4 Ways to Tell if Your Goals Are Really What You Want

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Taylor Tobin
Taylor Tobin1.84k

If you identify as an ambitious go-getter, you probably have a list of future goals ready and waiting for fulfillment. But are these goals serving you well, or is it time for a bit of aspirational house-cleaning? According to the ladies at The Everygirl, it can be tough to honestly reflect on why you want your aspirations, but it is incredibly necessary process for a happy and healthy life. And it is possible. 

They've inspired us to compile 4 ways you can truly tell whether your goals are helping you or hindering your personal progress:

1. Start by asking yourself: “Why is this a goal?”

Setting a goal can feel like an accomplishment in and of itself. But that sense of short-term satisfaction can distract from the goal’s substance. It’s important to think through the pros and cons of your goals, and to figure out exactly what you’re achieving with this specific aspiration.

The Everygirl warns against thinking of to-do lists as concrete achievements, quoting researcher Timothy Pychyl, Ph.D, who says, ““Too often, the list is seen as the ‘accomplishment’ for the day, reducing the immediate guilt of not working on the tasks at hand by investing energy in the list. When a list is used like this, it is simply another way in which we ‘lie’ to ourselves.”

2. Determine whether your goal strikes a solid balance between “attainable” and “aspirational”.

When selecting a goal to pursue, the “Is this realistic?” question needs to be part of the conversation you have with yourself. After all, if you can’t carry a tune, becoming a contestant on The Voice probably isn’t a pursuit worth your time and attention.

However, there’s no need to keep your goals small and easy to fulfill. In fact, restricting yourself to quotidian tasks and failing to look at the big picture can ultimately hinder your progress.
For years, businesspeople have used the SMART Goals checklist to decide whether or not to pursue any particular outcome. SMART stands for “specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound”, all solid metrics for determining a strong short-term goal.
For something longer-term, however, these rules can limit your perspective. Instead, author Mark Murphy told Forbes about another way to evaluate goals, which he calls “HARD” (heartfelt, animated, required, and difficult). Thinking of your long-term plans in these terms offers more freedom and introduces more challenges, resulting in a greater sense of accomplishment when the goal is ultimately achieved.
“HARD Goals make people stronger, more courageous, and more confident to go after bigger and better things. And our research shows that employees who have HARD Goals are significantly more engaged than employees who have other kinds of goals,” Murphy explained.

If you retain a realistic perspective while still going after passion projects that take extra time to accomplish, you’ll know that you’ve selected a goal that will culminate in professional and personal satisfaction.

3. Figure out what motivates you – and whether that'll help you reach this one.

Your goals are inextricably linked to whatever internal force drives you to achieve. Everything we hope to accomplish involves a motivating factor. When you pinpoint exactly what pushes you forward, you can more effectively devise a plan for reaching your purpose. Professional development coach Erin Urban of UPPSolutions, LLC spoke about this crucial step in Forbes.

“Until you know what drives you, it's hard to drive yourself in the best direction," she advised. "First, clearly define where you want to go. Then, ask yourself why you want this, what you will achieve and what challenges you will face along the way. Define and tackle the steps needed to obtain your ultimate goal.”

4. Figure out if you have a contingency plan.

If a goal is worth completing, it’s bound to have some difficulties attached. So if you’re actively working to realize an aspiration, you need to remember that setbacks come with the territory. Facing a major hurdle on your goal-oriented journey can easily stir up feelings of frustration and inadequacy, along with a desire to drop the whole thing. But, of course, that’s not the solution. If a goal doesn't include a well-conceived plan for how to handle disappointments, it's not a good goal. 

Career writer Chris Charyk consulted a panel of research experts for a The Muse piece on how to bounce back from a career setback, and he concluded that adjusting your mindset goes a very long way.

“It turns out that something as simple the way you think about an obstacle has a lot to do with how successful you’ll be at getting through it," he wrote. "It comes down to your mindset—the ideas and attitudes with which you approach a situation. Translation: Just changing how you think about a problem can help you solve it."