Pat Stricker, RN

We are all familiar with setting goals. It is something we do daily helping our patients/clients set their healthcare goals and something we do on an annual basis as we set our work performance goals. But how often do we really think about the overall goal-setting process and how it relates to, not only our work life, but to our personal life. I would venture to guess that most of us take a lot more time and effort defining our work-related goals, than we do our personal goals. Work-related goals are usually done in a much more formal, written format, whereas personal goals are more often than not a one-line general statement that is usually not even written down. Let’s take a look at the formal goal-setting process and see how it can be used to help us achieve some of our important personal life goals, as well.

The following are definitions for a GOAL:

  • An intention or purpose
  • The object of a person’s ambition or effort; an aim or desired result
  • The end toward which effort is directed – an AIM
  • An idea of the future or desired result that a person envisions, plans and commits to achieve
  • An observable and measurable end result having one or more objectives to be achieved within a more or less fixed timeframe


Why We Need Goals

People without goals do not have a vision and plan for what they want to achieve in life. They seem to drift through life and accept whatever comes. They may work hard, but they do not try to develop a plan to take control of their life. They also may seem to appear complacent, bored or lethargic. On the other hand, those who are goal-oriented think about what they want out of life, determine what they can do to make it happen, and set goals to achieve their desired vision.

Developing goals is a key component of life. Goals help us develop a vision, direction, and path for our life. They give us a sense of clarity and focus to identify the things that are important to us and how we can achieve them. They provide us with a sense of passion, purpose, ambition, and control to make things happen, instead of just waiting for life to occur. Goals affect our thinking and actions and make us motivated and enthusiastic about what we want to do with our life.  Focusing on achieving positive goals provides us with positive outcomes that lead to a sense of accomplishment. This, in turn, leads to increased self-confidence and the more confidence you have, the more goals you will want to set.

Developing a life vision is essential. It requires defining long-term goals with associated objectives (a series of tasks or steps) that help us reach that vision. The world is so full of options that it’s easy to be overwhelmed when faced with some life decisions. How can we decide which options to choose and which to ignore? Having pre-defined long-term goals helps identify the direction you want to take in life. They let you quickly filter the options that either fit into your future vision or do not lead you in the direction you have chosen. All you have to do when faced with this type of decision is ask yourself one simple question – “Is this option aligned with my long-term goals?”  If “yes”, do it. If not, skip it.

GoalBuddy, a goal-setting system, describes this as the “Focus Filter”, helping you to focus on the things that are important to you. The GoalBuddy System is a good tool for anyone who wants to learn more about goal setting. It offers a free Complete Guide to Goal Setting that includes: web-based training materials, web-based tools with exercises, templates, podcasts, and a free mobile application.

Types of Goals

There are many types of goals that help define our life vision or work performance. These are a few examples of goals and corresponding questions you might ask yourself. For each of these, the last question will be “What will it take to achieve those goals?”

  • Personal – What do you see for your life in the future? What are the most important things you need to have in your life?
  • Academic – What knowledge, qualifications, or type of education do you want to achieve? What level do you want to achieve?
  • Career – What type of career do you want? What area do you want to focus on? What are the important aspects of that career? What level do you want to reach?
  • Financial – What salary range do you hope to earn at a given point in your life?
  • Creative or Physical – Do you want to progress creatively or artistically or do you want to develop your skill in a certain sport or other physical activity? If so, in what area(s)?
  • Performance (Work-related) – What can you do to enhance the organizational or departmental strategic goals? How can you help improve quality or reduce costs? What do you want to do to improve your personal work performance or work experience?

Making Goals Achievable

Most people tend to make goals at some point in their lives, yet many feel that they have a hard time meeting them. They feel they are accomplishing very little, getting nowhere, and are just taking what life offers them, instead of trying to determine their own path. That generally occurs because people don’t take the time and effort to develop a vision for their future – what they want to achieve in life. They need to develop goals that are well defined, realistic, and achievable.

When looking at the definitions of a goal, one indicated a goal needed to be clearly defined and measurable, have specific objectives (tasks or steps), and have a defined timeframe. This actually defines a goal-setting process called SMART, which is designed to help you clarify your goals, focus your efforts, use time and resources productively, and increase your chances of achieving your life vision. The SMART system focuses on developing goals that are clear and reachable:

  • Specific (simple, sensible, significant).
  • Measurable (meaningful, motivating).
  • Achievable (agreed, attainable).
  • Relevant (reasonable, realistic and resourced, results-based).
  • Time bound (time-based, time limited, time/cost limited, timely, time-sensitive).

This system was defined about 40 years ago and has been updated by others who have suggested adding other areas of focus, such as: SMARTER that adds Evaluation and Review, and other areas that focus that include Efficacy and Feedback.

The following examples from the SMART system illustrate how to develop and achieve goals that are:
1.       Specific — All goals need to be clear and specific in order to focus your efforts on achieving them. Avoid using general statements. Ask yourself these five questions:

  • What am I trying to accomplish?
  • Why is this goal important?
  • Who is involved?
  • Where is it located?
  • Which resources or limits/barriers are involved?

Example — A specific goal may be: “I want to gain skills and experience to become the director of the department in order to build my career, increase my salary, and achieve a position on the leadership team.”

  1. Measurable Goals need to be measurable in order to track progress. This helps you stay focused, meet deadlines, and feel excited and motivated as you get close to achieving the goal. Ask yourself these quantifiable questions:
  • How much will it cost? How much time will it take?
  • How many qualifications do I need to get? How many leadership classes do I need? How may leadership teams should I be on?

How will I know when it is accomplished?

Comments:  You could measure your goal of acquiring the director position by completing the necessary leadership course, attaining your certification, and gaining the 3-5 years of required management experience.

  1. Achievable — A goal should stretch your abilities, but it still needs to be realistic and attainable. An achievable goal should answer these questions:
  • How can I accomplish this goal?
  • Do I have the required management and leadership experience?
  • How realistic is the goal, based on my time constraints, finances, and family obligations?
  • Do I have the family support to achieve this goal?
    • Am I capable of obtaining the required experience and qualifications?

Comments:  Your goal of getting the skills, experience, and training needed to be considered for the promotion is entirely up to you and in your control. However, the final decision of whether you get the position or not is dependent on others, such as a selection committee, human resources, a recruiter, etc.

2.       Relevant — The goals need to be important to you and align with other relevant goals. You need to have control over the goal and be responsible for achieving it. A relevant goal should answer “yes” to these questions:

  • Does this seem worthwhile?
  • Is it the right time? Do I have time make this a reality?
  • Does this match my other efforts/needs?
  • Am I the right person to reach this goal?
  • Is this the right time based on needs within the family? Does it fit with my spouses goals?

3.       Time-bound –Every goal needs a target date that provides a deadline to focus on and something to work toward. This helps prevent everyday tasks from taking priority over longer-term goals.

These questions should be asked:

  • When will I be able to acquire the skills and training I need?
  • What can I do six months from now?
  • What can I do six weeks from now?
  • What can I do today?

Comments:  Be sure to also determine a realistic time frame for accomplishing the smaller objectives (tasks/steps) that are necessary to achieve your final goal.


Key Strategies for Achieving Goals

  • Before setting goals, start by analyzing your past experiences to identify what helped or stood in the way of you meeting your goals. Is there a goal I constantly fail? Do I tend to set easy or hard goals? Do I procrastinate in working on my goals? Am I truly committed to my goals or do I just make a quick list, because I need to have something to show my boss? Also take a look into the future and determine what you envision when you goals are met.

Analyzing past and future goals before you begin to set your goals may seem like a strange way to start the goal-setting process, but it will help you identify more about yourself and what is important to you. It is a key strategy to help you put things in perspective, which will make goal-setting easier.

  • Keep the process simple. Set fewer goals that you definitely want to meet. Usually three goals per quarter are recommended. However you could choose up to seven goals, but be careful, that could lead to failure due to loss of focus and time to get the goals completed.
  • Make sure each goal is actionable. This is a key technique for success.
  • Start with small steps, then as you see progress move up to larger steps. This will increase your motivation and before long you will be meeting your goal.
  • Try to find someone to mentor you. Their advice and encouragement will be invaluable. If that isn’t possible, find someone you can talk with about your goals to offer you support. Partners help provide you with incentive and accountability.
  • Review your list of goals and objectives (tasks/steps) frequently and revise them, as needed.
  • Acknowledge your progress and be grateful for your progress, even if it is slower than you hoped. This is still a positive outcome and should help raise your enthusiasm and motivation. This is another key aspect for success. Don’t get discouraged, as this can lead to guilt, negativity, and loss of motivation.

Work-related Goals

This article has dealt primarily with personal goals, since we probably don’t spend as much time on those goals, as we do on work-related goals. We set our performance goals at least annually and work with patients/clients almost daily in helping them set their healthcare goals. These are a more formal and defined processes, however they follow similar basic principles, as discussed above for personal goals.

Each year organizations set strategic goals for the upcoming year. In turn, departments, units, and functional areas use those goals to set even more specific goals for programs, products and services that coincide with the strategic goals. Managers then work with their individual staff members to develop individual performance goals that align with the departmental and strategic organizational goals. Using this type of process ensures that all areas and individuals in an organization are focused on the same overall goals and striving to achieve excellence in their organizational and individual goals.

This process seems easier because the strategic and departmental goals are already defined and our individual goals are developed to align with them. So we just need to use the SMART principles to develop goals that are pertinent to our role and responsibilities, yet align with the strategic goals. We also add some personal performance goals that will improve our individual work performance.

There is no need to go into any more detail about developing these goals, since the process is similar, but keep these things in mind when thinking about developing work-related goals.

·         Use Strategic Thinking Skills: Review the strategic organizational and departmental goals before developing yours. Ensure your goals coincide with them and help achieve those goals.

  • Identify Problems That Could Impede the Strategic Goals: Think about the strategic goals and identify problems that are making it difficult to meet those goals. Look for ways to develop a goal that solves a problem that is being ignored, because everyone thinks there isn’t any way to fix it. That will provide more value that trying to develop yet another goal for a problem everyone is aware of. Another idea would be to develop a goal that would help enhance revenue and provide more value to the organization.

·         Develop Goals That Have Defined Objectives:  These will break down larger, more complex goals into specific objectives (smaller tasks/steps) that can be achieved in a 3-6 month timeframe, instead of goals that take an entire year. This results in smaller, more defined manageable pieces and timeframes that can lead to even more value to the organization.
In summary, to be successful in achieving any type of goal, you need to spend time determining what is really important to you or the organization. You also need to choose goals that excite or motive you, since that makes it easier for you to make a solid commitment to diligently work to achieve them. When defining your goals you need to make sure they are Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound. And for larger, more complex goals, you need to break them down into smaller objectives (tasks/steps) in order to ensure achieving the overall goal.


“What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as
what you become by achieving your goals.”

Henry David Thoreau