On the subway the other day, the two people sitting to my left were talking about goal-setting. It reminded me that although I’ve written about goal-setting before, the subject is important enough to be revisited. Clearly-defined goals are essential to success. If you don’t have a plan of your own then you’re going to be a part of someone else’s. Here are my five golden rules for goal-setting.

     1) Goals must be clear. For example, deciding that you’re going to improve your communication skills is meaningless unless you also determine exactly what steps you’re going to take, such as identifying courses in which to enrol, books to read, and how you intend to increase your vocabulary. A person with clear goals, and definite ideas about how to achieve them, is far more apt to exert an extra effort to keep on track than someone who doesn’t. Unclear goals breed apathy, disinterest, and failure.

     2) Goals need timetables. Goals without timetables are just wishes.You have to decide when you’re going to enrol in those courses, when you’re going to buy and read those books, and how many words a week you’re going to add to your vocabulary. There’s no point aiming at something unless you’re going to pull the trigger. Timetables can be revised of course, but goals without timetables are apt to never be reached.

     3) Goals have to be realistic. Ambition is a good thing, and it’s fine to have to stretch a bit to reach your goals. But because it’s expectations that cause frustrations, if your goals are set unreasonably high, you’ll become a victim of frustration. Aim high enough to stretch yourself but not so high that you give up hope too soon. Goals that are difficult, but not impossible, will keep you moving in the right direction and will provide gratification rather than frustration. Set a reasonable goal, and when it’s reached set another one a little higher.

     4) You need both short-term and long-term goals. Long-term goals should be much higher and ambitious than short-term goals, but should always be capable of being broken down into compatible, less ambitious short-term goals. Short-term goals are necessary to maintain momentum and discipline and to keep you from being disappointed by setbacks. Reaching goals on time is not always easy. When setbacks start to get you down, set some simpler short-term goals and work your way back up. Your objectives, not events, should set your agenda. Never take your eye off your objective, because when you do, obstacles become more difficult to overcome. It’s also a good idea to reward yourself occasionally along the way. Always remember that most major achievements start out as dreams.

     5) Goals should be personal. Wise people don’t waste time and energy on pursuits for which they aren’t suited; and they are wiser still who resolutely follow the things they do best. No goal should ever involve topping someone else (even if you attain it, how do you know the other person didn’t simply fail?). But all goals should be about topping yourself. Your number one goal should always be to become the best possible version of yourself. 

     If you’re having trouble developing a cohesive framework for your goal-setting, try planning ninety-day segments over a one-year period. Start by asking yourself what has to happen over the next  year to prevent you from looking back and saying, “I wish I had or I wish I hadn’t.” It might help to think back over the past couple of years and analyze your successes and disappointments. What would you change? Consider: health, free time, career, finances, and relationships (some people have too many; others not enough). Pretend you’re going to have a press conference ninety days from now to discuss your objectives and what steps you’re going to take to reach them. Think about what you’ll want to say, then plan and act accordingly. In ninety days time, do it again