I tend to think we all have an innate drive toward personal growth. And self-improvement goals can be an extremely powerful tool when it comes to leveraging this drive.
I say they “can” be powerful tools because not all self-improvement goals are effective. There are several factors that differentiate effective and ineffective goals, and we’ll explore each of these factors below.
But before we get into the details of what makes for an effective goal, I first want to emphasize the true power of goals. The way I see it, a goal can itself be a source of power. Or, to put it in a slightly different way, well-crafted goals have a way of tapping into our internal resources—courage, motivation, focus, and countless others.
Whichever way you choose to see it, here’s the important part: When you are equipped with a well-crafted goal, you can do more, achieve more and be more than you otherwise could.
Of course, the opposite is also true: Poorly constructed goals have a way of undermining our desired outcomes. Even when we’re highly motivated and equipped with the necessary resources, an ineffective goal can act as kryptonite, weakening our chances of ever arriving at the goal itself.
The good news is that developing effective self-improvement goals is a relatively simple process. And my hope is that this post will help make that process even easier for you.
Follow the tips I’ve outlined below, and you’ll be well on your way to constructing kickass (and potentially life-changing) self-improvement goals.
Make Your Self-Improvement Goals Relevant
Every effective goal has a“why,” the reason(s) behind setting and working toward the goal you have in mind. Basically, the question you need to ask yourself is: Is this goal worthwhile? Is it something I want to prioritize in my life? Do I know why I’m choosing to work on this specific goal as opposed to some other goal?
Being able to state in very clear terms the reasons why your goal is important to you is an essential step in the process of crafting a personal goal that’s likely to yield results.
Put pen to paper!
It’s extremely difficult to craft effective goals in our heads. All serious goals begin on paper (or on a screen). The wording of your goals, as you’ll soon see, is incredibly important, so actually writing out those goals will also help in the process of making necessary revisions.
Use Positive Language
Consider the following two goals:
- To not eat junk food this week.
- To eat a green smoothie for breakfast each day this week.
Truth be told, both of these goals align with many of the tips that follow. The big difference between the two, however, is that the first goal is stated using negative language (describing something you won’t be doing) whereas the second is stated positively (describing something you will be doing). Why does it matter? It ultimately comes down psychology. We generally feel better when we do something than when we don’t do something. Positive behavior is self-reinforcing, and goals that are stated in positive terms help us to leverage the power of that self-reinforcement.
Write in the First Person
This one’s probably the easiest tip of all. Simply start each self-improvement goal you write with the words “I will.” Doesn’t get much easier than that, right? But those 2 little words pack a lot of punch when it comes to motivation and accountability. Don’t believe me? Try reading the following two goals aloud:
To create an online dating profile by the end of this week.
I will create an online dating profile by the end of this week.
Which one sounds more likely to inspire action? The second one, hands down. This is why it pays to start your goals with the words “I will.”
Identify a Clear-cut Action
This may be the most important tip of all. Seldom are our goals specific enough when we first conceive of them. For example, many people seek therapy to work on goals such as:
- building self-esteem
- being more confident
- gaining control over anger
- better managing anxiety
Each of these are worthwhile goals and they help by pointing toward a general destination or end result.
Left as is, however, these goals are far too general. They capture the “what” (the general thing you want to achieve) but leave out the “how” (the way you’re going to get there). Put differently, they each lack an identified action. It’s not at all clear what the person needs to do.
Let’s look at how we might go about revising each of these goals by identifying a clear-cut action:
|To build self-esteem||To share with my partner when I feel unimportant|
|To be more confident||To speak up and share my opinion at this week’s staff meeting|
|To control my anger||To leave the room for at least 5 minutes when I notice myself getting angry|
|To better manage my anxiety||To focus on my breathing for at least 30 seconds when I feel anxious|
All four of these new goals still need work, but we can begin to see how more specific goals provide us with a clear, concrete plan of action. Armed with these new goals, we know exactly what we’re trying to accomplish. The action is tangible and clear-cut.
A good rule of thumb for making certain your goals are specific enough is to write them in such a way that someone else could implement them without having to ask for clarification.
Make Your Self-Improvement Goals Challenging AND Achievable
An effective goal is one that will challenge you while still being realistic. Often, we err on the side of making our goals far too challenging. This can easily result in feelings of discouragement and diminished motivation when we come up short of meeting our goals. Setting a personal goal to run six days a week for the next month, for example, is likely to backfire if you’re not currently running at all. To start out, a better goal may be to run at least one day this week.
Set a Frequency for Your Goals
All effective goals are measurable. After all, what good is a goal if you can’t say for certain if you’ve accomplished it? This is why making our goals measurable is so important.
I have found that many people get hung up on this step. Fitness or nutrition-related goals are one thing, but how does one measure self-esteem or management of anxiety, for example?
For starters, your goal must state a clear-cut action, as described above. We can’t measure something without first knowing what the specific action is that we’re trying to measure.
Once you’ve defined a specific action, your next step is to determine the frequency of that action. In other words, how often do you want to execute the action you’ve identified in your stated goal?Once? Three times? Every chance you get?
(Keep in mind, when considering the frequency of your goal, you’ll want to think about how the frequency you choose will affect how challenging your goal will end up being.)
Let’s look at the example from above again—to share with my partner when I feel unimportant.
What if we added a frequency to this goal, making it read:
I will share with my partner when I feel unimportant 2 out of 3 times
I will share with my partner when I feel unimportant at least 2 times
Not only does adding a frequency make the goal measurable; for the person who will be trying to communicate in a new (and perhaps somewhat scary) way, “2 out 3 times” likely makes the goal feel less daunting as well.
Give Your Goals a Time Frame
When will your goal end?
Setting a time frame for your goal further builds motivation by adding a sense of urgency. It’s basically like setting a deadline for your goal.
Adding a time frame to the goal we just looked at above, we end up with:
I will share with my partner when I feel unimportant at least 2 times this week
Those two extra words on the end tell the person in pursuit of this goal, “You’d better get to work.”
Post Your Self-Improvement Goals as a Reminder
Once your goals are set, don’t just store them in your mind. A goal isn’t a goal until you’ve recorded it and made it visible in some way.
There are endless ways to do this. For example, you can:
- Post it on your bathroom mirror
- Tape it to the refrigerator
- Affix it to the dashboard in your car
- Display it on your computer’s desktop—or better yet, on your actual desktop
There’s no right or wrong way to post your goal. The key is just writing it down (or printing it out) and displaying it somewhere. The visual reminder will help keep your goal front of mind and, consequently, keep you on track.
Evaluate Your Goals
The process doesn’t end with the execution. You’ll want to take the time to assess the end results. What happened and what does that outcome say about the goal you set?
If you achieved your goal, how did it go? Was your goal a total breeze, meaning you’re ready to increase the level of challenge in your next goal? What next action would continue the forward momentum you’ve started?
If you didn’t accomplish your goal, what went wrong? The way I see it, when it comes to setting and pursuing meaningful goals, there’s no failure, only bad goals.
Was your goal too challenging? If so, why? Would adjusting the frequency or time frame of your goal make a difference? Is there a different identified action you could start with?
Are you looking for support in working toward a self-improvement goal in your life? Contact Modern Era Counseling today to learn more about how we can help you achieve your goals.