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Knowing how to set actionable goals is a strong mark of successful behavior no matter what you’re trying to achieve. Popular author, motivational speaker, and salesman Zig Zigler once said, “
Goal Setting: What the Science Says
If the concept of goal setting is new to you or you haven’t tried it on certain things, it’s interesting to review what research indicates. For example:
A 2018 collective analysis of various studies explains the neuroscience behind goals and our ability to achieve them. In a nutshell, goal achievement requires us to have both “the ‘way’ of goal pursuit—the set of cognitive skills, capacities, and abilities collectively known as executive function—and the ‘will’—the motivational factors that propel behavior. Although parts of the ‘way’ are limited by constraints that may be difficult to change, the ‘will’ can be influenced by incentives both within the person and without.”
Michigan State University references an “evidence-based approach” to goal setting: writing them down. It points to research by Gail Matthews, a psychologist and former professor at Dominican University of California, that indicates “accountability, commitment, and writing down one’s goals” creates a better path to success. The results of the study showed that “76 percent of participants who wrote down their goals, actions, and provided weekly progress to a friend successfully achieved their goals.”
The results of another study, as published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, indicate that “people with higher motivation are less likely to be intimidated by goals.” Consequently, they’re able to reach goals with greater efficiency and quality.
However, there can also be a downside to a goal-driven life. A 2021 article published in Frontiers in Psychology noted another study indicating that “participants who failed a high and specific goal showed a decrease in affect, self-esteem, and motivation compared to participants who attained that goal. Results indicate that failing a high and specific goal can be damaging for self-related factors that may be crucial for organizational long-term outcomes.”
What does this mean to you? Start with small, detailed goals and use your increased abilities to work up to larger accomplishments. Here’s how to do it.
How to Set Actionable Goals for Success
A frequently cited structure for goal development is SMART. Created in the 1980s by business consultant George T. Doran, SMART goals are a framework for setting objectives that are:
- Specific. Goals should be clear and well-defined. They answer the questions “What do I want to accomplish?” “Why is it important?” “Who is involved?” “Where will it happen?” “What resources are required?”
- Measurable. There should be criteria to evaluate progress and determine if the goal has been met. This involves quantifying or qualifying the goal, such as using numbers, percentages, or other indicators to track progress.
- Achievable. Goals should be realistic and attainable. They should stretch your abilities but remain possible to achieve. They should also align with your capabilities and resources.
- Relevant. Your goals should also align with your broader objectives or long-term plans. They should be important and beneficial, contributing positively to your overall direction and objectives.
- Time-bound. Goals should have a deadline or a time frame. This creates a sense of urgency and helps in prioritizing efforts. Having a clear time frame also helps in evaluating progress.
The SMART criteria help in creating clear, actionable goals that increase the likelihood of success. For instance, let’s say you have a vague goal like “I want to have a stronger sober network.” Turning this into a SMART goal could look like: “I will attend two peer support recovery meetings per week for the next six months, and arrange one coffee date monthly.”
Along with SMART goals, Eastern Washington University (EWU) states people often achieve more when they:
- Establish both short- and long-term goals.
- Stay true to what motivates them.
- Write down goals and put them someplace as a visual reminder.
- Are flexible and adjust goals if necessary instead of giving up.
- Recognize accomplishments and reward themselves upon completion of a goal.
EWU offers a variety of goal-setting worksheets and exercises to help you get started.
Focused Dual Diagnosis Care at Great Oaks
Part of any successful addiction rehabilitation continuing care plan is to identify how to create a more meaningful future. The professionals at Great Oaks Recovery Center outside of Houston, Texas strive to introduce you to various techniques and therapeutic tools to help you accomplish more in your life. If you’re ready for this type of whole-person attention, talk to a member of our admissions team today.