Goal Setting and Self Improvement for the Ambitious Chef
In the day to day of a professional Kitchen, it's easy to lose track of the larger picture. You can lose your motivation and your work will suffer for it. The goal is to always be improving. Not in leaps and bounds, but slowly, day after day. Making consistent, small progress will lead you to realise your larger goals. Without paying attention to your goals, you will lose sight of how you're progressing.
It's important to have goals. You should have a series of short-term goals and a few larger, longer term goals. Use short term goals to improve your skills. Something like being able to cut an onion faster or making 'perfect' sauces would be a good short term goal. The key for the short term goals is for them to be interesting to you. Then they can serve as a driving force, a motivator. Look at your short term goals like a weekly or monthly challenge. This alone can be a great motivator to try and defeat the challenge and succeed. Longer term goals will help guide you and keep you motivated over the long-haul. A couple of common long term goals include running a kitchen yourself or opening your own restaurant. Large goals like these can seem daunting, but they're necessary so that you have something exciting to work towards. In combination, the successes from achieving your smaller goals will pile up over time and help you realise your large goals.
How to Structure your goals for your success
I'm sure most people have been exposed to the idea of SMART goals, but it's a guideline that works well to help you make good goals that you are more likely to achieve.
S - Specific.
Make specific goals. 'I want to prepare veggies faster' isn't a very specific goal. A better version would be, ' I want to prepare veggies for bolognese sauce in under 10 minutes'. Being specific will make it easy to measure whether you've achieved your goal.
M - Measurable.
Structure your goals so that you can measure your progress and successes. This allows you to objectively see whether you were able to achieve your goal. For larger goals, you may need to expand on your goal statement to be able to measure steps towards the larger goal. Being able to see how you're progressing towards the goal works as a great motivator.
A - Accountable.
Holding yourself accountable to your goals will help you realise them. Keeping your goals present in your mind is a good, simple way to use accountability. You could also tell a friend or colleague about your goal and get them to check in on you. If you need a more intense form of accountability, you could put money on the line. Use a friend to hold onto some money and get them to only give it back once you've achieved your goal. If you don't, the money is gone.
R - Realistic.
Make your goal realistic. Rome wasn't built in a day. You can only do so much at a time and you need to work within your current skill level. With your short term goals, you want to strike the balance between challenge and realism. You need to challenge yourself so that you're interested in the goal. If you attempt too much of a challenge, though, the goal can become unrealistic. Keeping your goals realistic will help mitigate negative feelings from a series of failed or forgotten goals.
T - Time Based.
Have a deadline for achieving your goal. This will help push you to complete it faster. The boost you get from a deadline, even a self-imposed one, will help you get better over a shorter period of time. Having the deadline will also help to measure progress and determine whether you've achieved a given goal.
Keeping your goals in mind
Making the effort to write out your goals is a perfect starting point. Keep them somewhere you'll return to often and be able to reread them. I like to keep my goals in a pocket-sized notebook. At the front, I have my long term goals, followed by a series of my short term goals. As I complete a goal, I will check it off and write a short note on how I did. I have the habit of referring to this booklet daily and that helps keep my goals present in my mind. Keep your goals in a way that works best for you. Make sure, though, that you can refer to them. That is the key to keeping your goals in sight and getting the performance boost from having that driving force. If you lose sight of your future, you can become lost in the present and lose your drive.
Any 'failed' goals should be seen as a point for course correction. Don't get too worked up about it. There should be plenty of other goals you're working on. Try bringing up a failed goal again in the future and change it if you need to to make it more realistic. See how you do when you have a second crack at the goal.
Focusing on goals will work to keep you motivated and hard working. By setting little challenges for yourself to conquer, you'll improve your skill set. Over time, your series of completed goals will pile up and you will be able to achieve greater things. You'll be in a position to realise some of your original large goals. When you do, looking back on what brought you there will be a humbling experience. Even after you've achieved some of your larger goals, continue giving yourself harder challenges that will help keep you interested. There's an infinite skill ceiling in the culinary industry. There's always something to get better at.