Let's face it, we set goals every day without realizing it:
- "I want to run an extra mile today."
- "When I've read this chapter, I'll take a break."
- "I'll watch a movie once I've finished my homework."
- "I need to make a shopping list before I go to the store."
- "If I get an A on this test, my parents will buy me dinner."
Setting a goal gives you something to aim for, and provides motivation. It often involves a reward for meeting the goal, whether that reward is physical (like a candy bar, or watching a movie) or emotional (a sense of achievement).
Smaller goals also give you a boost in self-confidence as you reach your target. Rather than feeling disappointment if you can't understand calculus on the first day, feel a sense of achievement in understanding a difficult equation.
So the first thing to realize about goal-setting is that it's a way of identifying achievement, one step at a time.
You're not just aimlessly making your way through the day, you're making a plan.
I'm convinced - now what?
We're not asking you to plan your entire life up to retirement. Just think about the next few years - while you're in school, and what you want to do afterwards.
Most people have some sort of overall plan, whether it's to become captain of your intramural team, maintaining a high GPA to receive scholarships, or passing all your courses in pursuit of a fulfilling career.
What's your goal?
Try to think of the big picture. Where do you want to be? What do you want to be doing in 5-10 years?
Some areas to consider might be:
What type of career do you want? Do you want a flexible job where you can work for a few months then travel? Do you want to be a CEO? Self-employed? A web designer? An accountant? A stock trader?
Do you have a target income? Do you want to have sufficient income for your needs, but not worry too much about excess? Is your aim to be more Steve Jobs or Mother Theresa?
Do you have a passion for a vocation? Do you want to make the world a better place? Do you want to work for a volunteer organization? Do you want to take essential skills to the Third World?
Do you need any specific skills to achieve your goal? (Academic or non-academic.)
Do you need an advanced degree? Do you need certain classes or life experience?
Find two or three things that you would like to concentrate on, those which are most important to you. Make sure they're realistic—don't expect to become a double Nobel prize-winner!
I've chosen my goals
If you want to become an investigative journalist for the New York Times you will need to take English classes, but you might also want to look at classes in politics, criminal justice, or other social sciences that will give you a broader outlook and a different perspective.
There are other things that you may also want to consider... like gaining experience before you graduate by writing for the Kaleidoscope or securing an internship with your local newspaper.
Other goals will have different requirements, or suggested paths. Don't eliminate everything that's not in the direct path leading to your goal—you never know when it'll be useful!
- Do some research. Look into your goals, and see what you need to get there.
- Make a timeline of your goals and what's needed to get there.
"By March, I want to have achieved X."
- Consider any potential problems.
If your goal requires an advanced degree or training, how will you pay for it? Are there any scholarships / training programs? Do you know someone who could act as a mentor, or who would train you "on the job?"
- Prioritize your goals, and work out if some things need to be done before you can do another. (You can't take Nursing or aim for medical school until you've passed Human Anatomy, for instance.)
- Set deadlines.
- When you reach a goal, no matter how small, cross it off your list! It might be small, but it's satisfying!
Your academic advisor can help you develop a strategy to reach your academic goals. (You can contact your advisor by going to the Student Resources section of BlazerNET and looking at your Academic Profile. UAB's office of Career & Professional Development Services can help you with both academic and career/vocational goals.
"A goal that remains only in your mind is just a wish. The path toward turning a wish into a goal starts with writing it down. The simple act of putting the goal on paper immensely increases its likelihood of success. It may seem hard to believe that something so simple can make such a big difference. But once a goal is written down, the mind starts working on ways to make it a reality." (Dara Duguay)An example of backward planning
"I want to be a doctor."
What do I need to do before I can achieve this goal?
4. I need to get through medical school
3. I need to get into medical school
2. I need to get a good undergraduate degree
1. I need to pass my classes
- Write all your goals down—it's easier to stay on track when you can see what needs to be done.
- Don't procrastinate.
- Don't be afraid to fail, and never start. If you miss a small goal the first time, you can try again. Or there may be another way to reach your main goal.
- Make sure the goal is something you really want, not something your parents want, or something that sounds good.
- Try dividing them into short-term, medium and long-term goals, or use a career action plan.
- Backward planning may help you—start at the finish line, and plan backwards to work out what you need to get there.