When I first started setting goals I wondered if I’d really be able to make them happen. I learned that there was one factor that had a lot of leverage “on me.”
By publicly declaring my commitment to a goal, I gave notice to friends, family and co-workers that I intended to achieve a goal, often (but not always) by a certain date and in a certain way.
Talk about leverage…
When everyone knows what you SAY you are going to do…you feel compelled to perform.
The network of people around you can help you by reminding you when you forget your goal and by ‘keeping you honest’. Better, if the network is filled with naysayers (I always wanted to use that word in a sentence) then I KNEW you was going to succeed.
It’s an amazing thing…when people would tell me, “You can’t do that,” or anything like that, it wasn’t long before stuff got done…
A lot of people think you only need “support” to meet your objectives in life. Well, that’s a nice thing when you have the support, but when you have people who say you can’t do it, there is something inside…some kind of defiance…that says, “Oh yeah, watch this…”
It is a proven fact that most of us are embarrassed to loudly proclaim we will do something and then leave our goal behind us in the dust.
We don’t like to lose face or disappoint people and we don’t want to seem irresponsible, impotent, incapable, flighty or non-committal. By declaring your goal publicly, you give yourself even more reason to stick with your goal.
We will talk later in this series about situations where you may want to keep your goals private – and there are certainly times when you will want to consider that possibility!
For now, let’s dive into the details of how to set goals.
NOTE: There are some kinds of goals I will talk about next week that don’t follow this neat little tidy recipe. It’s a guide, not the holy bible of achievement…
For the feint of heart, we will start with the basic principals and save the loftier goals (life goals) for later when you feel more comfortable with the concepts.
Here are a few tips that will help you understand how to think about and establish your goals…
1. DO Try to Set Performance Goals – Try to AVOID ‘OUTCOME’ or ‘RESULTS’ Goals
When you think about and compose your goals, try to focus them on ‘performance’, because you have more control over that type of goal, as compared to a ‘results’ goal that is dependent on other factors or people outside your control.
CONTROL IS BIG!
KEYPOINT: If you can’t control it, then you might want to reconsider making it a goal.
For example, an athlete might set a goal for the Boston Marathon. That goal would be based on the time in which she wanted to finish the race, rather than on winning the race or on finishing in the Top 10.
By setting a personal goal she can better control, she will avoid factors that relate to how many other runners there will be in the race, and how skilled those runners may be.
IF you are setting outcome-specific goals, try to set them realistically and with the flexibility to change objectives and possibly even the goal as you proceed.
REMEMBER: There is NOTHING wrong with changing your goals! In fact, if you don’t, you might end up where you really don’t want to be!
Make your objectives VERY specific and task-oriented so that you consider EVERYTHING you must do or CAN DO to achieve this outcome. You may or may not find that you have the control to achieve what you desire.
If you determine that there are too many uncontrolled variables or that you must depend on too many people and circumstances to get what you want, then you may want to change your goal statement.
2. Make your Goals Specific
We’ll talk about activities, tasks and objectives later, but it is important to note that you will use all of these things to accomplish your goals.
When we talk about ‘specifics’ here, we are not talking about THOSE details.
(I hate details…)
It is also important to note that goal setting has changed over the years and that there are still some schools of thought that ask the ‘goal writer’ to keep their goal more in the vein of a ‘visionary statement’. That’s not me.
While you can certainly make your goals more vague in wording, we have found that, the more specific you are in your goal statement, the easier it will be to thoroughly cover all the bases when you set objectives.
You are less likely to forget details if you have drafted a complete goal that reminds you of what you want to accomplish and when you want to accomplish it.
Visionary statements are wonderful and you may want one of those too, but really…. your goal CAN be a specific statement without stealing thunder from your objectives or the tasks and activities in which you will engage in order to accomplish those objectives.
If anything, a detailed goal statement will only support your detailed objectives and tasks and vice versa. What else is important about how specific your goals should be?
In these articles, I will teach you how to compose your goals with specific wording to clearly define what you mean, and I’ll ask that you try to avoid vague statements and things that can be interpreted in more than one way.
As you develop your objectives and the activities to support them, you will begin to see how this all fits together!
If you are still not sure if your goal is specific enough, you can test it by giving it to a trusted friend, family member or co-worker and asking them to read it and then TELL YOU what they think you mean in specific detail.
And remember, no matter WHAT your friend says, or whether they support you or not, does NOT matter.
You may discover that you have been misunderstood, in which case, you’ll want to give more thought to the words you are using.
This may sound like way too much effort and detail, but it will pay off in the long run because your specific language will become the thing that reminds you and motivates you.
What if you set a goal as follows: “Get Healthier”. Is that specific enough? What the hell does that mean?
Does it really get to what you want to address? HOW do you need to improve your health? Are you overweight, or eating the wrong things, or has your doctor told you to decrease your cholesterol?
If it is weight you want to lose, this goal would be much better, much clearer and much less likely to fall by the wayside:
“Lose 20 pounds by March 1, of 2007”
Or how about this one for eating healthier?
“Eat three servings of fresh fruits, vegetables, proteins and grains every day”
To be specific in a goal, you should write the ‘goal statement’ using specific, clear language that everyone can understand (test it against a friend or colleague if you need to do so to be sure their interpretation is accurate), date-specific (when will you achieve your goal) and measurable (how will you know you are successful if you can’t measure it?)
Dates aren’t ALWAYS critical. And just because you have a deadline, doesn’t mean you are dead when the deadline comes without the goal. ALWAYS keep that in mind. It just means you overshot your potential. Happens all the time, don’t worry about it.
The measurement can relate to WHEN you meet your goal, or it can be a number (like how many pounds you will lose or how many pages of your new novel you will complete by December 31st, etc.)
The final thing to remember in terms of ‘specifics’ is to include DETAIL. By fully describing your goal in detail, you will be sure you capture all the seemingly minor points that may come back to bite you if you forget them in the beginning.
For example, if you want to buy a home in the canyons of Southern California, don’t define a goal that simply says “buy a home in Southern California”.
Do you want a NEW home or a used home? Do you want a large home with a certain number of bedrooms or a small cottage? How much acreage do you want? What do you want to pay for the house (you know those houses in Southern California are pretty expensive 🙂
Your ‘goal statement’ might end up something like this: “By July of 2008, I will buy (don’t say you “want”) a new house in Southern California that will have at least 3,000 square feet, 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms and at least five acres of land and I will pay less than $500,000 for the house”. (Delusions can create optimism!?)
That’s a good specific ‘goal statement’, but you forgot to check one thing. Is the expectation realistic? Can you buy a house that size in that location for that money? I don’t think so.
You see, it all has to fit together, and it takes some thought.
3. Set Realistic Goals – Not Too Low, Not Too High and BE Intellectually Reasonable
There are lots of reasons a goal might be unrealistic or unreasonable. The goal may not take into consideration other factors, it may be too naïve or ‘pie in the sky’, or it may be a goal you can’t achieve all at once.
Or perhaps the goal is too low and it isn’t challenging enough for you.
When you are drafting your goals, be honest and realistic about what you can expect to achieve in a certain time period with the tools, resources, skills and knowledge you have at your disposal.
If your ultimate goal requires more of any of these things, then set interim goals designed to get you to a point where you can then strive to reach the ultimate goal.
If you don’t have enough information to KNOW whether your goal is realistic, you’ll need to do some research before you put the goal on paper.
So many people tell me their goals and they are dreaming without a net.
Lottery mentality will get you nowhere.
Remember that if you set a long-term goal, you will have consider time related factors like the loss of physical capacity as you age. (10 years ago, I wouldn’t have written that sentence….)
How about the limitation of doing something while your child is young? You know that every year your child will get older, and taking them to Disney World is probably less exciting for a 19 year old, than it might be for a 9 year old.
Allow appropriate TIME to get things done – don’t assume you will focus on this goal 24/7. You won’t. You will get distracted. Life will HAPPEN.
You WILL need time off and vacations, so set appropriate timetables for achieving each objective and for achieving your final goal.
Set the bar high enough to keep you interested. If you have a plan to get you to the next level, don’t shortchange yourself by setting your goals too low.
Be willing to take some risks and know that failure and flexibility are sometimes in the cards for larger, longer-term goals, so you need to be ready with alternatives and not judge yourself too harshly if things turn against you. Just find another way to get it done!
We all have a ‘comfort zone’ within which we like to operate. EVERY DAY, be willing to challenge yourself to go beyond that comfort zone. ONLY THEN will you be in the COMFORT ZONE of NO COMFORT! (so to speak!)
You may have to learn new things or get new information and it will take some work, but if your goal is important, then the work is worthwhile.
Studies show that if you set goals that are slightly outside your immediate grasp and your comfort zone – yet not so far outside your comfort zone that you will give up early in the game – you are more likely to meet your goals, feel challenged and feel good about your achievements.
4. Ask Yourself Questions – If you don’t know the answer, FIND the answer
If you haven’t thought through your goal to be sure it is realistic and achievable and to figure out what you will need to learn or where to find help to achieve your goal, you will not be able to set your objectives or perform the tasks you need to perform to achieve that goal.
Here are some simple questions to ask yourself. You can probably think of more if you put your mind to it!
- What skills do I need to achieve this goal?
- Do I have all the information and knowledge required to plan for this goal?
- If not, who should I talk to and/or where should I look to get more information?
- What things should I factor into my goal setting to be sure I have enough time and resources to achieve my goal?
- What assumptions am I making? Are they accurate?
- If I don’t have all the information to plan for this goal, when will I have it and when can I sit down and draft my ‘goal statement’ and objectives?
By acting like an interviewer and interviewing YOURSELF, you will get the bottom of a lot of ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘when’, ‘how’.
5. Set Personal and Professional Goals – Every aspect of your life is important
There are several things to consider as you set these goals. First, focus on one goal at a time in the beginning, until you get comfortable with the goal-setting process. After that, you can set multiple goals, all aiming toward one very long-term life goal and you’ll still do fine.
KEYPOINT: Also, be sure that one goal does not contradict another.
Just because YOU want something, doesn’t mean your FAMILY wants it!
Let’s look at an example.
John sits down and writes out 10 things that are really important to him (both in the area of his personal and professional life).
Many such conflicts can exist when you are setting goals.
If you are not careful to check your goals against one another, you may find that you are working against yourself instead of working toward a longer-term, more important life goal.
So be careful!
One of the greatest mistakes people make in setting goals is trying to work on too many things at one time. There is tremendous power in giving laser beam focused attention to just one idea, one project or one objective at a time.
In NLP there is something called an Ecology Check. In simple terms, it means when you change one part of the system, EVERY PART changes whether they/it knows it now or doesn’t. Believe that. It’s true and it will bite you in the butt if you don’t take care of it in advance!
And remember to live your life. Your goals should be about what you love or what will get you to what you love, or getting you OUT of what you don’t like!
Don’t focus on work-related goals and neglect your family or friends. It is all about integration at many levels.
6. Make Your Goals Flexible – PLAN to make changes along the way
Yes, you need dates and specifics, but you also have to plan for the uncertainties of life.
Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans. (–John Lennon)
Set your goals and put your objectives in place and then be sure you review those goals and objectives against your schedule on a monthly basis. Don’t get caught unaware!
If things seem to be changing, you will want to modify your dates or other information to be sure you stay on top of the changes in your life.
For example, if you have accurately planned for a date to complete your Masters degree and your mother becomes ill, you may have to take a lot of time away from school or work to care for your mother’s health problems.
Don’t ignore the changes you need to make. Otherwise, your goals will seem out of date and stale and you will lose interest in them. You will tell yourself that you are far past the due date for your next 5 objectives anyway, so why bother picking up the track?
Whereas, if you keep your goals and objectives alive and vital and change them to flex to the reality of your life, you will have a map and a plan to get back on track.
You may get your Masters degree a year or two later, but you WILL get it, as opposed to dropping your goals entirely and feeling like you have failed!
7. Prioritize your Goals – Where you have multiple goals, KNOW which is most important
In the beginning, you won’t have a problem with juggling too many goals at once, but eventually you will set multiple goals and, in some cases, these goals are smaller goals that will help you achieve that one big ‘umbrella’ goal (a life long goal that will take a lot of time and smaller steps to achieve).
Don’t give equal priority to every goal. They can’t all be of equal importance! Look at what is most important and focus on that one thing or those few things first.
ALSO, be sure that you set your goals in the right sequence. If one goal must be achieved before you can move on to the next goal, be sure to put the goals in the right order.
An obvious example would be that you could not have a goal to achieve your Masters degree BEFORE you had achieved your Bachelors degree!
8. Set both Medium – Term and Short-Term Goals – They are both important
Sometimes it is a good idea to have some short-term goals to let you know that you are achieving goals every day, instead of having to work and wait for a goal for five or ten years.
If your goal is a really long-term goal, you can split it up into a series of short-term goals so that you can celebrate your successes along the way.
Even if you don’t have a lifetime goal, it is important to have short-term goals so that you can make progress. Short-term goals are goals you can achieve within 3 months, 6 months or 12 months. Longer-term goals may take 2 years, 5 years or even 20 years.
How many goals you can work on at once really depends on your level of discipline and focus AND on the complexity of the goals you have set.
We have mentioned ‘objectives’ a number of times and, in future, we will get into the discussion of objectives and explain how they fit with your goals and how they can help you achieve great things!
Practice writing specific, positive, measurable and realistic ‘goal statements’ and then I’ll see you here next week.
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