Using a reflective approach to set effective goals.
Working toward something tangible can be important for your personal and professional development. While goals are not reflective in their own right, the process of choosing them, developing plans, and identifying challenges and how to overcome them, certainly can be very reflective.
There are many different goal-setting models and it is very important that you find one that works for you. However, there are some common themes across goal-setting models that you should consider:
- Importance – ensuring your goal is actually important to you
- Specificity – making your goal specific
- Realistic – making your goal realistic
- Planning – building a robust plan to achieve your goal
- Obstacles – identifying and planning for these
- Deadline/Timing – making it realistic and appropriate
Each of these is summarised below along with prompts to ensure you are reflective in the process.
Many models highlight the importance of finding a goal that is important for you. There might be many things that are important to you, so how do you realise that your goal is essential to you?
You might ask yourself reflective questions such as:
- Why this goal and not something else?
- Is the goal rooted in my values?
- What would it mean for me to complete this goal? Is the result of this goal important?
- How much time am I willing to give to obtaining this goal? Does is it feel an appropriate amount of time for how important I think the goal is?
Goals need to be sufficiently specific so that you know when you have achieved it.
For instance a common goal might be to ‘get better at X’, but how do you know you have gotten better? Is it when someone else recognise it? Is it a feeling? Is it learning one fact about the thing you want to improve on?
To ensure specificity, the main questions you need to ask yourself are something like:
- What is my finish line?
- How will I know I have accomplished my goal?
- How will it feel? Will I be able to recognise the feeling?
- How does it usually look and feel when I accomplish something? How could you define your goal so that you will feel this way on achieving it?
- Am I specific about all aspects or only a few of them? For instance, I might be specific about what it will look like, but am I specific about when it should be done?
Checking that your goal is realistic
It can be important to have big dreams, but being realistic is essential for being successful – so have you been realistic? You can ask yourself questions like:
- Is it possible to accomplish my goal in the time I have available?
- Based on my previous experiences, does it seem likely I will be successful?
- Do I have a tendency to be optimistic about how easy some things are? Do I underestimate the time it will take to complete tasks or projects? If that’s the case, does knowing that inform me about how realistic the goal is?
Ensuring that you have a robust plan
As important as it is to know where you want to finish, it is equally important to know how to get there with a robust plan. To ensure you have tested your plan, ask yourself questions like:
- When planning, have I looked at my situation from enough perspectives?
- Do I have past experiences that can help inform my current planning?
- How will I deal with unforeseen challenges?
- Have I made the best attempt I can to foresee potential challenges and find ways to offset them? If not, what challenges do I need to plan for?
- If I had to find one weakness in my plan, what would it be? How can I fix that?
Identifying and figuring out how to deal with obstacles
On the way to accomplishing your goal, you will likely experience obstacles – both internal and external. To increase your chance of success, it is important to identify known or potential obstacles and plan how to deal with them. Ask yourself questions like:
- Which of my weaknesses will become a challenge to my fulfilling this goal?
- If everything goes wrong what will be the thing that will make it least likely for me to get back on track? How can I mitigate that risk?
- What do my experiences tell me about how I myself may make achieving this goal difficult or challenging? For instance, it might be a tendency to postpone tasks or to lose focus.
- Which of my strengths will be useful in overcoming these challenges?
- Do I need to rework my plan to account for some of these challenges?
- What support do I have?
Making sure that the deadline for your goal is realistic and appropriate
When you reflected on the aspects that make up the goal and your plans for getting there, make sure that you give yourself enough time to achieve the goal. Equally, avoid giving yourself too much time as this can lead to procrastination and lack of focus. Ask yourself:
- Based on my plan, my obstacles, and my experiences, what is a realistic timescale for me to achieve my goal?
- If you already have set a deadline, ask yourself if you would be able to accomplish your goal in less time. Would you be able to do it if you had one day less? One week less? One month less?
By being reflective when setting your goals you will help yourself to optimise your chance of being successful.