Goal setting is a process that can be applied to any area of one’s life. This process applies to determining what an individual wants, ultimately, and also to the steps required to accomplish that desire or set of desires. Studies suggest that people with significant goal-setting skills tend to have a better overall state of mind than do people who do not actively set goals for themselves. Setting one’s own goals is the ideal status with regard to having and achieving goals, but some goals are set for the individual by external circumstances and/or other persons. For example, a student has the primary goals for the semester or school year set by his or her teacher or teachers. Businesspersons will have some of their goals set by their managers, and they may also have goals set cooperatively as team objectives. Even in these instances, however, while the primary goal is set for the individual by others, the individual will often need to set secondary goals with reference to the steps needed to achieve the primary goal. To define goal setting, one needs to know what a goal is (and what falls short of a goal), where goal-setting fits in the overall range of mental activity applicable to achieving one’s objectives and how to go about the process of goal setting.
What a Goal Is
A goal is, essentially, a target. By defining a goal, an individual identifies an objective she wants to accomplish. In most cases, the target that an individual defines as a goal is something over which the individual has some control in terms of working toward attainment of the goal. There are, however, some types of goals that may be more affected by external factors. For example, one can define as a goal a certain level of increased income, but reaching financial goals can be affected by such things as the current economic conditions in society at large.
Goal Setting as Part of a Range of Mental Activity
Some experts on goal-setting indicate that goal-setting is part of a continuum of mental activity that includes daydreaming about one’s wants, setting the goals and using the activity of planning to determine how to accomplish the needed results. It is at the stage of setting a goal that one begins to convert a daydream of a desired result into a plan of action for accomplishing that result.
Goals as Time-Specific Objectives
Generally, it is at the stage of defining a goal that one attaches a specific amount of time to a target objective. One can set a goal for any interval of time, from over the course of the next few minutes to over the course of a lifetime. Individuals who regularly set goals often have goals for several different intervals of time, such as next week, next month, next year, next three years and next five years. A dream begins to convert to a goal when, in essence, one attaches a deadline by which time the individual aims to reach that goal.
How to Set a Goal
An individual sets a goal by first making a determination of something that he wants to accomplish. To qualify as a goal, the objective that the individual identifies needs to be specific and concrete.
An individual may, for instance, determine that he has an aspiration to become a writer. Such a broad-based objective is not a true goal, however. An objective defined in terms as broad as this is still an idea or a concept, not a goal.
The individual, however, comes one step closer to setting a true goal by making a determination of an interval of time by which time they want to become able to perceive themselves as a writer.
The next step in setting a true goal would for the individual to determine what would need to happen in their life to arrive at that state of self-perception.
Then, the person will define the steps necessary to make those events happen, within specific time frames. At this juncture, the person is engaged in setting one or more goals that move the person in the direction of achieving a more broadly defined objective
Hypothetical Case Study
As an example of the goal-setting process, take the case of an individual who decides that she would like to pursue writing as a post-retirement vocation and who has plans to retire within a year.
Such an individual might set as a goal for the immediate future meeting working writers and talking with them about their experiences as writers. This individual may set as an intermediate-term goal, making inquiries about online or correspondence courses to study writing as a craft. The individual may make it a goal to enroll in a course about a month before the date of the planned retirement.
Each of these specific, actionable steps associated with a specific targeted date of achievement constitutes a goal.