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Returning to STEM
Returning to STEM

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4 Creating your action plan

Now that you have a vision, this will guide you in the next part of the process – creating an action plan with goals that, one step at a time, will take you towards achieving your vision. Your vision will keep you focused and ensure your plans are heading in the direction you want them to.

Guidelines for powerful goal setting

We are constantly making plans, but sometimes it’s difficult to see them through. This is why a well thought-out set of goals needs a realistic action plan to achieve them. Take New Year, for example, which is traditionally a time for resolutions – we all know how quickly well-intentioned plans can slip away once the reality of life kicks in by February.

New Year's resolutions
Figure 4 New Year's resolutions

The purpose of this section is to help you set realistic goals that can and will be achieved.

First, here are some general guiding principles:

Look forward, not backwards

It’s important that when you set your goals you should try to adopt a positive approach, rather than framing your objectives in a negative tone. This will help you develop a sense that you are moving forwards and onwards towards the vision that you have created. Goals that are moving away from something and include the word ‘don’t’ often have the result of reinforcing the negative feeling associated with them. Have a look at the examples below and see if you can think of any others:

I don’t want to be stuck at home for the next two years.I will find myself a new opportunity by the end of the year.
I don’t want to remain out of touch with my subject area.I will subscribe to New Scientist and check websites every week for relevant news.
I don’t want to end up stressed by trying to do too much.I’ll organise my time effectively and regularly review my commitments.
I don’t want my children to end up losing out as a result of my return to work.I will plan childcare carefully and set up contingency plans in case one of the children is sick.

Measure your progress

Achieving your goals will require persistence and determination, and there will be plenty of times when you might think that it’s all too difficult and consider giving up. You should try and set up some kind of system to measure how you are doing, or even to amend your goals in the light of new ideas and experiences. In fact, measuring your progress can become a goal in itself: ‘I will look at my action plan once a month’. Make an appointment with yourself and put a note in your diary for the days that you will do this.

As you work on progressing towards your goals and measuring how well you are doing, you should also be aware of how you might feel if you are not moving ahead as well as you had hoped. Don’t treat your goals as a rigid business plan with sales forecasts that need to be met. Be kind to yourself and celebrate what you have achieved. Your goals are there to guide you on your journey and you should be prepared to celebrate small steps and achievements along the way.

Top tips on goal setting

  • Step beyond your comfort zone – don’t just do what is familiar
  • Set yourself mini challenges and take up opportunities when they arise – for example, giving a presentation
  • Do something to boost your confidence every day
  • Do something that revives you and gives you energy every day
  • Celebrate achievements – keep in touch with other returners via the LinkedIn group and let each other know how you are doing
  • Goals can be as small or large as you like – you just need to make a start! Set daily goals for small achievements if the thought of a big ambition is too daunting
  • Share your goals with someone – that will make it more real and also ensure you are making a commitment
  • Try to avoid negative thinking – it’s all too easy to fall back on familiar excuses for not achieving what you really want.