Setting goals in 2005

What we know for sure is that it�s time to create a challenge for yourself.

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What we know for sure is that it’s time to create a challenge for yourself.

by Juli Kagan, RDH, MEd

Oprah Winfrey often asks her guests, “What do you know for sure?” I often ponder this question myself, and, without hesitation, I know for sure that writing goals down is the first step in making them a reality. The remarkable thing about putting your goals down on paper is that they most often manifest themselves in time. Sure, you may place more attention on some than others, but somehow they will all come to fruition.

In 1986 I wrote that I wanted to be an aerobics instructor. Even though I was a full-time dental hygienist and not actively seeking that position, I loved fitness and wanted to be more actively involved in the industry. Coincidentally, within a year an opportunity arose at a new exercise studio in my community. I met with the owner and by year’s end, my goal of becoming an aerobics instructor was realized. I couldn’t believe I had achieved that goal, and it wasn’t even that hard! I just knew my intention and was clear about what I wanted.

Sound unreasonable? It isn’t! Writing down your goals clarifies ideas and crystallizes them into a tangible form that is as clear as black and white. There is no question about your intentions when your ideas are lucid and unambiguous. Research shows that goal setting directs attention.1 The more specific and behavioral a goal, the greater control the person feels over it. Writing also transforms them from the non-physical (ideas) to the physical (ink on a piece of paper).

Creating lasting goals is more feasible if they are based on your values. There needs to be a motivational reason or meaning for you to stick to the goal. If you simply write that you want to lose 10 pounds but have no underlying reason or purpose to the weight loss, the goal will be less important and less valuable to you, and therefore, less attainable in the long run.

Deciding on values

Clarifying values will help you with goal setting. Consider the roots of your principles. Begin by thinking of values that are important to you within categories such as family, home, career, financial, social, religious, spiritual, health/fitness, etc. Think about the roles you play within those areas, such as wife, mother, sister/brother, daughter/son, dental hygienist, etc. List each subject area in block letters, allowing extra space under each. Write down why each one is important to you. Just a sentence or two will help create clarity. Give this some thought. I invite you to take an hour or two and sit quietly with yourself (not by yourself). Contemplate giving consideration to your values. There has to be value to your values! You can focus on one or two main areas or several - whatever seems realistic and reasonable for you to work on.

After defining your values, write down some measurable and meaningful goals that are based on them. They can be short- or long-term in nature. To be successful, however, you need to know exactly what you want and how you plan to get it. Interestingly, people who are unsuccessful with their goals tend to think and talk about what they don’t want, often blaming others for their fallibilities. Know what you want and be clear; this will make all the difference in your success.

To be most effective, goals should be coupled with results or feedback. In other words, when feedback is constantly monitored or scrutinized, the desired behavior is greatly substantiated.1 For example, if your goal is to lose enough weight to fit into your favorite jeans by a specific date, then it is imperative that you analyze your daily caloric intake and activity output. It is the daily monitoring that will make the difference; not the goal that you want to fit into a pair of jeans in the future.

To pull this goal setting triad together, finally decide what daily tasks need to be accomplished to align your personal values and goals. Decide on the action steps that are going to be necessary to achieve your goals? Be S.M.A.R.T. about setting goals. Make them specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and tangible. Write down each benefit derived from accomplishing your daily tasks. Additionally, write down any possible obstacle that you may encounter, as well as their solutions.

Here’s an example of the goal-setting process. I know this great guy; let’s call him Donald. He places a value on finances; he wants to be financially independent by the age of 55. He loves his work; however, he doesn’t want to have to work at that age. He will want to work because he loves it. His highest value is freedom - freedom to do what he wants, when he wants, and with whom he wants. So, his value is about earning money, and it’s important so that he can be financially independent one day. Specifically, that day is April 19, 2012. This is a very long-term goal. Remember, in order for goals to be successful, the behavior towards them needs to monitored daily. In order to make this long-term goal possible, Donald will need to determine how much money he needs by that date. This is tallied by determining the number of years until the goal date, and quantifying how much money needs to be “in the bank” for each of those remaining years. After the yearly amount is determined, a monthly amount is calculated.

Finally, and most importantly, he needs to know how much to save on a daily basis. This is going from the complex to the simple, but being very specific is the key. You could apply this to weight loss, fitness level, continuing education, anything!

To summarize, set your goals wisely, base them on your values, and write them down! You will feel the greatest sense of achievement, create challenges for yourself, and have a greater sense of purpose. This is what I know for sure!

Juli Kagan, RDH, MEd, has her degree in educational psychology and studied achievement, motivation and adult learning extensively toward that end. She teaches at Broward Community College and Nova Southeastern University Dental School in Ft. Lauderdale. When not in the classroom or clinic, Juli can be found doing or teaching Pilates. She welcomes comments at (561) 305-5854 or

1 Locke, E.A., Shaw, K.N., Saari, L.M., & Latham, G.P. (1981). Goal setting and task performance: 1969-1980. Psychological Bulletin, 90, 125-152.

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