for the Olympics. Do you think that they let the negative possibilities produce anxiety and worry within them? No; they focus on the positives.
If you lead a team, you can practice visualizing the positive outcomes of your goal setting practices. You can do this in every morning meeting, through confidence-boosting emails or on your goals board.
When you’re doing all of this positive thinking, your team may not have time to be cynical.
When you empower others to take on certain roles, you give them the authority that they need to rise up. If you’re always micromanaging them, they are going to feel inferior.
If your company has hired the right people, you can rely on them to set goals that are aligned with the organization’s needs. You also need to make sure that your organization clearly defines its mission and culture on an ongoing basis to ensure that its employees are on board with overall objectives.
Earlier in this article, we discussed the importance of taking ownership of your goals. When you trust your employees, you allow them to own their objectives while working toward the greater good.
What Factors Will Take Your Goals to the Next Level?
If you want to achieve great things in your personal and professional life, you probably realize that you must set goals. After analyzing data from more than 4,000 participants who answered survey questions about goal setting, Mark Murphy determined that there are eight factors that allow your goals to help you maximize your potential.
You should be able to:
- Clearly visualize the feelings that you will have when you accomplish your goals
- Learn new skills associated with your objectives
- Understand that your goals are absolutely necessary to further your life or career
- Actively participate in developing your goals
- Have access to training that you need to expand your skill set
- Push past your comfort zone
- Enrich someone else’s life by realizing your goals
- See how your goals are aligned with your priorities or those of your company
Murphy’s study found that when employees have effective goals that take these factors into account, they are up to 75 percent more engaged than employees who don’t. When you go to work feeling happy and passionate about what you do, those sentiments trickle down into your personal life.
The same could be suggested for personal goals. When your personal goals have these characteristics, they’re more likely to drive your professional pursuits. In other words, your personal and professional goals can line up and help you achieve everything that you want in life.
Therefore, don’t let yourself get so hung up on your career that you neglect your personal goals. Don’t allow your personal life to shadow your professional undertakings. You’re the creator and driver of your life. Set goals that fulfill you across the board so that you can truly shine.