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Setting and Sticking to Goals

By March 9, 2022No Comments
Editorial images must meet the photo editor’s requirements while also catching their eye with something unique and intriguing for their publication. This can again tie back into having just one or two subjects for the year as well, like getting more and/or better photos of ducks, to have a wide array of images for one subject for photo editors. © Dawn Wilson

By Frank Gallagher, NANPA Blog Coordinator

How many of our new year’s resolutions have already bit the dust? And it’s only March! While it is common to start the year with the best of intentions, that enthusiasm tends to wane as the weeks go by. How do you set reasonable and realistic goals and then stick to those goals? What do you have to do to give yourself the best chance of success?

Setting SMART goals

As photographers, businesspeople, and humans we have a natural urge to improve. We want to be better artists, more successful entrepreneurs, and better spouses, parents, friends, and colleagues. In a recent episode (#23) of The Nature Photographer Podcast on Wild and Exposed, NANPA President Dawn Wilson talked with Jason Loftus and Ron Hayes about how to set goals and be more intentional. Narrowing your focus, not chasing the latest gear or TikTok trend, setting smart goals are key to actually achieving your goals.

I like the structure of a “SMART goal.” This framework helps me come up with the kinds of aspirations that Wilson, Lofton, and Hayes talked about. So, let’s spell it out. A SMART goal is:


It states precisely what I want to accomplish. It’s not vague, like “I want to become a better photographer.” Instead, it gets to the details and the who, what and how to accomplish the goal.


There is a way to determine if I’m successful, some kind of metric, a way to evaluate how well my goal was met.


This is something I can accomplish. It may stretch me but is within my capabilities.


This goal will help move me towards where I want to go. It’s aligned with other objectives and will help me reach my dreams.


This is the right time to be doing this and the goal can be accomplished within a set time frame.

A SMART goal might be that “I will have one article with my photographs accepted for publication in a national magazine by the end of the year.” Dawn Wilson talked about spending a year developing a portfolio of excellent images of one subject or species. These are both specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely/time-bound goals.

I can put milestones on a SMART goal. What do I need to accomplish by when in order to meet my goal? I’ll know if I’m progressing and can adjust if I’m not.

I can figure out who I need help from and where do I need help? What resources do I have and what do I need?

I can plan this out. And, having done all that, it is much easier to persist in meeting my goal.


Even the best written goals won’t automatically fulfill themselves. If it was easy, it wouldn’t be a challenge. Persistence in reaching a goal takes effort, motivation and, sometimes, sacrifice. Here are four tips that can help bolster persistence and help you push forward toward success.

Remember the reason

There was a reason you chose this goal. Imagine what success looks like. What will achieving this goal mean for you? What will change for the better when you accomplish this? Remembering the reason you’re doing this can buttress your motivation and persistence.

Create incentives

Giving yourself some kind of reward for meeting milestones can really enhance persistence. Rewards can be small, like taking a break from your computer and going for a walk, grabbing a snack, playing with the dog. Or rewards can be big if the goal is big. Maybe a dinner out or an overnight photo trip. Heck, I might reward myself with a new camera if I got a story accepted by National Geographic!

Change your vocabulary

Striving towards a goal usually involves some kind of sacrifice. Time you could have spent doing something fun. Money you could have spent on something else. That can sap your motivation and lead to negative self-talk, that little voice that says “I can’t do this” or “That’s too much.” But, what if you could change your view to a more positive outlook? A tool in cognitive behavioral therapy asks you to change your language from negative to positive. In so doing, you change your self-talk and your attitude. Instead of saying “I can’t,” say “I choose not to.” This changes the view from something being taken away from you to making a positive choice. Stating it as “I choose to spend this time and money to make a better future” can help you persist.

Overcoming obstacles

Focusing on the obstacles is another way you can sabotage yourself with negative self-talk. Continuing to stare at the obstacle only makes it appear bigger, more foreboding, and easier to talk yourself out of confronting. Instead, recognize that barriers exist but can be overcome. If you find yourself fixated on an obstacle to success, ask yourself how you can overcome that barrier. What resources do you need to get over this hump? Who or what can help?

With SMART goals and a few techniques to bolster persistence, sticking with your goals and achieving success are eminently possible. Now, I’ve got to go research which camera will be my reward. Hey, I’m already imaging success!

 Frank Gallagher headshotFrank Gallagher is a landscape and nature photographer based in the Washington, DC, area who specializes in providing a wide range of photograph services to nonprofit organizations. He manages NANPA’s blog and can be found online at or on Instagram @frankgallagherfoto.