One of the hardest parts of trying to achieve a goal is actually getting started. It is very easy to drift, putting off making a start. Often people use external triggers like New Year to try and start a resolution to do things differently, which is fine as long as there is a follow-through strategy in place. It is not just about saying that tomorrow will be different; you need a plan to identify how you will make it different. Setting yourself a target date is also important, using SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timed) objectives. SMART objectives can be used with any ambition, whether work related, aspirational or personal:
Specific. What is it exactly that you want to achieve? Can you write it in one sentence? If you can't, can you summarize the broad parameters? If you have several goals, can you prioritize in order of either time or importance?
Measurable. How will you know that you have achieved it? Can you write some measures of success?
Achievable. This is one of the most important tests of your ambition. If it is not achievable then you are likely to get really demotivated and, if it isn't achievable, why are you setting yourself up for failure? It is also important to recognize that it may need to be achievable over a period of time or through a number of steps. Sometimes you have to set yourself short-term goals to help you achieve the bigger goal.
Realistic. This is perhaps one of the most important steps. This moves a goal from fantasy to reality. It is no good setting yourself a goal that is totally unrealistic; this isn't about not setting yourself challenging goals, but more about adopting a commonsense approach. One of the failings of some motivational texts is encouraging people to achieve the impossible. While for some this may prove to be the very trigger that sets them on their way, for most of us our hopes and dreams need a surer foundation. We want to be reassured that it is the right thing to do. We want someone to assess the risk for us and, even after we have explored all the options, we turn away and say, 'Maybe next year' or 'I'm not quite ready for it yet' or 'My mother/children/partner need me to look after them' or simply 'I'm too tired to start.' By setting realistic objectives you minimize the risk of backing out.
Timed. When are you going to do this thing? This year, next year, in five years' time? Our society has become much more immediate. In business terms organizations have become much more focused on their annual plans, with outline frameworks for three to five years. What they realize is that the speed of change is so great that it is possible to spend far too much time planning for the long term, when you really need the flexibility and ability to move quickly in the short term while at the same time setting the broad parameters for the longer term. This is a useful approach to setting your own longer-term goals. If you respond well to a timeline approach you can set your goals out based on the time-frame over which you hope to achieve your goals.