Whether you’re pumped to get back to school or wishing for 3 more weeks of summer, there’s something so special about the beginning of a new school year. Motivated to make this year the best year yet? Start off strong by being more intentional about achieving your goals than ever before! These six steps will help you set lofty goals and identify the actionable steps to help you achieve them. Plus, download my goal setting worksheet to follow along.
Start with some self-reflection! There is no better time than at the beginning of a school year to set some time to assess and evaluate the things that are important to you. It’s the perfect time for a fresh start. Find a quiet place, put your cell phone away, and reflect on the areas of your life that you are most dedicated to improving. Write down a handful of areas that you want to focus on – anywhere from three to five is perfect. They could be academics, career, finances, personal relationships, fitness, leadership roles, personal development, etc. The key is that they are priorities for you in the long term. I typically re-assess my focus areas each year, but they rarely change. These broad areas of improvement will help you stay aligned with your priorities and set goals accordingly.
Visualize the Outcomes
Now that you have your compass set, consider the end outcomes that you’re seeking within each focus area. Are you looking to graduate with a certain GPA? Land a job in your dream company? Run a marathon? This is where you can dream big, even if those dreams seem out of reach. Write, in very specific detail, what these outcomes look like, what it will feel like to achieve them, and what that would mean for your life. The more specific you are, the better! This is where you’ll pull motivation from when things get tough or you get discouraged. Personally, I even have images that go along with my outcomes. For the majority of my career, I’ve kept a photo of my dream house pinned somewhere on my desk to keep me motivated. Do the same for yourself!
With a clear vision of the end result, create intermediate goals for the next month, 6 months, and year that will lead to the overall outcome that you’ve written down. This allows you to bridge the gap between an outcome that may seem unattainable and your daily actions that will get you there. For example, if you want to run a marathon that may seem impossible on day one. But if you create intermediate goals of running three times a week for the first month, working toward a half-marathon in 6 months, then the marathon seems much more achievable in a year! Think of the intermediate goals as a ladder that you’re climbing to reach your overall outcome.
Having trouble visualizing? Let’s say that one of your focus areas is your career and your perfect outcome is to be hired by Kendra Scott after graduation (because after reading this article, who wouldn’t want to work for her!) I included an example of what the goals, metrics, and rewards might look like in that instance here.
Measure Your Progress
One of the most important (and most overlooked) aspects of goal setting is creating goals that are measurable. For each of your intermediate goals, create measurable stepping stones that you can track and measure your progress towards them. This essentially becomes your to-do list or checklist of daily actions that will lead to success. Make sure to use numbers and metrics if at all possible. It is much easier to stay motivated if your goal is to run three miles, three times per week than if it is just to “run more often”. This allows you to track your progress and adjust as you go along.
Monitor Your Success
Build in time to monitor your progress on a weekly basis. For me, I set aside 30 minutes at 9am every Monday morning to assess my progress from the previous week and set priorities for the coming week. Doing this allows me to stay on-track and keeps my larger outcomes and focus areas at the top of my mind throughout my daily activities. This also ensures that nothing slips through the cracks and is forgotten in the course of daily life. There are many monitoring systems out there from Trello, Bullet Journals, or Lifetick. The options are endless, so choose what works best for you! I use a combination of Trello and a simple spreadsheet.
Finally, remember to build in some rewards for yourself. This is supposed to be fun! If you’ve chosen your priorities correctly, these are all things that will bring more joy to your life in the end so make sure to celebrate your successes along the way. Hit your 6 month goal of running a half-marathon? Take 3 days off and treat yourself to a massage. Knowing that you’re working towards these smaller rewards on the way to your end outcome will help you stay motivated and excited when the going gets tough.
Someone once said, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” Take action this year by starting with the end in mind and working steadily towards your dreams. Download my complimentary goal setting guide here to help you take the first step.
Brette Rowley is the career contributor for The Young Hopeful and a Career Coach in Charleston, South Carolina. She can most often be found speaking to groups of young professionals or working with them one-on-one to build meaningful careers and land jobs they love. However, in her spare time she loves traveling, taking her dog Mellie to the beach, and tailgating for Clemson football games (or any sporting event, really). Connect with Brette on her site, Instagram, and Twitter!