The Importance of Goals
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One of the earliest profound questions asked of a child is “What do you want to become when you grow older?” The child’s typical response would be to state a profession – to become a teacher, nurse, doctor, pilot, or an engineer- or to state a longing –to be rich, or become famous, etc. In some cultures, parents will indoctrinate the child into following in the family’s tradition or profession, or inform the child what he or she will become, for example “You are going to become a doctor.” Many adults do not realize that by presenting an image to the child, they are positioning the child to begin an exploration of seeing him or herself in the future. This is what constitutes a vision. When you allow yourself to see into a future time and capture an image with no impossibility, you are envisioning a future reality. This vision may change and evolve numerous times, but it is the beginning of what would make or break future endeavors. Each person should have a vision of what he or she hopes to accomplish. Likewise, leaders are encouraged to have a vision, an image of what they wish the organization and those they lead to accomplish. This vision should be shared so that it encourages others to thrive towards meaningful endeavors. In Habakkuk 2:2: (AMP), the prophet was told to write the vision plainly to motivate others who would read it. In sharing your vision, you motivate others or allow others to hold you accountable until the vision is accomplished.
Having a vision by itself does not guarantee success. In fact, many individuals spend countless hours daydreaming on what they wish to accomplish rather than formulating action steps or goals to accomplish the vision or visions. Formulating goals are necessary to accomplish a plan or achieve a vision. One of the challenges in assisting others to stay on track is to help them formulate clear, concrete and specific goals. One must be smart in setting goals. The acronym S.M.A.R.T. goals are attributed to Peter Drucker’s Management by Objective plan with each letter providing a template to formulate concrete goals. Without concrete steps, individuals may get off track, or become anxious pursuing vague, generalized and abstract goals. So what are S.M.A.R.T. goals?
Goals must be Specific (S) versus being vague or ambiguous, and must define what the individual hopes to achieve. Such goals must also be simple and sensible. Goals must be Measurable (M) to facilitate a determination of whether one is making progress towards the identified objective or track the progress towards completion. Measurable goals keep one motivated and engaged as he/she progresses towards the goals and bears fruit. Goals must be Attainable (A) and must be able to be accomplished versus goals that are impossible to achieve. Goals must be Relevant (R) to the individual or organization as well as realistic. Setting unrealistic goals lead to early termination of efforts, demoralization and demotivation. Goals must be Timely (T) or Time bound in which a specific deadline or time frame is set for the completion of the goals. For example, consider an eighteen year-old who has hopes of one day becoming the fastest 100 meters’ athlete in history and at age 65, he still carries this dream but never took steps to accomplish this goal. While this goal may have been attainable at an earlier point in his life, with no time limit established early to achieve this goal, this young man has passed the physical capabilities to allow him to attain this goal which is now unrealistic. Some have suggested that Goals must be SMARTER, which relies on one’s ability to Evaluate (E) the goals periodically as well as Review (R) the strategies and progress towards accomplishing the established goals.
Moreover, once goals are identified, one needs to take the requisite steps to align oneself with the necessary tools, mentor or coach, and fortitude to succeed. As is often the case, attaining one’s goal may involve periodic assessment of the progress and capabilities that are needed to accomplish the goals. To become competent in setting SMART goals, one needs to practice the goal setting skills by starting with simple goals (to graduate with the BA in Psychology from Pillar College within 4 years) and then progress with higher goals (to purchase a home within my current community by the year 2022). Always remember that it is never too late to begin the process of establishing S.M.A.R.T. goals and them strategizing to accomplish the goals. So, as a child visualizes his future as a successful professional, so begin your path towards your goals with a vision of what is to be accomplished. See the vision, create the goals, make a plan, and then work the plan.
Finally, once the goal is set, one should never allow circumstances or obstacles to deter one from forging forward to accomplish one’s goals. Dr. Martin Luther King was victimized as a child and lived through the period of social and political injustices. It is alleged that he attempted suicide twice before the age of 13 years. He channeled his energies towards ending segregation and discrimination within an unjust society by utilizing non-violent civil disobedience. In spite of threats, violence and arrests, he was never deterred from his goals and ultimately received the Nobel Peace Prize for his work, and in 1964, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act outlawing segregation and racial discrimination in employment and education. Dr. King continued his quest for a more just and equitable society until his assassination in 1968, and others like him, continue his work to date. Like Dr. King, we should be passionate about our goals and persevere in spite of formidable odds.
Maxine Bradshaw, Ph. D.
Chair and Professor of Psychology and Counseling
Division of Traditional Undergraduate Studies