How goal setting can ensure you sail in the right direction

In our busy lives, setting goals let alone evaluating them, can feel overwhelming. But like anything that is good for you, there’s value in investing the time to do it right. In this article MBA Director Dr Nicole Hartley shares her advice on goal setting, maintaining momentum and evaluating goals once you’ve achieved them.

There’s a proverb that states, 'the wind may blow from any direction, but the direction in which you go depends on how you set your sails'. If you want to learn how to set clear, effective goals in business and life that you’ll actually achieve, it can be useful to use the concept of sailing as an analogy. From setting your sails to direct and guide your travels towards a destination, to maintaining motivation throughout the journey and evaluating your progress, there are lots of similarities to explore that can help you work towards achieving your goals.

How to set effective goals and your course for success

Setting goals, particularly those bigger, long-term goals can feel daunting. The key is to break them down into smaller, more achievable chunks that are aligned with your purpose and overall mission. In doing this, you’re setting yourself a course to follow that will help ensure you stay focused on what you want to achieve.

While adventure and useful learnings will arise from your journey, the key to reaching your destination is to first, set your sails, and second, consistently sail in the right direction.

Staying the course and maintaining momentum

We continually want to push and extend ourselves, but if goals are too difficult to integrate into your everyday life, it’s likely that you’ll lose momentum.

For example, if you were training for a round-the-world race, you wouldn’t set out expecting to complete the journey on the first attempt. It's a process. You first have to buy the boat, learn the ropes and practise by going on shorter trips to test your endurance and capabilities. You might even need to fail (sometimes many times) in order to learn, grow and improve.

To ensure you make it to your end destination and achieve your goals, you need to start small and slowly building momentum by integrating tasks that bring you closer to your end goal into your life.

Another way to help you stay on course is to recognise when you have achieved a short-term goal that you are that one step closer to where you want to be, and to celebrate that success for what it is. 

You are on your way. Your sails are set, and now you’re moving in the right direction. 

Evaluating your progress towards goals

Of course, there’s no point in setting your sails or goals if you don’t then evaluate whether you have achieved what you set out to achieve. With the analogy of sailing, it is obvious whether you’ve reached your destination or not, yet other goals might be harder to assess.

When evaluating your achievement of goals, look at what you’ve learnt and experienced during your journey in addition to the skills and capabilities that you have acquired. Consider how these achievements made you feel, where you had the greatest amount of impact and what processes you enjoyed most. Did you enjoy meeting with your staff and developing their professional development goals in supporting a more purpose-driven leadership style, or did you find yourself developing a passion for the integration of process and practice?

We all have our own individual strengths and motivators, and once we recognise these we may find that our goals pivot, or that we find a new course to set our sails to. And that’s okay, because the most important thing to remember about goal setting and evaluation is that sometimes it's not just about the destination, it’s about the journey!

Setting goals doesn’t mean you can’t be innovative or pivot when your priorities change.

Learn more about the UQ MBA and Master of Leadership in Service Innovation programs.