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How to Set Goals You’ll Actually Meet

Setting a goal is easy—all you need is a pen and some paper. But moving beyond writing something down to actually doing it can be difficult, especially if you don’t think strategically about how to move from dreaming to accomplishing. Fortunately, even if you think of yourself as someone who is bad at sticking to goals, adjusting your habits and mindset can make a huge difference—as can proper planning and strategizing.

During the session “How to Set Goals You’ll Actually Meet” at the NextGen Professional Development Virtual Summit: Advance Your Gov Career, Melissa Kepler of Guidehouse and Amelia Cohen-Levy of the National Geo-Spatial Intelligence Agency shared with attendees a wealth of advice on setting yourself up for success.

Kepler started things off with a walkthrough of a very manageable goal-setting plan. First, she recommended, identify the what: identifying exactly what it is that you want to accomplish. Next comes the why: defining what the goal means to you and what you hope to get from achieving it. Finally, it’s time to think about how: what steps will you plan on taking to reach the goal?

The how can be the most intimidating part of the process, so Kepler shared a strategy that many in government utilize: the SMART method. SMART is an acronym that helps break goal-setting and achieving down into manageable bites; according to it, goals should be:

Specific: exactly what to accomplish.

Measurable: how can you tell you’ve done it? Having clear indicators makes tracking one’s progress easier.

Achievable: within realm of possibility. This doesn’t mean one shouldn’t aim high, it just means that one should invest their time in goals that they can deliver on.

Relevant: connected to life and needs. A goal shouldn’t be set just so one has something to aim for, but rather because one finds something worth aiming for.

Time-Bound: having a clear window of time in which to accomplish the goal can drive achievement—as Kepler put it, “Do you need to become a better manager before the end of this year, or before the heat death of the universe?”

As Cohen-Levy came up to bat, the focus was on motivation—developing and maintaining the drive necessary for reaching one’s goals. She highlighted the importance of internal motivation as opposed to external motivation when it comes to lighting a fire that will keep itself burning. When one is driven from within, one is much more likely to find the passion needed to reach the finish line, which is why choosing relevant, appealing goals is so important.

In relation to this, said Cohen-Levy, identifying one’s values can be a vital part of goal setting. Making sure that your values are aligned with what you’re hoping to achieve can have a major impact on the achievement of goals.

Finding a team, she said, can also be helpful; having an outside perspective on one’s journey, or simply different skillsets to apply to obstacles that may arise, can make the difference between struggling and succeeding.

To wrap up the presentation, Kepler advocated for making a plan that utilizes one’s best tools. Think about what you are drawn to and what you are known for, she said, and consider these things to be your strengths. Come up with a plan that leans on these strengths, apply them to any problems that arise, and you will have an easier time reaching the goal you have set for yourself.

With that being said, in Kepler’s words, “No plan survives first contact with the enemy, and in this case, the enemy is reality,” so be prepared to work around a roadblock or draw on your team if the going gets especially tough.

Cohen-Levy left attendees with an important closing point, which is that compassion for one’s self should not be overlooked when in hot pursuit of a goal. Stumbling or even falling is allowed, and anger or disappointment is likely to be counterproductive in these situations. Instead, reorienting, revising, and then forging ahead with an adjusted plan can turn a slip-up into an opportunity for growth.

Following through on goals you’ve set can seem challenging, but with the right preparation and attitude, it doesn’t have to be. By implementing best practices and creating a thoughtful, intelligent plan, achieving your goals can be almost as simple as writing them down.

If you want to attend sessions like this one at future virtual summits, pre-register today!

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