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Goal Setting: A Three-Pronged Approach

Every New Year is a chance for us to reflect on the past and plan for the future. In North America, we call that planning step "New Year’s Resolutions" and we constantly joke about how long it takes people to fall off the resolution wagon. Setting a goal is a good thing, but following a proper goal setting process is important to make sure we set goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely (S.M.A.R.T.). One of the processes we use here at Paragon Training is to implement a three-pronged system for goal setting that helps athletes accurately determine what kind of goal they are committing to.

Short Term Goals: 3-12 Months

By nature, the definition of a goal is something that you cannot obtain now but hope to obtain or accomplish in the future. A short-term goal is one that we classify as being attainable within the next 3-12 months. Any goal should require some effort to get there, but with a short-term goal you can foresee the culmination of that work coming to fruition in the very near future. If we use the analogy of buying a car (with cash), then a short-term goal is saving for a vehicle that costs $30,000 when you already have $22,000 set aside. You're still $8,000 away from being able to buy the car you want, but you're pretty close! Because of the nearness of a short-term goal, it's often easy to buckle down and work really hard for that 3-6 months until you hit your goal.

Long Term Goal: 1-5 Years

A long-term goal is similar to a short-term goal in nearly all aspects, it just takes longer to get there. Many people often mistake a long-term goal for a short-term one because they incorrectly assess the level they are currently at. It's important to be honest with yourself and your situation so that you accurately determine how long it will take you to get to your goal. To continue with the car analogy, a 22-year old who is fresh out of college and newly hired at a job that pays $40,000 a year may THINK that saving to buy a $30,000 car with cash is a short-term goal. But, this is an incorrect assessment because once they realize how much they are going to have to spend monthly on rent, utilities, cell phone, health insurance, leisure, etc., they may realize that the best they can manage is saving $1,000 a month (which is actually a pretty good savings rate for someone fresh out of college and embarking on the journey of life). At that savings rate, it will take them 2.5 years to save up enough cash to purchase a car. Sure, they may get a raise and be able to save more. They may also incur additional expenses along the way though, and of course they probably don’t want to empty their bank account down to zero when they buy the car. In reality, the car goal is most likely a 3-4 year goal. That doesn’t mean it can’t be done. It most definitely CAN be done, but it’s going to take a little while to get there.

Long term goals are sometimes tough because they are far enough out in the future that it’s easy to get distracted from them and lose focus. Don’t do it. Stick with it on a day-to-day level and very soon that long-term goal will become a short-term one.

Dreams: 5+ Years

A dream is a stretch goal. It’s something that may be possible, but it may not. The old saying “reach for the stars and you might land on the moon” certainly applies here. Many dreams don’t come true. That’s not something to be depressed about, the process of chasing a dream will teach you more than you could have ever imaged. Think of the aspiring downhill skier who wants to win the Olympics. They spend 15 years of their life chasing that dream and they fail. They never win an Olympic gold medal. However, along the way they win multiple world cup races, a world championship gold medal, and they get to travel the world and live an amazing life doing what they love. It’s true that they failed in accomplishing their initial dream, but the act of chasing that dream propelled them to greater heights than they ever would have achieved if their goal was simply to be good at skiing.

Back to the car analogy. Maybe your dream is to own a $150,000 sports car. That seems totally unrealistic to a young 22-year old college student. But they work hard for 10 years, save their money, and make wise choices. In the end, they don’t have enough money to purchase a $150,000 car, but they are able to buy an $80,000 vehicle and get just as much enjoyment out of it. Or maybe they DO have enough to buy the super nice car but decide they don’t want to spend their hard-earned money on that anymore. They want to spend it on a boat, a vacation home, or something else they value. They didn’t achieve their initial dream in the way they originally thought, but they did learn many valuable lessons and accomplish many great things along the way.

That’s the thing about dreams. They change sometimes as you go through the process of chasing them. Sometimes they stay concrete in the original form, but sometimes they shift or your priorities shift along the way. Dreams are still important because they do allow you to stretch for something you may have never achieved if you didn’t dream. That can be a powerful process.

Using this three-pronged approach for setting your New Year’s Resolutions is a tool that will help you accurately determine the attainability of what you want to achieve this year. There are many other components, but this is a good place to start. The resolutions for this year are short-term goals, the resolutions for next year are long-term goals, and of course never be afraid to dream a little.


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