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Great Steps in the Goal-Setting Process

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Goal setting can be a catalyst for making big changes in your life. But having and using a goal-setting process means you don’t do it haphazardly. Instead, you take the time to pray, think, dream, plan, re-calculate, and even start over when necessary. But the rewards of taking your time can pay off big! So, jump in! What have you got to lose?

Last week we covered the basic steps of “pre-goal setting.” That is, the things you should do before actually making any goals for the upcoming year (or quarter or semester or…). In short, the steps were (1) pray, (2) reflect, (3) evaluate, and (4) dream big. You can find more details in that post.

The Goal Setting Process

Now, we move on to the actual goals you will set. Just as in the “pre-setting” stage, there are a few steps in this process. These steps are covered in detail below. I want to warn you, though, that making hard choices is part of the goal setting process.

The final step in last week’s post was to make a list of big dreams. You may find you have dozens of big dreams you’d like to see come true in your life. The reality is that you cannot focus on all of them at the same time. That’s where the hard choices come in. Just prepare yourself.

goal setting steps

Review and Rank Your Big Dreams List

If you followed the steps in Goal Setting 101, you made a list of Big Dreams – some of which may seem completely impossible. As you work through this next step with your list, try hard not to focus on the “impossibility” of your dreams, but rather on which ones excite you the most and get you fired up.

Read and Remove

First, read over your list. If you’re anything like me, you may find that simply re-reading your list will help you to eliminate some items.

For example, my mom and dad always had a garden, and for many years grew all their vegetables for the year in that garden. This meant that I had a lot of experience in gardening and preserving food. When I had my own family, planting a large vegetable garden went on my list many times. But the truth was, gardening wasn’t a priority for me, so it seldom happened. Finally, I quit putting it on my list.

You may be quicker than I was to realize something on your list made it there for someone else instead of for you. When you realize that “X” is your parent’s dream, your husband’s dream, or your best friend’s dream, feel free to cross it out. This is your list – not theirs.

Yes, considering the opinions of people you love can be helpful. And yes, your husband’s dreams should match yours in some areas. But he may have no desire to become a freelance photographer, while it’s all you can think about.

But right now, you are focusing on your dreams and your goals. If you put anything on your list because you felt you should – for any reason or anyone – then strongly consider removing it (unless, of course, it’s a Biblical command or something like that!).

The Goal Setting Process is in the Cards

Hopefully, you’ve removed a few items from your list – that was the easy part! The next step is to categorize your remaining list. While you’re doing this exercise, you may find that some items fit in more than one category. When this happens, place the card only in the primary category. For example, if you listed “Earn a certificate in X” your motivation could be Personal Growth, Career, or Finances. Which would be the best category for that dream? Put it there.

In Goal Setting 101, I listed 10 major areas of life suggested by Hal Elrod in his book The Miracle Morning. Those 10 areas are

  • Marriage or Significant Relationship
  • Family & Friends
  • Faith
  • Career
  • Finances
  • Health & Fitness
  • Giving
  • Fun & Recreation
  • Physical Environment
  • Personal Growth

When I first started using categories in my goal setting process, those were the ones I used. But I personally find 10 areas a bit much, so I now use the following eight categories for myself.

  • Marriage – this includes anything and everything related to making my marriage better.
  • Relationships – this includes my relationships with my grown sons and their wives, my grandchildren, extended family members, friends, and people whose friendship I’d like to cultivate.
  • Faith & Ministry – I added ministry to this category because I think spiritual growth and ministry are – or at least should be – linked together. I do not limit ‘ministry’ to my church, but also include areas in the community or areas I’d like to pursue.
  • Career – this one is mostly self-explanatory, but aside from business goals, I also include learning goals that will affect my career.
  • Finances & Giving – I think these should never have been two categories!
  • Home Projects – Anything home related – from spring cleaning to remodeling the kitchen!
  • Personal Growth & Self-Improvement – I eliminated the “Health & Fitness” category and added those ideas here. Items like weight loss, regular medical care, improved time management, and joining a gym would all fit in this category. But so would personal growth items like improving time management and scheduling regular unplugging time.
  • Fun & Recreation – I kept this as is because I am so prone to work-work-work. Having “Fun & Recreation” as a separate category helps me focus on making the time for downtime!

You can pick and choose or make totally new categories that fit your life. I would suggest no less than five categories and no more than ten.

steps in the goal setting process

One way to categorize is with index cards (this also makes the next step easier!). Write one category title on one card. Next, write each big dream on one card. Clear off your kitchen table and start categorizing. You can move things around however you like. If you’re into digital planning, Trello also works like index cards.

I find that doing this helps me see if I’m unbalanced by having 10 big dreams in one category and none in three categories! If you find this is the case for you – you may want to return to the “Dream Big” step in Goal Setting 101.

Once you’ve categorized everything, it’s time for the next hard choice: ranking.

Rank Your Big Dreams

So, you have your index cards all over your table in their proper categories. Don’t clean up! Continue by moving them around with the most important (to you) item in each category at the top and the least important at the bottom. The top items should be the ones you are most fired up about.

Place every card in its proper category and rank, then step away. Do the dishes, eat on tray tables that night, go for a run. Anything to give you space and time. When you come back to your card-covered table, it will be with fresh eyes.

When looking over your cards a second time, be prepared to see things you didn’t see before. You may change the order of cards. You may decide to add a card or remove a card. You may decide to combine cards.

While you’re doing all this shuffling and reshuffling, take time to write notes on your cards. For example, maybe “Take a Mediterranean cruise” is one of your Recreation cards. You could add notes like “start saving; goal = $3,00 before researching” or “research cruises” or “plan for 25th anniversary.” Notes such as these help you to envision actually achieving some big dreams and give you a framework for planning.

Once you are finished and happy with the sorting and ranking, take a picture!! You may want to refer back to it later.

Turning Your Dreams into Goals

Now that you have your big dreams, all neatly categorized and ranked, it’s time to turn those dreams into goals. As with the “pre-goal setting” stage and the “goal setting process” stage, turning dreams into goals has a few steps.

Note, Notes, Notes

If you have not already done so, write a few quick notes on every card. These notes could include proposed deadlines, required prerequisites, other people to consult, or why this is important to you. The more you record about your dreams, the more help those cards will give you in turning your dreams into goals.

Every time you work on one card, try to add a few more details. It is especially important to focus on WHY each dream is important to you and your proposed deadlines. For example, if one of your big dreams is to open your own daycare center, your why could be based on your experiences with daycare for your own children, your friends’ experiences, your love for children, and your desire to have your own business. Maybe this is a 3-year or 5-year goal, but you need to start working on that 3-year deadline this year. Details can guide your goal setting process.

Narrowing Your Focus

Now comes the really, really hard part. What dreams will become your big goals for the upcoming year? Experts suggest having three goals, with five as a maximum for over-achievers. Depressing, isn’t it? You got all excited about working towards your big dreams and now you’re told you can only pick three!

But…it isn’t as bad as you think for two reasons.

First, working on “Goal A” this year may actually help you reach “Goals B, C, and D” sooner. For example, one of my big dreams is to visit Italy. But I can’t afford it right now. So, one of my goals for this coming year is to focus on increasing my income from blogging and writing. If I succeed in my income goal, I’ll be closer to reaching the Italy goal.

Second, working on “Goal A” might also mean you’ll need to focus on “Goals E, F, or G” in order to reach “Goal A.” Drawing on my example from above, to increase my income I need to finish a few online courses I’m taking and become better at time management so I spend more time on the most important aspects of blogging and writing. Although the courses and time management aren’t big dreams, they are important goals to me. And focusing on my “Big Dream Goal A” will help me reach those smaller goals.

As you can see, narrowing your focus can be very helpful in achieving both your big dream goals and your “nagging-in-the-back-of-your-mind” goals.

So, now that I’ve convinced you that narrowing your focus isn’t terrible, how do you do it? Most importantly, you must ask yourself questions and answer them honestly and thoroughly. That means paragraph answers, not sentence answers!

  • If I could only focus on one big dream goal this coming year, which one would have the biggest impact on my life? Why do I think that one goal would have the biggest impact?
  • Which goal would move me closer to achieving my other big dream goals? How would achieving that goal make it more likely or easier for me to achieve my other big dream goals?
  • What are the ways my life will change for the better when I reach that goal?
  • Do I believe, after praying, that God would be pleased with my focus on that goal? If yes, what are some Biblical principles or verses that can encourage me in focusing on that goal? If no, you may need to revise it or remove it from your list.

This is how I work through this step:

  1. First, I pray at the start and throughout this part (and all other parts) of the goal-setting process.
  2. Next, I ask myself questions about the top big dream in each category (if one category has a lot of cards, I might do the top two).
  3. Once I have my answers – written out – I weed out the obvious “losers.” These are the cards that will have the least impact on my life. Frequently, these are big dreams that are narrowly focused (and maybe not big enough?). Hopefully, this gets me down to five or six – remember I only have eight categories to start with. An example would be traveling to Italy.
  4. I take the remaining five or six cards and put everything else away.
  5. Then, I take a break. Read, do some yard work, fix dinner – whatever. After an hour or two, I come back and read through each card’s notes, along with the questions I asked myself and my answers. Hopefully, this process will reveal to me that working on “Goal A” will make achieving “Goal X” more likely – so I leave “Goal X” for another time.
  6. If I still have more than three cards, at this point, I ask myself one last question: Which one or two of these goals am I most excited about working towards? This question taps into my excitement and willingness to commit. Without a strong commitment and motivation to succeed, the goal-setting process is just a mental exercise that leads nowhere.
  7. Finally, I have my cards which become my goals. I may have one goal, two goals, or three goals. Three is my maximum for my own sanity and ability to follow through.

Write Your Goals in Simple, Direct Sentences

If you’ve faithfully followed this goal setting process, you now have just a few goals to focus on. The next step is to write your goal in an easy-to-remember sentence. For example, my goal of increasing my income would be written like this: “By December 2020, I will be earning an average of $2,000 per month from blogging, writing, and related activities.”

That’s the goal I’m committing to working towards. It’s short, simple, and direct. It’s easy to write on note cards to place around the house. It’s easy to memorize and recite to myself when I get discouraged. It has a definite deadline and defined amount I want to earn. This simple sentence can keep me going when I want to give up. And it’s easy to evaluate when 2020 draws to a close – did I reach this goal or not?

goal setting directions

Final Steps to Come

The steps outlined above are quite a bit to work through. But they are critical to setting goals that you are truly committed to achieving. Once you’ve completed them all, give yourself a high-five and a pat on the back. You’ve done a lot of work.

However, the work is not done. Next week, we will look at taking the big goals you’ve committed to and breaking them down into actionable steps.

So, what will you do while waiting for the final steps? Hopefully, you are motivated to start in on a goal-setting process that can change your life. Start today!

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