Three Characteristics of Goals

According to Jeff Davidson, author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Reaching Your GoalsExternal Link, for a goal to be effective it must satisfy three basic characteristics. Before checking if your goals contain these three characteristics, you should make sure that they satisfy the following assumptions:

  • Your goal should be positive in nature. Goals stated in the positive are much more effective than goals stated in the negative and provide a sound basis for planning future actions.
  • Your goal should not interfere with the rights of others.
  • Your goal should be based on reality and be possible to achieve.
  • You intend to support your goal through energy and effort.

Challenging but Reachable

Your goals should be challenging but reachable: challenging so that you are motivated to work for it, reachable so that you can achieve it. Sometimes your goals may require small changes to bring it in line with reality.

If your goal is especially challenging, consider the following:

  • Research and understand the area — read, talk to others, find someone who has already achieved this goal, etc.
  • Prepare for a high level of commitment
  • Reconsider your time line. Obviously, more difficult goals can take longer to complete.
  • Identify crucial resources. What will you need to complete your goal?
  • Break your goal down into more manageable sub-goals

Specific and Quantifiable

It is important when stating your goals that they are specific and concrete. If you state your goals in too general a way then it can be difficult to know what steps to take to achieve it and it can also be difficult to know when you actually have achieved it. One way to ensure that your goal is specific is to make sure that it is quantifiable. This means that your goal should be measurable in some way.

Here are some examples of vaguely worded phrases and some suggestions on how to improve them:

Vague phrase More Specific Phrase
I want to earn more money I want to increase my monthly earnings by $500
I want to watch less TV I want to watch at most 3 hours of TV a week
I want to have more free time I want to have five hours a week to pursue my own interests
I want to improve my health I want to lose 15 pounds as well as learn and follow the fundamentals of a healthy diet
I want to spend more time with my family I want to spend time every day giving at least 20 minutes of individual attention to each of my children.
I want to set aside one day a month for a family event

Note that in the example specific phrases in the table above it is absolutely clear what the goal is supposed to achieve and it is also clear when the goal will be reached.

Some things to keep in mind when trying to state your goal are:

  • The more specific your goal is the easier it will be to plan and achieve
  • Your goal needs to be stated in a way that it will be obvious when you have achieved it
  • Replace superlative words (such as most, best, least, etc.) with a specific quantity
  • Vaguely worded goals can hide a collection of sub goals

For goals that are especially difficult to quantify or measure think of objective signs that you have reached your goal. For example, if your goal is to be more approachable at work, you may consider you have achieved this goal when you have a week where at least five people initiate a conversation with you.

Associated With a Timeline

It is important to associate a timeline with your goal. This moves it from the realm of 'I will get around to it someday' to something that you have a clear idea of when you will work on it and when it will be completed. Having a timeline will increase your focus on your goal as well as provide a sense of urgency. A timeline is also important for scheduling the tasks that take you towards your goal.

Even though the timeline is self imposed, you should follow it like any other scheduled activity. While this involves a certain amount of self discipline, a properly stated goal should provide you with the motivation to follow through.

There are several factors to keep in mind when coming up with a timeline for your goal:

  • Your goal should include a specific time by which you want to achieve it.
  • When choosing a date by when you want to achieve your goal you need to be realistic.
  • If you are unsure what a reasonable deadline for your goal is make an educated guess. You will know soon enough if your timeline is reasonable or not. You can always make revisions to it later.
  • Allow for unforeseen events in your time estimate: your car breaks down, your computer crashes, you have to work overtime, etc.
  • A timeline should be short enough to keep the goal challenging but long enough to keep it achievable.

It is OK to adjust the timeline of a goal if either your initial timeline was unrealistic or if events outside of your control interfere with your process. However, it is good to be in the habit of sticking to following your timeline so that you are motivated to reach your goal and so that you learn to trust your commitments to yourself.




Related Pages

Goal Setting - Misconceptions
Three Characteristics of Goals
Notes On Goal Setting
Motivation towards your Goals
Choosing Goals
Goal Setting Process