In case you haven’t noticed the rush of last-minute gift shoppers at the mall, the ribbons and bows that fill shop windows, and the smell of peppermint in the air: it’s December. While this time of year brings the excitement of the holidays, it also brings a time of reflection on the year that’s passed and preparation for the year to come. So while many of us are enjoying holiday traditions, we’re all thinking critically about our goals for 2020.
But you may be wondering – what exactly goes into establishing effective goals?
Setting SMART Goals
You may have heard of the S.M.A.R.T. acronym for goal-setting. Under this principle, goals should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. After brainstorming what you want to accomplish, you should ask yourself the following questions:
- Why is this goal important?
- Who can I lean on to help me achieve this goal?
- What might be potential limitations or roadblocks?
- How will I keep track of my progress?
- How will I know when this goal is accomplished?
- Are there other goals that should take priority?
- What does the timeline of achieving this goal look like?
Setting S.M.A.R.T. goals alleviates the possibility that you’ll find yourself this time next year with nothing to show for the targets you created. Don’t let yourself become part of the statistic that says 80% of annual goals fail by February.
Identifying the Top Three
Once you’ve answered these questions and thought through all of the details of how you will accomplish your goals, you may still have a list of goals that seems impossible to tackle. Consider this advice from The Ladders: narrow your goals down to five—and then three.
“Founder and CEO of The Lonely Entrepreneur Michael Dermer suggests having a brainstorming session where you think broadly about the 12 months to come. Let yourself think boldly and freely. Then, cut your list to ten. Then to five. Then to three. The learning here is figuring out how to eliminate and prioritize.”
While you may have several goals that meet the S.M.A.R.T. guidelines, having too many goals can dilute your focus and make it less likely that you will be able to achieve anything. Avoid feeling overwhelmed by everything you’ve set your mind to accomplish by prioritizing your top three goals for the year.
Creating Daily Wins
While your annual goals should drive everything you do, it’s important to create mini-milestones that allow yourself to benefit from the physiological effects of success. According to Lifehack.org, dopamine (a neurotransmitter that controls brain functions) “acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement…. Dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.”
So how can you carve opportunities for dopamine release in your average work day? Set one small goal (the smaller the better) for yourself each day that aligns with the bigger goals for the year. Trying to lose a certain amount of weight? Set a goal when you wake up that you will pack vegetables for a snack or take a 10 minute walk on your break. Creating opportunities for easy wins will (scientifically!) make the bigger goals feel much more manageable.