Set goals that motivate you, in 3 easy steps


We’ve all heard the platitudes. Goals only work if you do. Setting goals is the first step in making the invisible into the visible. Goals are dreams with deadlines. But if you are not setting the right goals to start with, you will be stuck spinning your wheels instead of making progress towards completing and submitting your thesis.

In this article I will look at some of the common advice around goal setting and show you how to set goals that will actually motivate you. Once you work out how to find your motivation, you can get to work smashing those goals.


Goal Setting 101

If, like many PhD candidates, you have searched “goal setting” you will no doubt come across the same tips and advice again and again. Set goals that are achievable, realistic and measurable. Write them down where you can see them every day. Be specific in your goals, including the smaller sub-goals or steps you need to complete along the way. Make your goals relevant to the outcome for which you are striving.

Sounds familiar?

Recently I came across a new tip for goal setting that was both obvious and ambiguous: Set goals that motivate you.

 “Make sure these goals are important to you and there will be value achieving them. Think about how these goals will be a part of the bigger picture.

If you have little interest in achieving them or the outcome, you probably won’t achieve them. Motivation is key when it comes to setting your goals.”

Sounds great: set goals that motivate you.

But, let’s be realistic here, how motivational are your thesis writing goals really? I mean, if you are more than a year into your PhD you’re probably feeling pretty weighed down by goals and milestones, and pretty low on motivation, right?

What if you really don’t want to write your thesis? What if it’s just a means to an end? How do you set goals that will motivate you to write every day and get that thesis finished?

Well I have a couple of ideas.


Set goals that will motivate YOU

Work out your motivating factor

Why are you undertaking this research? Is it to improve your job prospects; to open the gateway to further research opportunities; to make changes in the lives of others? Whatever your motivation is be honest with yourself about it. I’m not here to judge you; I’m here to help you harness your motivation and channel it into getting your thesis written.

One of my clients finds motivation in imagining their post-doctoral life. I encourage them to spend at least 10 minutes at the start of every day visualising what their life will be like once they have graduated with her PhD. Their future-self works at a great job surrounded by people who are as passionate about their field as they are. Their opinions are sought after and respected, and they are making meaningful contribution to their discipline. I look forward to seeing them make this future-vision into reality.


Reward yourself for hitting your goals

While it is important to make goals specific, achievable and measurable, on its own that fails the “so what?” test. So you wrote 1,000 on your results chapter, so what?

Small rewards for achieving these sub-goals are, I believe, vital to maintaining your momentum and motivation to complete each sub-goal. The reward has to be meaningful for you, and it has to be something you are keen to earn. In our household I often buy little gifts for hubby and tell him he can open one gift each time he hits a pre-determined goal. Your reward might be anything from dinner out, to a child-free afternoon, a movie ticket, a relaxing bath, to a weekend away, those shoes you’ve been coveting or the latest Lego Star Wars kit. You can adapt it to fit your budget, just make sure that it motivates you. It needs to be something that you really want; otherwise it won’t work as a motivating factor.


Make achieving your goals fun

If you visit our home you will see sticker-charts on the kitchen wall covered in bright stickers showing progress made towards goals. No, we don’t have children, just 2 adults and a rabbit live here; but for us, showing off and celebrating our small daily achievements towards a greater goal is a fun way to end the day.

Stickers not your thing? That’s ok. How about a high-5 or a power clap? Or a loud, heart felt “Love hearing that”? Whatever you choose, there is surprising power in the process of affirming and celebrating small steps taken towards a bigger goal.


Great goals make a great thesis

Once you have worked out what goals – and rewards to reaching those goals – work to motivate you, you can align them to your thesis plan and start smashing goals.

Need help working out what motivates you and how to align those with your thesis writing goals? Book in for a free chat  


What’s your best goal setting tip?

Let me know in the comments below.

Until next time,

Bec, Your PhD Buddy