goal setting

Set (and Achieve) Big Goals

Dr. Amy Dietzman

Goal setting is not just another way of making a New Year’s Resolution. It’s more in depth than that—it requires honestly evaluating why a goal is important, how priorities need to change, and who can provide a support team. Goals should be motivating, somewhat flexible, and require a full understanding of what you’re asking of yourself.

My story

When I started my doctoral program, I had big goals. I wanted to become a doctor before I turned 40, and I wanted to move out of the classroom and into a leadership role. So, I started with smaller goals: one class at a time. Then I set myself up for success by creating a new schedule that included schoolwork at 4:00 a.m. every day. I set clear expectations with my family and friends, and I prepared myself for a few years of serious sacrifice. I followed my own advice for goal setting, and it worked. It was hard, and I was exhausted when it was over, but I did it. 

From bad habits to good habits

Achieving real goals almost always requires a change in habits. As I always say: Bad habits are easy because we already have them, but good habits can be easier if we just take the time to establish them. Good habits can take two to three months to form, but once they are established, goals become more attainable. Getting up at 4:00 a.m. for three and a half years was only hard for a little while. Eventually, it made my days so much easier, because the hard schoolwork I set out for myself was already done before anyone else in my house even got out of bed. I didn’t have it looming over me all day when I went to work and took care of my kids. 

To change a habit, set a trigger. Know that every day when you do one desirable thing, you’re going to do another less desirable thing, thereby setting a new habit. Like making a cup of coffee and walking to your desk to write a paper. The coffee making is the trigger. Every time you do it, you’ll follow it up with this new, positive schoolwork habit you’re trying to form. 

Choices, choices

With goal setting comes decisionmaking. We have to make good decisions throughout the day to reach lofty (but not too lofty) goals. Decision fatigue happens when we get overwhelmed throughout the day with constant decisions. Which way should I drive to work? What should I wear? What should I grab for lunch? Should I have that cupcake? Can I squeeze in a workout today? And these are the bigger ones! We make hundreds of smaller decisions every day. The fact is that in order to make the best decisions when our willpower is at its highest, we should get into routines and make decisions early in the day before we get fatigued. Plan out dinners once a week. Stick to a study and a gym schedule. If you can, pack a lunch. Doing these things will give you the best possible chance of making the best decisions to reach your goals. They will also help obviate that dreaded bad decision you might make when you’re a little tired and a little unmotivated.

Setting—and achieving—big goals is possible: one task at a time, one habit at a time, one day at a time. 

To learn more goal-setting tips and tricks, check out our goal-setting webinar below: