5 Characteristics of a Good Goal

Last week I outlined my seven priorities, the big picture for my life. With those priorities in mind, I am constantly setting goals. If the priority is the vision, the goal is the direction.

Goals are specific outcomes I want to achieve. I have long-term goals like, “Live and work in another country by 2030.” I also have short-term goals like, “Publish a free resource guide for my blog by the end of 2014.”

Before we get into the characteristics of a good goal, let’s talk about the most important question: “Why?”

Behind every goal is some reason why you want to achieve it. It may be helpful to write down specific reasons you want to complete each goal. I want to live and work in another country to blend into another culture, to overcome an irrational fear of borders, and to gain confidence that I can survive and thrive anywhere. Reviewing these reasons provides fuel for the fire in times of doubt or exhaustion.

I keep my list of priorities and goals in a Google Doc at the top level of my Google Drive so I can easily access it regularly.

And now, we’ll dive into the five characteristics of a good goal. Whatever the scope and length of time, I follow the principles of SMART goals::

  1. Specific. If you can clearly see the end result of the goal, your mind will be more focused on achieving it. My goal to live and work in another country will be better once I specify the country. But even without naming a country, I can see what I want out of this goal. The point is, be as specific as you need to be, but if in doubt, be more specific (you can always change the details later).
  2. Measurable. How will you know you’ve accomplished your goal? It must have criteria to meet. Keep this criteria as clear and simple as possible, but not so simple that you lose direction on what you wanted out of the goal. I will know I achieved my goal of living and working in another country once I establish a life in another country and deliver work that generates income from that location.
  3. Actionable. Start every goal with an action verb. Think of goals as instructions to yourself to do something. I’m telling myself to “Launch a new business,” or “Exercise five days a week,” or “Make $250k a year.” Goals will often be dependent on other people, but you must focus your energy on what you will do.
  4. Realistic. It is important to stretch yourself, to be optimistic, and to push yourself out of your comfort zone, but a completely unrealistic goal is setting you up for failure. It works better for me to dream big, often setting unrealistic goals. But once I’m out of the clouds and begin planning the objectives to get me there, I often refine the goal to be more realistic.
  5. Timely. Ensure every goal has a deadline. The deadline defines a critical boundary to frame every objective as you work towards the goal. With a deadline, you will realize you can’t take every step perfectly. The deadline should be realistic, but also very optimistic. If the particular goal is important, the deadline should push you to your limits. I have achieved goals ahead of time, and also pushed back deadlines.

I am inclined to pulling too much onto my plate. However, I have found that in terms of goals, less is more. It is only possible to focus on so much at a given time. I don’t have a hard number for this, but for each priority I try not to focus on more than a handful of goals each year.

What part of goal setting is the hardest to do?

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