Goals are our desired outcomes in life.
They could be short-term, long-term, little things or big things.
There are a few types of goals:
“Process goals” described how we will do something: for example, “I will study for an hour each day”. These are largely within our control because they relate to our own behaviour and desires.
There are “performance goals”, such as “I would like to run 5km in 20 minutes”. These are mostly within our control if we take the right steps, however there may be external influences or unforeseeable limitations that impact our ability.
There are also “outcome goals”, such as “I would like to get a job in local parliament”. These are less within our control because they are highly influenced by external factors, although we can still do our best to work towards them.
The most relevant goals in my opinion, and the ones I will focus on, are “process goals”. This is because they sit most clearly within our own control and have the most day-to-day relevance. Process goals are also the easiest to align with our values, and after a while, they turn into habits.
For example, if the value is “looking after my health”, then what would that look like on a daily or weekly basis? How could I translate that into a “process goal” so it becomes a habit?
When setting goals, the advice is often to write them down and place them somewhere you can see them. Using diaries, phone reminders, lists, journaling, “vision boards” or any number of strategies could work depending on your preferences. People often use the acronym “SMART” when writing down and setting goals.
This stands for:
Specific – e.g. what, when, where, how, why, who
Measurable – e.g., how could I measure progress? Tick things off, time myself, use a calendar etc.
Achievable – e.g., breaking things into steps, building new skills if needed, removing barriers to make myself capable, asking for help, finding more information
Relevant – e.g., does it make sense within my life and context?
Time-based – e.g., when do I want to do this by?
SMART goals can be helpful for longer-term, bigger goals which may need to be broken down into small steps, such as training for a marathon or working on a project. They may also be helpful for people who thrive off routine and structure, and need external accountability to keep themselves going. However, SMART goals can also lead to feelings of failure and demotivation if they aren’t achieved.
If this is the case, an alternative approach involves setting “open goals”. These are much less specific and can help people stay motivated precisely because there is less pressure and risk of failure. Open goals fit nicely with the idea of values – moving towards what is meaningful whilst maintaining flexibility.
As the name suggests, open goals outline some specific details, while the rest is open-ended. For example:
- Exercise 3 days a week for 30 minutes (specific): I can choose time of day + type of exercise (open)
- Take 10 minutes time-out to relax every day (specific): I can listen to music, deep breathe, do a guided meditation or go for a walk (open)
- Read each night before bed (specific): I can choose how many pages (open)
- Only drink alcohol 2/7 days a week (specific): I can choose the days (open)
The open goal approach may suit people who have variable routines and like to fit things in where they can, or those who simply prefer having options. Open goals are more suited to habit-setting rather than working towards complex long-term goals, as there is less focus on progress.
Either way, if you are new to goal setting and want to make changes if your life, these are a couple of approaches you could experiment with. Remember to start small, consider your values and focus on one thing at a time.