Goal setting can be kind of a boring topic. I mean, how many times does one need to learn how to properly set goals? There are probably more books about goals than any other personal development or business development topic.
So why do we still suck at it? I think there are two reasons.
First, information without implementation is useless. It doesn’t matter what we KNOW to do; it matters what we do. So, we don’t implement these detailed, complicated goal-setting systems for any length of time – any more than we follow detailed, restrictive diets for any length of time.
The second reason we still suck at it is that we’re usually focusing on the wrong things when we set goals. Focusing on your goals is actually a huge mistake. Goals are outcomes and we have no control over those.
So, wait. You’re telling me to set goals but then telling me that’s a waste of time?
Not exactly. Goals are important. In the big picture, they drive us forward and motivate us. But to effectively move toward our visions of the future, we need to shift our focus AWAY from our goals.
Where, then, SHOULD we be focusing in order to achieve our goals – if not on the goals themselves?
I'm glad you asked. I have 9 answers for you. And they all start with P.
Read through the explanations below, then download the pdf worksheet to implement what you’ve learned!
Process: This is the basis for this post. As mentioned above, a goal is an outcome. You cannot control outcomes and you cannot move toward your desired outcome without taking the necessary action. Just knowing what your desired outcome is isn’t enough. When you focus on the actions and the PROCESS that will move you toward your desired outcome, that’s where the magic is. You have probably seen something like the picture below of two arrows. Both arrows take you from Point A (where you are now) to Point B (your goal), but one is a straight line and the other curves and turns and swerves every which way – but eventually gets to Point B. If we expect a straight line to Point B, we will give up and get frustrated when the path starts winding and taking us uphill, backward, and in circles. If we stay focused on taking consistent actions, the obstacles will not matter, and we will get to Point B. In fact, one of the most motivational things I heard in a workout program was something to the effect of, “Those aren’t obstacles on your path, the obstacles are your path!” Focus on the process, take consistent action, and reward yourself for doing so – if you’ve chosen the right actions, you will have the desired outcome.
Present “Problem”: Why do so many people quit along the way while in pursuit of their goals? One reason is that their goals are tied to rewards for their “future selves” and there is none of that immediate gratification we all love. This is another reason why small, daily actions need to be at the root of your plan – actions for which you can reward yourself in the PRESENT. If your goal is so far in the future and seems so big it’s intimidating or keeping you from getting started, you can start with something so easy you really can’t NOT do it. Make it almost laughable. Commit to one minute of exercise a day. Start saving a penny a day. Eat one bite of a vegetable a day. Slow and steady wins the race and if it’s easy, you’ll do the most important part – START! Focusing only on big, impressive, future goals is likely to backfire when you have no immediate gratification along the way for the actual work you’re doing to get there. Many of the steps below give suggestions for ways to track and recognize your actions for immediate gratification.
Pain: Hopefully, it is becoming clear to you that the daily activities moving you toward your goal are the real magic. Thus, when you think about your goal, you also need to think about the PAIN you are willing to withstand to make it happen. It’s not enough to have a goal to earn an Olympic Medal; you have to be willing to do the really hard work to get there. If you’re not willing to pay the price, you will never achieve the outcome – so get comfortable being uncomfortable and embrace the PAIN that will allow you to achieve your goals. While this strategy isn’t exactly positive and uplifting, it’s reality. If you read The Secret and think that you just have to tell the Universe you want something in order to have it materialize, I’m sorry to break it to you that it isn’t very likely. Yes, I do think the Universe has your back, but it does expect you to do the work along the way. Be realistic about what that effort looks like so you will be ready to tackle it and keep moving toward that goal!
Priority: Many of us have been taught to write lists of our goals – often resulting in having 10 or more goals in different areas of our lives at a time. While having a lot of goals is not a bad thing, trying to work on all of them at once is. In order to be most effective when working toward goals, it is important to focus – typically on one at a time – so your goals are not all in competition with one another for your attention. When we fail to achieve our goals, it can often be traced back to a failure to select and focus. There are many ways to prioritize your goals and determine which one to focus on for a given season of your life, but the idea that really resonates with me is that of choosing to start with the one goal that will impact the most other areas of your life. Which goal on your list will make other goals easier to accomplish? Typically, there is a goal on your list that is tied to several others, so that’s a great place to start! If it makes you nervous to only focus on one thing at a time, remember – you don’t always have to work in year-long cycles. Instead of trying to focus on 10 things for a year, focus on 1 goal per month or 2 per quarter.
Productivity: Knowing that daily actions are the important thing moving us toward our goals, we need to consider how to best use our time. I love using The Eisenhower Box for determining how to be most PRODUCTIVE in a given day (or any period of time). Simply make a list of your tasks and then assign them to one of the following categories: 1) urgent and important (do now); 2) important, but not urgent (schedule); 3) urgent, but not important (delegate); and 4) neither urgent nor important (eliminate). You can use this not only for bigger goals/tasks to plan your week/month/quarter/year/etc., and/or you can use it each morning to plan your day! Multi-tasking is not your friend, so prioritize your goals, then get PRODUCTIVE by organizing your tasks so you know how best to tackle them. (PS – I realize not everyone has people to whom they can delegate – in this case, I would suggest setting a block of time each day to accomplish the category 3 tasks and blast through them as quickly as possible.)
Progress: We were all taught, as part of setting SMART goals, to make things measurable. This is, indeed, important. We need a way to track our PROGRESS, but how many of us have a “more is better” mentality that causes us to downplay our achievements? I know that if I set a goal to grade 5 papers today but know that I could have done more and didn’t, I will not feel like my goal was “worthy” – even though I achieved it. What if, instead of only setting a minimum goal for each day (or another measurement period), we also set an upper limit? For example, I could set a goal to make 10 sales calls a day, but no more than 15. I know it seems silly to limit yourself, but wouldn’t it also lift a little load off your shoulders to have an upper limit? Even if it’s just psychologically more pleasant, if that helps you stay motivated and positive, that’s OK! Think of your daily action goal as a target board. The outer ring is your minimum goal and the upper limit is your bullseye. Anywhere on the board will help you PROGRESS toward your goal. If you hit the upper limit/bullseye you may move more quickly, but we also want to avoid burnout and make sure what you are doing is reasonable and sustainable. You are more likely to continue showing up when you set goals that are a reasonable stretch so you can have “wins” that are meaningful on a regular basis.
Positive Defaults: This tip is all about setting yourself up for success. My favorite way to do this is with something called “Habit Stacking.” If you are working on a goal that requires you to take daily action and/or change daily habits, the best way I have found to add or change a habit is to tack it on to something that is already a habit or action you do consistently/automatically. Someone with fitness goals might do squats or lunges (new habit) while brushing his teeth (established habit). A work-related version might be to send one follow-up email to someone you met (new habit) as soon as you leave a networking event (regular activity) or make 1 sales call immediately upon returning to your desk (new habit) any time you step away (regular activity such as lunch, restroom, meeting, etc.). The idea here is to make the task you are trying to add or change feel “automatic”. The other part of having Positive Defaults is setting up your environment for success. If you are working on being more present with your family when you are at home, keep your technology in another room or turn off notifications. If you are working on being more active, keep some type of exercise equipment next to your desk and use it when you’re on a conference call or for a few minutes each hour. Basically – make it EASY for yourself to take POSITIVE action by setting up your environment to support that decision.
Pay Attention: More specifically, PAY ATTENTION to the small, daily activities that are moving you toward your goal. Many of us like visual reminders of our progress and hesitate to break a chain of activities. For example, if you’re working on improving fitness, you could move a paperclip or other small item from one glass jar to another every time you complete a workout, or place big red “X” marks on a wall calendar. The same would work for making sales calls, writing a book chapter, etc. That small visual reminder of your progress can often be enough to keep you moving forward and no one likes to ruin a streak! Give yourself credit for all your daily actions in a way that gives you immediate positive feedback.
Plan to Fail: Well, that’s not very positive, now, is it? But the truth is, you’re likely to mess up, make mistakes, miss a day, or otherwise “fail” along the way to your goal. So, create a plan for how you will handle it when you do fail, so it doesn’t derail you. Failing forward means recognizing what happened, learning from it, and then making a new choice in the next moment, next bite, next action, etc. Choose one or more of the tips above for getting and staying motivated on your goal-smashing journey – or share in the comments below what else YOU do to set – and achieve – your goals effectively.
As I mentioned earlier, information is not enough. We need to take action. So are you ready to implement some of these “P Words?” Download my worksheet below to get yourself set up to SMASH your goals!
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