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How to set and achieve goals

Elliott DE

Goals can be elusive and hard to define. Fortunately, this PhD candidate has a great process for setting and achieving them you can use throughout your life.

Goal setting, and then achieving those goals, is incredibly important for progressing through any course of study, whether it be undergraduate or postgraduate. The inability to do as such often leads to the phenomenon of ‘procrastination’, which has afflicted many students from time-to-time! This short blog will go through some of the fundamentals of setting and achieving goals, viewed mostly through a university and studying context. For some background, I have successfully completed both medical and law degrees, studied together (both full time) for two years, and have held down multiple casual jobs (and then a medical job for the last year of my law degree), which has required a high degree of short, medium, and long-term goal setting!

Goal setting

An extremely difficult part of this process is actually knowing what you need to do, and then differentiating those necessities into time-circumscribed and achievable portions. When you are setting goals, they can really be related to anything; goal setting is not an exclusive activity for ‘big’ achievements as such, and the process can be readily deployed to just ensure you complete what you have planned in a regular day! The scope of your goal setting really depends on the time-sensitive component of time setting. I find it useful to conceptualise goal setting in the following way: first, you need to ask yourself, what exactly is it that I am wanting to achieve? For example, it might be an assignment (just going for something relatively simple). I normally set the long-term goal first, which in this case will be submission of the assignment itself. Then, I work backwards. I will then make a date of when I want the draft to be completed (maybe a day or so before the due date), and then when I want to have finished the reference list (two days prior to submission), and then when I want to have my notes completed from my research (a week before submission). In this way, I have set time-sensitive, achievable, specific, actionable, and measurable goals, which satisfies most of the components of the SMART goal-setting framework, which is a useful way to approach this issue. Then, on a broader scale, I will always set goals for the day, for the week, and for the month. I am not really one who focuses on setting long-term goals for the future, in terms of ‘in 5 years I want to be doing x, y and z’, mainly because I feel it is very restrictive to do so, and circumstances quickly change. I may certainly be speaking from a podium of privilege where I don’t have to currently specify the necessity to be in a certain job at a certain stage to feed a family, or similar, so this approach may not work for everyone. My lack of very long-term goals, I find, allows me to take advantage of opportunities and approach everything with an open mind.

Goal achieving

This is the more difficult portion of the equation! For me, I think the ability to achieve goals is all about contextual factors. When I say this, I mean that what else is happening in your life really impacts on your ability to achieve goals, and so it is important to note that your restrictions or opportunities to achieve your goals may be very much different to mine! However, I have found that in my studies, it is best to ensure that I busy myself. When I was in my undergraduate, lived at home, and only studied, I barely got anything done. Then, when I had to move out of home for personal reasons, and then was in a really bad place financially (among other things!), I had to work multiple jobs to support myself, and I also got involved in leadership activities at university, to ensure that I could make myself an attractive medical candidate. I was very busy at this time, and found that I was consistently achieving my goals, because I was pushed to do so! The ever-looming threat of being inundated with work drove me to work very hard during this period and was a great motivating factor to achieve my goals. Now, I find that the main ways that I achieve my goals is to have a supportive partner who actively encourages me, and I encourage her, and ensure that I am getting a lot of cultural and educational stimulation outside of my studies, as this keeps me interested in not only what I am studying, but also in life generally! I think keeping your mind fresh and active, by involving it in different things, is crucial for achieving your goals.

This has been a short blog post looking at goal setting and achieving goals and came very much from my personal perspective. I think this can sometimes be more useful than regurgitating a didactic formula of goal setting, and I hope it helped slightly! If not anything more than just to stimulate your thoughts around how you can improve your goal setting and acquisition!

Elliot DE is a current PhD Candidate, Medical Doctor & Law Graduate. He is also a GAMSAT Humanities Tutor at GradReady GAMSAT Preparation Courses.