Become the best version of yourself by setting yourself specific and challenging goals
Whether you are a fresher, a mid-career professional, or just want to stay ahead of the pack, setting personal development goals can help you gain clarity about what you really want to do and where you want to be so that you can chart the road that takes you there.
This playbook is intended to be a guide for those looking to set personal growth and upskilling goals so that they can grow as individuals and professionals. But before we expand on the subject further, let’s first understand the concept of goal setting.
Edward Locke and Gary Latham, pioneers of goal-setting theory, define “goals” as “the object or aim of an action, for example, to attain a specific standard of proficiency, usually within a specified time limit.”
So, goal setting is the process of identifying your “goals” and taking active steps to attain the desired outcome.
Personal development or personal growth goals are goals you set to enable yourself to reach your full potential. The process of setting these goals include assessing your skills and identifying areas of interest and aptitude so that you can chart a roadmap to become the best version of yourself. Examples of personal development goals could be resolving to develop soft skills (becoming more empathetic or communicating effectively) or building technical skills (mastering SQL or Python).
There are many reasons why individuals should set themselves personal growth goals.
For one, research has established that there is a link between setting goals (for personal or professional reasons) and increased motivation, self-esteem, self-confidence and autonomy. Additionally, there is a strong link between goal setting and success because goal setting helps you develop your strengths, which, in turn, helps you be successful at whatever you set out to achieve. American entrepreneur, author and motivational speaker Jim Rohn sums up the importance of a third reason rather well in the following quote: “If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much.”
Rohn has a point. It may be safe to say that once we enter the workforce, the majority of us “fall into” a career plan that we haven’t really charted out for ourselves. Our career trajectories proceed almost by default with a promotion or raise here, a layoff there, or a fancier designation by one of your employer’s competitors. To add to that, most organisations aren’t very good at developing talent (though that is changing albeit slowly). So the best way most individuals can grow personally and professionally is to set their own goals and chart the steps they need to take to achieve them. Setting personal development goals helps you do this by focusing you and giving you a clear sense of direction with regard to your career. It also gives you a head start over peers who don’t set such goals.
“the object or aim of an action, for example, to attain a specific standard of proficiency, usually within a specified time limit.”
If you don’t know where you stand or where you are going you cannot chart a route to get there. So, the first step involves some self-reflection. Think about your interests and ambitions and skills and abilities. What motivates you? Do you love what you do? Are you as obsessed with your job as paper salesman Dwight Schrute is about his? Are you happy to stay on your current career path? Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
The answers to all these questions will help you set realistic and achievable goals.
As part of the process of ascertaining what energises you, conduct a SWOT Analysis – an assessment of your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.
For strengths, ask yourself what do you do better than others? Do you have a natural talent that you can hone further or that you can use to your advantage? What skills do you love and are proud of using? What energises you?
The list of your weaknesses could include skills you aren’t really good at – those that don’t energise you or those you are learning while on the job (such as leadership skills), which you have an interest in building but are not proficient at yet. It could also be a skill that you don’t particularly enjoy using, say, public speaking, but you realise that it is an important skill to have. You don’t have to list all your weaknesses, just those that are relevant to your goals. To get additional perspective of your strengths and weaknesses, tap your boss, colleagues or peers for their inputs.
An opportunity could be an interest you have in an area that is gaining currency today (such as data analytics) or a skill you really love using, which, if developed further, might open up some new opportunities for you. A threat could be a skill that is likely going to be obsolete in a few years because of automation or artificial intelligence.
One way to develop a realistic vision for your personal development is to discuss your goals with people who have been there, done that and ask for advice. These people can be a mentor, your boss/manager or even a senior colleague you admire. If you have a supportive boss who likes your personal development plan, they may even help you achieve your goals by getting the organisation to fund any training or clearing any time-off.
Once you are aware of your strengths and weaknesses and have a vision for the future, it is time to set the goals that will help you get there.
For this step, it may be instructive to look at the research of goal setting theorists Locke and Latham who set out five key principles that support the creation of effective and successful goals. They are:
Once you have a fair idea of your strengths and weaknesses, skills and capabilities, motivations, ambitions and goals, you must determine the skills you will need to achieve these goals.
One way of doing it is to work backwards. Let’s say, you are really interested in becoming a pro at data analytics. What are the top hard and soft skills data analysts need to possess? Data visualization, creating data analysis dashboards or reports, writing and communication skills and public speaking are among the skills you will need.
Whatever your goals are, compare the list of your strengths with the skills you will need to attain them – some kind of a skills gap analysis. The gap between these two lists is what you need to start building on.
You may find that you have a number of skills to build. It may be a good idea to prioritise the top five skills and draft an action plan on how to develop them. It is possible that you are a beginner at a skill and you only need to develop this skill further to reach your goals. Include this in your list for an easy/early win that will keep you motivated.
There are many different ways you can develop the skills you need to achieve your goals. These include self-study, professional certifications and working closely with a mentor.
People have a better chance of achieving their goals if they monitor progress regularly, according to research.
One way to do this is to write down your goals and conduct monthly or quarterly reviews where you list your achievements or the roadblocks you faced.
MuchSkills users can use the skills visualisation tool’s 3x3 expertise scale to monitor their progress. It helps users to not only track their skills growth over time but also enables them to set goals for the future.
There is another effective way to hold yourself accountable: Research has shown that those who write down their goals and share it with a friend accomplished significantly more than those who did not. This 2015 study by psychologist Gail Matthews found that the cohorts who delivered the best results did the following three things:
Some experts suggest that people go a step further and get themselves an accountability partner to help them achieve their goals. An accountability partner is someone who helps you keep your commitments and with whom you share a reciprocal relationship (that is, you help them keep theirs). Think of it as the friend you partnered with in school to finish a tough assignment or study for an exam. The difference in the grown-up version is that accountability partners don’t necessarily need to work on the same projects. They usually check in on each other regularly and support each other so that both stay focused on their goals.
Here’s an example of how an accountability partnership can work. Joyce, an aspiring writer, found it difficult to stick to her daily writing targets because she was constantly getting derailed by the demands of her job and family. She decided to tie up with a friend Asha who was struggling with her writing goals too. They kept in touch regularly, even setting up a Slack account to communicate where they reminded each other of their targets, brainstormed when either had hit a roadblock, and generally listened to each other’s rants about how difficult the writing process was. Both say having an accountability partner has helped them achieve their short-term goals so far and are hopeful that the partnership will continue to be beneficial to both of them.