Goal Setting Should Involve Priorities

Not everyone is into goal setting. But in my line of work, and probably yours, this is something that you have to help people out with.  When I first started doing this professionally, I had no idea how much people would struggle with the concept of actually setting a goal:  determining something they want to achieve, writing it down, developing strategies to achieve them, and then getting it done!

Something that most people forget to do before setting their goals is taking a step back and evaluating their priorities.  Is it realistic for a full-time working mother of 3 kids to take 60 minutes a day to get physical activity?  It depends on the person and the situation and where it falls on her priority list.  Everyone can say “they don’t have time” when it comes to taking care of their health and well-being.  That’s why it’s so important to determine priorities with your patients and clients FIRST.

Determining priorities shouldn’t be that hard. This would entail sitting down and making a list of the people, roles, demands, and responsibilities that someone has in their life.  The next step would be rank ordering them.  We all want to make everything priority number 1.  Unfortunately, life doesn’t work that way. Here is an example of how this might look for someone:

  1. Spouse/children or parents/siblings
  2. Loved ones
  3. Religion, or spiritual affiliation if they have one
  4. Friends
  5. Job or school
  6. Volunteering or social cause

Very rarely has anyone ever listed “my well-being” as a top 10 priority when I do this exercise with them.  It’s easy to take this for granted and leave it out of the list.  Again, this list is going to look very different for each person.  Hopefully you would be able to flush this information out at an initial interview or appointment, but can also be done over the course of the first few meetings or sessions you have with someone.  You can do this same exercise for yourself as well.

Moving on to Goals
Goal setting can be a little overwhelming.  That’s why I (like many) like to use the following “SMART” criteria to help people when they are writing down their goals.

  • Make goals as specific as possible.  “I want to take better care of myself” is too vague.
  • Make goals measurable.  An easy way to make this happen is to think about the future. How could you look back and say a goal was achieved?
  • Make goals attainable, or realistic.  Set people up to succeed, it breeds more goal setting and more success. Start small if necessary.
  • Make goals relevant.  Looking at your priority list helps.  Running a marathon might be something someone always dreamed of, but where does it fit into their lifestyle and  priorities?
  • Put a timeline on goals. This helps keep things on track.  Putting a timetable on things also helps with accountability.

A Sidenote About Timing
I work with a lot of motivated professionals who get things done.  One thing that can work against them is their desire to get everything done NOW.  That’s great, but it can lead to being overwhelmed and stressed. I really recommend that, when goal setting, take special note of timing.  In other words, what things need to be prioritized higher because they have a timetable on them?  What things might be better suited for longer-term goals?

Revisit Often
Goals and priorities are things that should be revisited often when helping others.  I like to do these exercises with the people I work with, but also try to do it for myself every three months or so. (No one enjoys checking something off of a list more than I do.)  I do this in conjunction with my own periodization plan to keep me on track just like I do with clients and developing professionals.

So, I hope these exercises help – either you, or those that you work with!  Here is to a happy, healthy, and productive 2013!

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