Set Goals You Can Really Achieve

How are those goals you set for the new year coming along?

How are those goals you set for the new year coming along?

We do it at the start of every year, set goals that aim to propel us forward professionally and personally. And although it can feel like we’ve got all the time in the world to achieve them, research into New Year’s resolutions shows that by June, nearly half of us have abandoned the goals we set a few months earlier. All that motivation and excitement we had in January?

It’s long gone by the summer. That’s because we don’t set the right kinds of goals in the first place. Those sweeping, aspirational objectives we like to create for ourselves may look great on paper but in reality, are very tough to tackle.

To remedy that, think of goals as stepping-stones—rather than endpoints—that move you toward a desired outcome, whether that’s finishing a major project or climbing to a new spot on the organizational chart.

Setting the right kind of goals is the first step toward actually achieving them. Goals that are distant and large are hard to sustain and easily derailed; conversely if your goal is too small, you may not feel you’ve accomplished much once you achieve it. It takes the right mix of larger overall goals and smaller, incremental ones for us to make progress.

Here are some rules to follow for setting effective, achievable goals:

Be ambitious.

Set goals that will transform your life and let you make the changes you want to make. These are goals that should force you to learn something new and make changes in the way you usually operate. If you set goals you could achieve simply by staying on your current path, they aren’t ambitious enough.

Be realistic.

At the same time, keep your expectations realistic. Make sure your abilities and skills are compatible with the goal you set, and that your time frame for achieving it makes sense. For example, your goal shouldn’t be to become COO if you’ve been at the company a year and have no executive management experience.

Be specific.

Now that you have a larger goal in mind—for instance, to move into a vice president level job by next spring—break it into smaller, achievable pieces. Set and accomplish subgoals, which should include the specific actions you need to take. Checking off each subgoal as you reach it will boost your confidence and move you closer to the bigger one. Subgoals also let you monitor progress and adjust strategies as obstacles arise.

Identify potential obstacles.

Think about what might stand in your way as you try to achieve your goals, whether that’s logistical, behavioral or organizational. Make a list of potential obstacles and try to anticipate –on paper at least–how you would handle each one.

Be accountable.

It’s easy to lose steam or become discouraged while working step-by-step toward an ambitious goal, especially in the face of difficult obstacles, so involve others in your quest. You can post your goals on social networks like Twitter or Facebook, which will make you publicly accountable for working toward them. Another option is to get an accountability partner—a friend, colleague or mentor—to meet with you for coffee or on the phone every few weeks to discuss the progress you’ve made and what, if anything, is holding you up.


About the Author

Eilene Zimmerman is a journalist who writes about entrepreneurship, technology, small businesses and the workplace. She was a career columnist for the New York Times and is a regular contributor to the paper's small business section.