Goal Setting

Lately I have been having a little difficulty in my life with follow-through. I have a great idea, and it doesn’t necessarily fizzle, but the amount of time that I put into it slowly ebbs. The frustrating part of this is that I cannot feel my motivation declining along with my dedication- I am simply re-aligning my time with other things. For today’s post, I am going to talk about goal-setting. The ideas that I talk about here are largely influenced by the idea of SMART goals, but are not necessarily formulated with SMART goals in mind.

What are SMART goals?

SMART is an acronym that stands for: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound (with some variations on those words). The idea behind SMART goals is that they should help you succeed, and the S is the key to everything else in that “specific” is an underlying factor in each of the other components of the goals. The SMART model is an excellent model for goal setting because it forces you to break down your goals and investigate the individual parts which will help feed into your success. You can clearly tell by the form of that last sentence that I am a results-driven scientist. Anyway, here is a link to learn more about SMART goals if you are interested, but I do hope you stay here with me and hear what I have to say too 🙂 


Quick Tips 

  • Formulate your big goal
  • Establish your why
  • Determine your baby steps and make them a habit
  • Ask for help outright if help is going to be needed
  • Create a reasonable timeline for your baby steps and big goal

Formulate your big goal

Every goal should start with as big of a picture as you can get it. Then, you should break that down into smaller goals. The individual elements that will bring your big picture together. I think about it as a homemade puzzle. You have a picture of something all nice and whole, and you can see it clearly. Then you take an x-acto knife and you cut it up into individual pieces with some inherent order you may or may not be conscious of. Some of the pieces are large, and some are very small, but each is necessary to complete the puzzle. This is the part that I think myself and others typically try to shortcut. However, by not taking the time to realize and formulate each individual goal we really do ourselves a disservice. It is necessary to know and understand all the parts of the whole.

Establish your why

One of the things that I have been taught recently, that I cannot recall ever hearing before (and I truly apologize to anybody who has imparted this advice in the past if I am forgetting it) is to clearly define the WHY. It is awesome to have your goal and know your goal and make your goal your baby. But if you do not have an awesome REASON behind your goal, you will never achieve it. One might call this aspect “motivation,” but truly to me it is so much more than that. As a scientist, understanding the why is crucial to waking up every morning and going back to the lab on a path of discovery. There is a problem that I want to solve: cancer, diabetes, water shortages, renewable energy, etc. Understanding what the why is behind why I go to work everyday keeps me going to work everyday. The wall comes when this is not translated to my personal life. I have other goals and dreams and “babies” outside of work- and they deserve the same kind of attention and the same kind of why that my research naturally gets.

Determine your baby steps and make them habit

Baby steps really make a huge difference in achieving a goal, which is something that we just don’t want to accept in our world today. We have so many ways to receive “instant grat” that we forget that great things take time. There may be a large amount of your timeline allotted to planning and very little allotted to acting in comparison. Guess what? That is totally okay. Everything that is realistic that helps you achieve your goal is okay.

I think the biggest shortcoming in this area is the inability for us to hold ourselves accountable to achieving another goal. In order to put it into perspective for myself, I tend to do this exercise: if this was my laundry how long would I put it off? Less than two weeks, and if I did put it off for two weeks it would be because I was traveling or REALLY busy. So then, when it comes to something like finishing the outline for a blog post, how can I just say, “it’ll happen when it happens”? It won’t happen if I do not turn on my laptop and work on that outline. It will not happen if I do not dedicate time to that post daily. I need to put in the time to build my product, not just the time to launch my product. This is the part that I feel is so often lost. If you only budget time for the launch, you will have no product to launch, and then you will look like a fool.

Ask for help if help is needed

How do we actually go about doing these things? The first question here is a crucial question and I honestly do not know if anybody has ever explicitly told me this: can I do it alone? There is no shame in asking for help, and a lot of times what you want to do is not a one-person job. Here is the biggest thing with asking for help though: you want to do it as early as possible. People are going to be much less likely to help you if you are desperate. Desperation is one of those few feelings that humans can smell just like animals smell fear. You need to ask when you are confident. You need to ask when you have the clearest idea of what you are going to do- and usually that clarity comes at the beginning. It is akin to having a gut feeling about something.

Create a realistic timeline for the baby steps and the big goal

SMART goals specify that the goal should be time-bound. There should be a way to quantitatively say how much time you will need to achieve this goal, but also how much you can do on the day-to-day and week-to-week basis. You should have a deadline, deadlines give you something to work towards. That is by far one of the hardest parts of graduate school is getting used to not having a deadline. Again, with my work, it is very easy for me to self-impose a deadline based on how long something should take. However, in my personal life I tend to take the approach that it’ll happen when it happens, which of course means that it isn’t happening.

This timeline applies both to the big goal (setting a date for when you want it to be completed) and for the individual pieces- those baby steps which are going to be habits- when do you want them to be habits? For how long would you like them to be habits? Do you want it to be a lifelong habit? Do you want it to be a habit for two months? This is really important. Having a clear idea of how long you want to spend doing something makes it a lot easier to start doing it, and a lot easier to move on when the time comes.

What sparked me writing this (for real)?

As I mentioned, I have a lot of babies. I consider all of my knitting projects my babies, I have my virtual fitness group and my life as a Beachbody coach, I have my very soon to begin (2 weeks!) marathon training, and I have a strong desire to write a book. It is the book that brought me here. I have started and stopped on numerous occasions and it is totally just my inability to follow through. I have come up with several ideas, and I know that for each of these that burned in the fire, my why just wasn’t big enough. This week, I have finally found the why that I really want to communicate with readers, and I think this time may be the charm as a result. However, I know that I need to work on this DAILY. Just like I go to work Monday through Friday. Just like I show up in my accountability group Monday through Sunday. Just like I read every night before bed. Just like I knit whenever I am watching TV. I don’t have to think about doing these things anymore because I made them a habit- and therefore I also need to make writing my book a habit. I keep saying to myself that 2017 is all about chasing your dreams. There are so many wonderful people in my life taking their dreams public and I think that is beautiful. However, we need to remember, no matter who we are and what our dreams are, that there are a lot of things that must happen behind the scenes for success. 


Published by She Got The PhD

A web-based soapbox of an Assistant Professor of color in Chemical Engineering; sharing my feelings on books, academia, and current events. I hope you enjoy reading :)

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