What’s the main difference between a successful person who achieved everything he or she wanted and an average person who just lives a mediocre life? Research shows that the only true difference between them is an ability to set and achieve personal goals. But that, the most important life skill, is not taught in either school or university.
In 1979, a study was conducted at Harvard University among MBA graduates. Surprisingly, it showed that 84% of students had no specific goals at all, 13% had unwritten goals, and only 3% of students had written goals and plans. 10 years later, in 1989, researchers interviewed the same class. It was found that the 13% group who had goals were earning two times more than the 84% group. Furthermore, the most shocking finding was that the students of the 3% group were earning ten times more than the 13% and 84% groups combined! Considering that business people measure their success by financial results, you can see who was the most successful and why.
Unfortunately, very few people receive the goal management skill naturally, and many of us never do. However, there is no magic about it. The skill can be acquired through learning and exercises. If you don’t have a clear idea of what personal goal management is about, and if you feel that you deserve and want more in your life, then you should try it. It makes a huge difference in your life and what you can achieve.
Since approximately the beginning of the year 2000, there have been many talks, training seminars, videos, and books about personal goal management. Simply do a search on the Internet using the words “success building,” “goal setting,” “achieving goals,” and “getting things done,” and you will find tons of content having to do with achieving personal goals. All of the materials can carry important information, give you new perspectives, and show you different ways of doing things. They are all related to each other, and most of what you will find can be boiled down to the performance of four key activities:
- Understand what you want
- Write down your goals
- Make plans to achieve them
- Work on your plans every single day
Let’s look at these in detail.
1. Understand what you want
Other steps are more or less mechanical. But this, discovering that you really want, is the most creative and important one. Even if your goal management skills are imperfect, your true goal will lead you to success. It happens often that people create false goals--goals that may sound right or look good, but they may be something that doesn’t fit their personality. False goals lead to failure. Even if they’re achieved, they won’t give you satisfaction. Your true goal has to be your own, fitting you perfectly like an old pair of shoes. If this is the case, it will it keep you ignited as long as needed, and it will lead you through all obstacles and down times.
Do not rush deciding; take your time. Think about what you really want. Use your intuition. Visualize yourself when your goal is achieved, and try to feel it in every little detail. If it’s hard to start, try to ask yourself few simple questions like the following:
- Where do you want to live?
- How much do you want to make?
- What job would you like to do?
- Where and how you would spend your vacation?
- What do you want for your children?
After getting started, continue with questions like these until you know exactly what you want.
Another secret to becoming not only successful, but really happy in your life, is to have a balanced set of goals. They have to touch different aspects of your life. Look at the diagram below. It doesn’t have to be much--it’s all relative. 100% for you can mean a lot or very little. It all depends on what your personality calls for.
Through using a diagram like this, you can fit your goals to your personality and needs, matching them up with your life and how you want to grow and improve.
After doing this, you can then move on to the second step of achieving your goals.
2. Write down your goals
To start working on your goals you have to make them explicit; you must write them down. Only then can you continuously think them through and analyze them. Writing goals is easy. But writing them right takes some time. There are couple widely used models which can help you get there.
The first model is called 5W or 5WH. It suggests a formula to think of to write a well defined goal:
- What - the goal itself, a future state that you want to achieve
- Who - who shared your goal besides you, who will help you, who will support and cheer you
- Where - where the goal will take place
- When - a timeline of when you want to start and complete your goal
- Why - your personal reasons behind that goal, any personal rewards
- How - any methods or ideas about how that goal can be achieved
The second model, SMART, is a simple checklist used to verify and improve your goal description:
- Specific - the goal is well-defined
- Measurable - you can keep track of the steps towards reaching the goal
- Actionable - you can act upon the steps
- Realistic - the goal is achievable
- Time-bound - there is a beginning and end date for the goal
After writing down our goals, we then start planning.
3. Make plans to achieve them
This has to do with the When step of the 5WH model. The simplest and easiest way to plan for your goals it to write an action plan--a series of steps or actions with timelines and dates of when the steps towards your goals must be accomplished.
There are number of ways to improve an action plan. A better plan raises the chances for your success.
Here a few of the things you can do:
- Analyze your goals and account for conflicts. For instance, will your goals take too much of your time or cost too much money? Try to reformulate them to avoid or at least minimize those conflicts.
- Analyze goals for personal obstacles. Personal obstacles are internal factors that may prevent you from reaching your goals. Make a plan to deal with them. The most common personal obstacles are:
- A need to feel more secure
- A fear of failure
- Self-doubting personal skill
- The fear of possible change
- The feeling of being overburdened
Analyze your goals for potential risks and opportunities. Make a plan to minimize negative risks and maximize the chances for positive opportunities. Learn to take calculated risks
Finally, find ways to delegate work to others. You can achieve much more by having others help you work towards your goals
Following an action plan will keep you in tune to your goals and excited about them. With every step accomplished, you will move closer and closer to achieving what you set out to do.
We now reach the final step.
4. Work on your plans every single day
After knowing what you want, this step is the most important: do something about it. So many of us end up with just dreaming. Give yourself a chance to succeed and just do something! After doing something, practice doing something again. Practice turns into a habit, and sooner or later the success will come.
While working towards your goals, keep in mind to do the following:
- Review progress toward your goals regularly
- Prioritize your tasks in their relationship to your goals - avoid doing something that doesn’t lead to your goals
- Balance your effort among the goals that are important for you
- Be flexible to changes that affect progress toward your goals
- Look positively at problems and consider them as steps toward your final success - things may not be perfect all the time
- Finally, stay motivated - give yourself treats and cheer yourself, or find somebody who will do that for you and encourage you
Though it may be hard and difficult at times, keep moving forward and look back and see how much fun it’s been accomplishing each step. As soon as you start liking the process, you’ll find more enjoyment in it and may even start making more goals.
Remember: Never give up. Having goals, writing them down, and following through on them is exactly what that 3% group from Harvard did.