How Can I Set Meaningful Goals?

It’s the New Year, and thus a time for many people to set some goals to accomplish in 2011 and improve themselves. President Howard W. Hunter said: “In order to accomplish the things we desire…we must have positive and definite goals in mind. Success in life, school, marriage, business, or any other pursuit doesn’t come by accident, but as the result of a well-defined plan and a concentrated effort to bring about a realization of the plan” (The Teachings of Howard W. Hunter, p.259). However, there are some fundamental truths to setting good goals. Here are just a few that you might want to keep in mind as you plan out what you want to accomplish this year:

Involve God in your goals: As we set goals we should remember to include our Father in Heaven. He has a plan for each of us individually that he will reveal line upon line if we ask him. Elder Richard G. Scott said, “The Lord has a purpose for you, individually…. Discover it and fulfill it.” (“Learning to succeed in life,” available at Elder M. Russell Ballard simply said, “Pray for divine guidance in your goal setting” (M. Russell Ballard, in Conference Report, Apr. 1987, 15; or Ensign, May 1987, 14). When you know you are working on a goal that God wants you to accomplish, it is easier to achieve it.
Set well-rounded goals: We would be wise to set goals and strive to be well-rounded in our lives. A good pattern to begin with is the only verse about the Savior’s teenage years: “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man” (Luke 2:52). Notice that this verse describes four primary areas of focus to live a balanced life: wisdom (intellectual), stature (physical), favour with God (spiritual), and favour with man (social).
1) Set goals related to intellectual development: These goals can be anything that stimulates, expands, or enlarges your mind. In other words, it makes you smarter. Goals in this area might include getting better grades, doing homework, reading books, going to college, learning a new skill, playing an instrument, writing, painting, building, or creating things, etc.
2) Set goals related to physical development: Losing weight is the most common New Year’s resolution, but physical development involves much more than dropping pounds. Physical development concerns caring for the overall gift of your physical body, not necessarily how toned or ripped your right bicep is. Goals in this area might include obeying the word of wisdom, exercising daily, participating in sports, learning to play a new sport, completing a 10K, marathons or triathlons, hiking, biking, eating more nutritious meals, packing a healthier lunch (a candy bar and a soft drink doesn’t cut it!), eliminating caffeine, excess sugar, or energy drinks, etc.
3) Set goals related to spiritual development: Goals in this area can include daily scripture study, meaningful personal prayer, family home evenings, partaking of the sacrament each week, serving in our callings, participating in Sunday school and seminary, fasting, attending the temple, repenting of our sins, developing faith in Jesus Christ, sharing the gospel with others, preparing for missions, etc.
4) Set goals related to social development: To move the kingdom of God forward, we need to develop our social skills and abilities as best as possible. Goals in this area could be connected to doing service projects, being involved in school government or community leadership, being part of formal school groups, teams, or clubs, having a job and contributing to society through meaningful employment, going on dates if you are older than 16, keeping yourself well groomed and modestly dressed, attending performances and uplifting concerts, and limiting the time you spend texting and social networking so that you can actually talk and socialize with living human beings face to face!
Setting goals in all these areas will help us create and maintain a well-balanced life.
Set SMART Goals: To reach these goals in these four areas of our lives, it is important that we set S.M.A.R.T. goals (developed by George Doran, Arthur Miller, and James Cunningham, Doran, George T. “There’s a S.M.A.R.T. way to write managements’s goals and objectives.” and Miller, Arthur F. & Cunningham, James A “How to avoid costly job mismatches” Management Review, Nov 1981, Volume 70 Issue 11.).
S=Specific: Goals that are specific give us focus and direction. It is the difference between saying “I think I’ll go visit Europe” and “I’m going to go to Europe in January to snowboard the Swiss Alps.” In spiritual terms: “I’ll study my scriptures” more specifically could be “I’ll study from the Book of Mormon each day for fifteen minutes and finish the book by the end of the year.” Ask yourself: who will be involved, what will be accomplished, where it will take place, when will it be finished, and how will I make it happen.
M=Measurable: President Thomas S. Monson has said, “Where performance is measured, performance improves” (Favorite Quotations from the Collection of Thomas S. Monson (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1985), 61.).How can we know if we reached a goal, or know our progress, if it isn’t measurable—if we can’t see the results? Measuring a goal helps us to stay focused and evaluate our success in the specified goal. For example, if our goal is to study the scriptures daily, we can measure it by checking off a box on a calendar.
A=Achievable: A goal that is achievable or attainable is one that is realistically in the realm of reaching. Most don’t want to say, “I’ll travel from here to my mailbox this year,” but they also don’t want to say, “I’m going to walk to the moon” either. Elder Ballard said, “Set short-term goals that you can reach. Set goals that are well balanced-not too many nor too few, and not too high nor too low. Write down your attainable goals and work on them according to their importance. (M. Russell Ballard, in Conference Report, Apr. 1987, 15; or Ensign, May 1987, 14).
R=Relevant: Set goals based on their order of important to you in your life. Pick the top few in each of the four categories that are most relevant to the overall direction you want your life to go, and that are most important areas to progress in. Most importantly, make sure the goal is relevant to what you can control! Setting goals based on other peoples performance is not in harmony with the principle of agency. For example, don’t set a goal that Jennifer will go to Prom with you – you cannot control what Jennifer does. Instead, set a goal that you can control, like, “I will ask Jennifer to Prom.” Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught that this same principle applies to missionaries who are setting goals. He said, “Don’t set goals to baptize a certain number of people, because you cannot control whether or not people choose to be baptized. Instead, set goals based on what you can do” (see Elder Dallin H. Oaks, “Timing”
T=Time-bound: A goal must have a definitive time frame to be accomplished by to provide motivation and goal completion. A great example of this was when President Hinckley challenged the Church in August of 2005 to read the entire Book of Mormon by the end of the year (see Gordon B. Hinckley, “A Testimony Vibrant and True,” Ensign, Aug 2005, 2–6). That time-frame gave people motivation and context to evaluate how well they did, and many people upped their scripture study performance because of it. If President Hinckley had simply said, “Read the Book of Mormon” it might not have had the same effect or outcome.
We could even add an “R” and make “SMART’R” goals by adding in “Report.”
R=Report: Continuing the quote mentioned earlier, President Thomas S. Monson said, “Where performance is measured, performance improves. Where performance is measured and reported the rate of improvement accelerates” (Favorite Quotations from the Collection of Thomas S. Monson (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1985), 61, emphasis added.). You can probably see how this would be the case. If you have to report to somebody else on how you are doing with your goal, you’re more likely to want to achieve it, so that you can give a good report. Suppose you have a goal to read your scriptures every day. You could tell your parents about your goal and give them a report every week on how many days you read.
Put your written goals where you can see them: Elder Ballard said: “I would suggest that if you want to have success in the goal-setting process, you learn to write your goals down. I would even put them in a prominent place—on your mirror or on the refrigerator door” (M. Russell Ballard, “Go for It!,” New Era, Mar 2004, 4).

We hope these principles will help us to better set, act on, and accomplish our goals so that we can progress in our ultimate goal of becoming like God and obtaining eternal life through the atonement of Jesus Christ.

(Content summarized from HOW? chapter 27, How Can I Set Meaningful Personal Goals?, pp.193-200)

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