Why set goals?
If you want to accomplish as much as possible — both personally and professionally — you must commit to a solid plan, says Annie Fongheiser, MS, a licensed psychotherapist and area chair of the psychology program for the College of Social Sciences at the University of Phoenix® Charlotte Campus.
“Goal setting is an inherent component of human behavior,” Fongheiser emphasizes. Here, she describes four benefits of setting reasonable personal and professional objectives:
Mental health improves.
Completing even the most routine tasks triggers the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter essential to healthy brain activity. “This is part of the brain’s reward function,” Fongheiser explains. “That dopamine release provides us with a positive sense of well-being, which in turn makes task completion an inherent biological drive.”
Most people set goals throughout their lives without even realizing it, she points out.
“For example, grocery shopping involves a series of steps to meet that goal,” she says. “You clip coupons, you choose a store and then you actually shop. We do all of that automatically, but the same process is used for more complex, less routine goal setting, too.”
The same brain chemistry that drives you to check off items on your to-do list can help keep you inspired.
“Because of the dopamine reward we receive, each goal we reach becomes personally satisfying, and we naturally want more of that,” Fongheiser says. “It can be addictive in a positive way, and that can lead to an inherent sense of accomplishment that normally continues to build on itself.”
She recommends setting simple, easily attainable goals that you can accomplish rather than ones that are too broad or out of reach. “Use the acronym SMART — specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely — when setting your goals,” she stresses.
For instance, “maybe you ultimately want to go to graduate school, but if that’s too intimidating, your first goal could be to complete your associate degree within two years,” she says. “Once you’ve accomplished that, your next goal could be the bachelor’s degree within another two years, and so on.” Fongheiser says she used this strategy in school.
Confidence gets a boost.
The more goals you reach, the better you’ll feel about yourself, she maintains. “Often, depression, nonaction and other dysfunctional behaviors contribute to a lack of confidence,” she says. “But making and executing a plan to improve [your] life can counteract that.”
Instead of dwelling on insecurities, self-doubt and fear of failure, Fongheiser recommends focusing on all you’ve already accomplished, which can lay the foundation for more positive goal setting.
“Just deciding to go back to college requires a leap of faith, and I always tell my students that they’ve already accomplished a huge goal just by being there,” she notes.
More opportunities arise.
Each goal you reach opens up a realm of new possibilities, Fongheiser emphasizes.
“We all make and adjust many goals throughout our lives — going to school, getting married, choosing a career,” she says. “Each of these decisions can lead to a new set of opportunities we wouldn’t have otherwise seen.”
For example, realizing the goal of moving to another city after graduation can lead to more employment opportunities. “With each success we realize in accomplishing life’s minor, less routine goals,” she notes, “the more likely we are to approach future, complex goals with confidence and enthusiasm.”