Whether you want to climb the corporate ladder or make a career change, goal setting is essential for professional growth. A career without goals is like going on a journey without a map or GPS. You won’t know where you are, let alone where you are going. Even if you knew where you were headed, you wouldn’t know how to get there. The result? You wander around in circles and maybe even come back to where you started. That’s why so many people feel stuck in their careers and don’t know how to break free.
Once you clearly define your professional goals, you can develop a plan to achieve them. Here are a few strategies to get you started.
What do Olympic athletes do to prepare for a big event? Top performers train themselves to visualize their goals right before a competition. They see themselves winning the game or scoring match point. By visualizing success instead of failure, the chance of reaching your goal increases exponentially. This technique can be used in various situations, whether you’re preparing for a job interview or planning your next career move. Not only does seeing yourself succeed increase your confidence, but it also helps you achieve your dreams.
Break career goals down into small steps
As Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” First, identify your ultimate goal and then break it down into smaller action steps. Taking this approach helps to organize your thoughts and build momentum. You will also be less likely to procrastinate because your goal suddenly seems much easier to attain.
Create specific but flexible career goals
Career goals should be specific while giving you enough freedom to change course when needed. Typically, there isn’t a direct route to reaching your goals. In Arianna Huffington’s words, “success is not a straight line, it’s much more of a dance and being open to possibilities.”
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Make your career goals challenging
A truly effective goal should challenge you to achieve great things. That’s what New York Times bestselling author Mark Murphy refers to as HARD goals. HARD goals are heartfelt, animated, required and difficult. There are four questions to ask yourself when taking this approach:
1.) Why do you want this goal? (heartfelt)
2.) What are you doing one year, three years, and five years from now? (animated)
3.) What do you need to accomplish by the end of the next six months to stay on track toward achieving this goal? What about by the end of the next 90 days? The next 30 days? What’s one thing you can accomplish today? (required)
4.) What are the three to five most important skills you’ll need to develop to achieve this goal? How will you develop those skills? (difficult)
Employ accountability tactics
Accountability is a critical component of bringing goals to fruition. One way to do this is to write your goals down. Documenting your goals on paper helps you clarify what you want to achieve and makes you more likely to follow through. And describing your goals in great detail is strongly associated with success. In one study, people who vividly picture their goals are anywhere from 1.2 to 1.4 times more likely to accomplish them than people who don’t. Another way to hold yourself accountable is to share your goals with someone who cares about you and will support you in achieving them. You may also consider hiring a non-judgmental third party like a coach who can hold you accountable while also providing inspiration and motivation.
It is never too early, or too late, to start mapping out your career objectives. Setting goals is crucial because it gives you a framework to achieve milestones. Remember, dreaming of a destination feels good. But goal setting provides a path for you to actually get there.