by Teresa Esquival

The new year often brings visions of a new you, whether that means toning up, giving up smoking, learning a new language or volunteering your time to help a nonprofit organization. Or maybe this is the year you’re going to start chasing a few dreams, like skydiving or saving up for that dream vacation you’ve been postponing. Whether your aspirations are large or small, immediate or long-range, mindfully setting goals can help you achieve anything you desire.

“Most of us don’t take the time to really think out and solidify what we want to do with our life,” says life coach John Patterson, PCC. “Life often just comes at us versus us being intentional about our actions. Setting a plan can put us on that track to gain awareness around our life, and the more awareness the better.”

While the rewards for goal-setting can be great, accomplishing them isn’t always easy. First, setting goals requires time –  time to sit, think, write them down and and review them on a regular basis. Second, goals represent change and, therefore, uncertainty, which is a source of fear for many.

For these reasons it’s important to set goals that are valuable to you, your happiness and your sense of fulfillment. While goals can be grand, make sure they are bound by some measure of reality and that they relate to the priorities in your life. If you have a newborn baby and a fledging business, for example, that trek through India you’re dying to take next year is probably not going to happen. The same trek in 20 years? Why not?

An often-used model for goal-setting in the business world is SMART, an acronym for five criteria that can be used by anyone to provide direction and structure to the process. Using this method, each goal should be;

Specific: Help clarify each goal by asking yourself and answering who, what, where, when, how and, most importantly, why.

Measurable: Describe the concrete evidence that will act as a measure of progress toward reaching a goal as well as its eventual reality.

Attainable: Determine whether the goal is attainable given the time, money and effort required to achieve it. Revise it as needed or outline specific steps toward overcoming any obstacles. 

Relevant: Drill down even further to examine why you want to reach the goal and if it will actually give you what you want.

Timely: Create deadlines to help kick you into gear, but be realistic and flexible so the process doesn’t turn into a drag or cause stress.

“The process of setting goals is 90-percent taking the time just to do it,” Patterson explains. “ The challenge is actually achieving them.”