How to Set and Achieve Realistic Personal Development Goals

It is important to live with intentionality. To achieve our own personal growth, we need to set goals and make active progress forward. These can’t just be any goals. They need to be specific goals covering three aspects. These goals need to be guided by purpose, give you direction, and need to be made thoughtfully and well.

Imagine a motor boat. It has all the normal parts an engine, propeller, rudder, compass, and hull. The engine and the propeller allow it to move forward. This is your purpose. The rudder and the compass help it navigate the seas. This is your direction. And finally, the hull makes sure it makes it through stormy seas. This is a thoughtful, well made decision to help you get through adversity. Let’s take a closer look at each of these factors.

Personal Development Goals: Guided by Purpose

The first aspect of goals we will examine is the purpose. A good goal is guided by purpose. Every goal should move you toward a purpose, and more importantly, toward your purpose.

To put it simply, the purpose of a goal is knowing what you want to achieve.

As a result, you can set goals like this in all sorts of realms whether it be financial, spiritual, personal, romantic, etc. The idea of a goal is to keep us heading in a direction with a purpose rather than vaguely moving forward.

What can be more difficult to determine is to ask “what is your purpose?” “What are you supposed to do?” “Why did God create you?” To help you orient yourself, consider a few general principles about human purpose. We exist for the glory and joy of God and should live in a way that honors our calling to him. We should live for others, willing to give up things for ourselves.

Romans 12:1 states, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God–this is your true and proper worship.”

This verse speaks of offering ourselves upon the altar, which could be translated to giving up ourselves for his mission and calling on our lives.

When we consider our personal development goals, we consider them in connection with our general calling as children of God. Once you move beyond our general calling given by God, you can begin to consider your individual purpose and calling. Maybe you haven’t really considered your individual purpose before if so, that’s okay!

There is a lot of anxiety surrounding the ominous question of “what do you want to do in your life?” especially among younger people. What helps eliminate some of the stress is to re-frame the question, asking “who do you want to be?” This often helps people release some of the pressure to perform and focus on who they want to be.

By focusing on who you want to be, you are able to move beyond work. Perhaps you would like to have more space for your passion. Or maybe your passion can become your work. Or maybe you want to be able to provide well for your family and you know that requires long hours.

Making decisions regarding who you want to be can turn into your individual purpose. Then, you just need to make sure your goals line up with this purpose, and you will be headed in the right direction (or as MxPx put it: free to do what you want to be).

Finding Your Purpose

As you start to think about your purpose, remember the importance of prayer. It is a good place to start. Ask God to speak to you and show you what he has for you. What you feel called to might be scary or risky. It might not even totally make sense financially, but remember money can’t grant you fulfillment. Remember the verse from Romans 12, it calls us to sacrifice, not comfort and riches.

Also, remember this will require trial and error. You will likely need to explore a few different paths before you find what exactly is your purpose and that’s okay! Your story doesn’t have to match the timeline of a friend or a sibling, it’s yours. Sometimes it will take years to fully discover your purpose and that’s okay. You will figure it out along the way as you move forward.

Lastly, when you do find your purpose, keep in mind that it probably will (and probably should) influence all areas of your life (social, personal, professional, spiritual). Finding your purpose reorients your life. It isn’t just a hobby or a side hustle. It will produce meaningful and significant changes to your life!

Goals Give Direction

The second important aspect of personal development goals is to provide direction. If you’ve ever wondered what you are doing with your life and felt like you were going nowhere, then you probably weren’t setting up goals guided by your direction.

It may be helpful to think of personal development in both the short-term and the long-term. First, start with the long-term — Where do you want to be? When do you want to be there?

Start with the short term. What do you need to do to get headed in the right direction? Are you considering ministry, then maybe you should look into seminary or pastoral internships? Or maybe you want to get into web design? Then it would probably be good to find a coding bootcamp to get started.

When it comes to direction, a contradiction exists. You need to start with something small that moves you forward. Even reading this article is a good step. But on the other hand, you need to remember that achieving your greater goals takes time.

In order to achieve your personal development goals, you will need to have patience, motivation, and energy. It takes time to accomplish goals, which is okay, but the waiting can be frustrating, especially when you are eager to move forward. It can feel like if you don’t start right now, that you will never be able to accomplish your goals, but remember it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Another note about direction is to start big. Think as if there were not obstacles. Imagine where you would go if nothing stood in your way. You can deal with obstacles better when you know where you are headed. Even when you know where you are going, obstacles remain obstacles.

But if you don’t have a larger vision, simple obstacles can turn into full on roadblocks. By thinking big from the beginning, you will be able to stay focused on what lies behind the problems, so you can face the difficulty as it comes.

Goals are Manageable When Made Well

Finally, personal development goals need to be made in such a way that sets you up for success. If your plan is to “get to Mars,” you’re not likely to achieve your goal. But, if you are in NASA or the Air Force, then maybe it might work out.

The best goals can be defined as SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time Bound). To help illustrate this definition, let’s consider someone with a passion for wildlife working on a biology degree so they can work on a creation care team. Their love for animals and desire to help care for them give them direction and purpose.

But, they are struggling in some important courses and currently have D’s.

Specific goals include a higher desired grade, not simply “doing better.”

This is also a measurable goal because if you work hard, you will see your grade raise.

Other goals will be more difficult to measure, which may force you to think more creatively about how to quantify your given circumstances.

The goal needs to be achievable,

which means that an A might not be possible to achieve halfway through the semester, but you can still try for a B. Setting unrealistic goals can be discouraging.

Goals need to be relevant.

For example, cutting out TV may help improve your grades, but isn’t directly relevant. It is better to set an amount of time you want to study for or to get a tutor.

Lastly, it should be time bound,

which means you need to have a deadline. It can’t be ambiguous and open ended.

Making time bound goals helps you create checkpoints, thereby making them more measurable. For example, you could decide to study for two hours a night for two weeks in order to get an A on a test. The is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timebound. Each goal will look different, but you should always have an end date.

How Christian Counseling Can Help

If this article has you excited, but you still feel apprehensive the amount of work you need to do or don’t know where to start, that’s okay.

A great way to jumpstart your personal development is counseling. Counselors can help you understand your passion and purpose so you can establish personal development goals and overcome any obstacles you face. They are a force of clarity and accountability as you seek to grow.

When we try to do things alone, it’s very easy to get distracted or lose track, but a regular counseling session can help keep you on track toward your long-term goals. So don’t just sit there! Get started on your personal development today.

Photos:
“Boating”, Courtesy of Nick Karvounis, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Wish for it”, Courtesy of SOCIAL CUT, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Man on Arrow”, Courtesy of Smart, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Goals,” courtesy of rawpixel.com, pexels.com, CC0 License