6 Ways to Improve Your Goal Setting Activities

Sara sitting outsideHow excited do you feel when you read a goal like this: “At this time next year we anticipate our profits will have increased by 12% and the majority of our calls will be filtered through the center in Bangladesh.”


I lost you at “next year,” right?


How about this one?

“I will lose forty pounds within the next six months by running six miles a day and eliminating carbohydrates from my diet.”

Both of those goals sound like torture to me.

There’s no excitement, no “woo-hoo! Let’s get out there and knock this one out of the park!”

I’m not saying that there isn’t a time and a place for serious goals. I am well aware that in many cases, there has to be.

But this is about writing your personal goals. The things you wish to be, do, or have in your life. In order for you to get excited about them and actually want to achieve them, you might want to put a little more pizazz into the goal creation process.

Part of my work in this world includes service as an Associate Professor at my local community college. I teach College Success, Career Planning, and Leadership. The curriculum for each of those courses includes a piece on goal setting.

After three academic years (which breaks down to nine semesters) of giving my students a goal setting activity each semester, and reading myself to sleep grading their unrealistic intentions to lose thirty pounds in two weeks and earn $150,000 a year within one year of graduating college with their degree in social work, I decided to try a new approach.

That approach evolved into six practices to make goal writing more fun and meaningful. Be sure to keep scrap paper or your note pad app handy. When we’re thinking about goals great moments of inspiration can pop up in the oddest places.

1. Time. When you take on any goal writing project, give yourself the time you need to really consider what you result you are trying to achieve. Give your goals a chance to percolate. Think about what you have going on in your life right now and how you would like to see that change.  With my students, I gave them two weeks to work on their goal activity and if they need more time after that, they have until the end of the semester to finish.

Make sure that you give yourself time and keep in mind that this process will be ongoing.

2. Forget tasks, focus on details. Often when we are writing goals we get sucked into figuring out how we are going to achieve them too early in the game. We start to break our goals down into tasks and start dismissing goals as possible or impossible. One way to avoid that is to focus on the details of the goal instead of the tasks. If your goal is to own a yacht, great! Instead of writing down a goal to own a yacht and then start scheming how you’re going to get the money, try really spending some time focused on the details of the yacht. How many people will it hold? What kind of a kitchen will it have? Where will you go on it? Write each of these things down as a separate item to be, do, or have and watch you list of goals grow.

3. Aim for 100. When you’re first getting started with goal writing, it can help to have a target. Coming up with a list of 100 things you’d like to be, do, or have is awesome not because it’s like torture when you get to number 75 and can’t think of anything more, but because it’s an opportunity to consider what you want over the span of the rest of your life. 100 things to be, do, or have might feel overwhelming right now, but when you think about having those things over the next several decades, it doesn’t seem so impossible.

I have done goal setting for students and in my one-on-one coaching. Thinking of 100 different items is a challenge, but from what I’ve seen the challenge comes from not allowing ourselves to dream big or take the time to really connect with what we want.

When we are aiming for 100, we can get there by focusing on the details, a la number two on this list.  The goal to “live in my dream house” can be broken down into lots of smaller items that can go on the list of 100 things to be, do, and have. Things like, “live in a five bedroom house,” “have a pool in the backyard,” “enjoy a kitchen with two ovens,” etc. Living in your dream house becomes a series of specific details.

4. Tack on a why. This is the most important technique. Why do you desire a five-bedroom house? Why is it important to you that you’re able to travel to France with your mom? What is the motivation behind your wish to help someone you love find a job? The why helps you to feel connected to your goal in a deeper way. It’s much more powerful than just tossing words on the wind without any real connection or intention.

5. Make it portable. If possible, make your list of 100 things to be, do, or have portable. Be able to fit it inside a small bag, briefcase, or even in between the pages of a book or magazine. When you have it with you, the ability to pull it out and look at it whenever you wish is going to work to further connect you with your goals and increase the likelihood that the circumstances of our life will bring your goal to you.

6. Add Visuals. Connecting your written goal statement with an image is a powerful way of helping you to relate to what you want at a deeper level. When we say it out loud, attach it to a picture, etc., it becomes more real and concrete. You might even have more respect and excitement at the thought of achieving that goal.

Adding visuals to your goal booklet is similar to vision boarding. I like adding images collage style to my goals. You can get really creative with this. Try going big if that’s your style with goals and images on a poster. If you are into journal writing, you could designate a section of your journal (or an entire journal if so moved) to your goals and images.

Whatever you decide, be sure to put your work somewhere visible or where you can easily flip through it on a daily basis. Have fun designing your joyful life!

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