A helpful goal is specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. This is opposed to non-specific, vague, emotionally-driven, or unattainable goals.
As an example, “I’d like to be more confident” is not a helpful goal, because it is not specific, measurable, attainable, or time-bound. It is vague and unmeasurable and unattainable.
Sure, you could measure your level of confidence about a specific task one day and then measure your level of confidence using the same questionnaire at another time in the future. However, you would not actually be able to measure the nuances of confidence, because it is feeling state that changes over time. Just because you feel x amount of confidence on Monday at 4pm and y amount of confidence on Thursday at 10am, doesn’t mean that you’ve become more confident throughout every aspect of your life.
By unattainable, I don’t mean that you could never become more confident, but rather there is no objective binary cutoff where you could say either I am confident or I am not confident.
Other questions I have about this goal include: what does it mean to be more confident? Do you want to be more confident in every area of life or just some areas? How would you know when you completed your goal? How does this goal direct your behaviors?
So, you can see through this one example that while a goal like this one might feel good to write, it is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, in the sense that it does not direct your behavior toward something specific and measurable that you can attain in a relevant amount of time.
Here are some common goals that have the same problems as the examples above:
“My goal is to be happy”
“My goal is have a good romantic relationship”
“My goal is have a good career”
“My goal is for other people to like me”
“My goal is to be attractive”
Again, problems with these goals include the fact that they are non-specific, dependent on feelings, dependent on other people’s behavior, or unattainable in a measurable way.
Let’s talk about helpful goals.
The interesting thing about the word confidence is that it comes from a Latin word that can either mean “a feeling of faith or believing” or “an act of faith.” This definition is helpful, because the actions of confidence often come before the feelings of confidence.
A person with the unhelpful goal, “My goal is to be more confident,” could make it into a helpful goal with just a few more descriptors.
An example is, “My goal is to attend two events this week and initiate a conversation with one person I don’t know at each event.”
If the person lacks the feelings of confidence during spontaneous conversations with strangers, this is a helpful goal because it is specific, attainable, measurable, relevant, and time-bound. At the end of the week, she has either completed her goal or not. The goal is based on observable actions she took with her arms and legs, not her thoughts or emotions. Most importantly, if she keeps setting and pursuing these types of goals while relating with openness to the thoughts, feelings, and sensations that arise along the way, it’s likely that she will feel more confident more often.
Note that this was a great example for an individual who specifically feels anxious and lacks the feelings of confidence during spontaneous conversation with a stranger. This is a very specific problem with a very specific solution.
When you are reflecting on the challenges in your life and deciding how to set goals to overcome them, you want to get as specific as possible about what the issue is and break the solution down to the smallest next step.
For instance, perhaps the intimacy of romantic relationships is what you fear and it is preventing you from getting into a long-term relationship. When you’re thinking through how to overcome this fear, it’s important to recognize all the different fears that could be wrapped up into that one big one. We’ll get into this in greater detail in a future post.