If you are like me, each January you blithely state your New Year’s resolutions, work diligently on them for 2-3 weeks, and by February have reverted back to your old habits. Setting goals and working towards achieving them are activities that receive much attention, particularly at the beginning of the year. But when it comes down to it, accomplishing meaningful goals leading to lasting change is hard for both individuals and organizations.
I think we have trouble achieving our goals not because we aren’t trying hard enough, but because we are missing a critical step in the goal setting process- linking how we will accomplish the goal to why we have the goal in the first place. Stating a goal and then listing steps to achieve it is a very logical, organized way of going about things, but most of us work from a place of habit and feelings. If we don’t connect feelings to our goals, and practice new habits to achieve our goals, our goal-setting exercises are for naught. For example, it is very easy to state that you are going to lose 10 pounds in 2 months, and establish your specific diet and menu in order to lose the weight. But after your 5th salad lunch, when your office-mates are going out for burgers, it is very hard to say no if you don’t have a powerful reason to stay true to your goal.
One of my major goals for 2017 is to be more organized and disciplined about writing. I have many reasons for choosing this goal: to be thorough and detailed and not wait until the last minute to meet my responsibilities, to become a thought leader in my field, to make sure I don’t forget things, etc. The most compelling thing for me however, is to be more productive overall. I have just started a consulting business, and yet I feel like I am wasting valuable time because I am not thoughtful and planned about my writing. So I need to figure out how I am going to be able to write more, and then identify the steps I need to take to be consistent about writing.
Three simple, but not so easy, steps for goal setting:
1. When identifying a goal, articulate why that goal is important. Why do you want to lose 10 pounds? To fit better in your clothes? To have more energy to play with your kids? To lower your blood pressure? Each of these reasons will require a different approach to achieving the goal. If you are trying to lower your blood pressure by strict dieting, this may add to your stress and have the opposite effect! Spending time thinking deeply about why the goal is meaningful in the first place is the first step.
In order to achieve a significant goal, you need to be fully committed to it. You therefore need to be clear about if you really want to achieve the goal. Setting a goal because you think you should, or because someone else wants you to accomplish it, or without being fully clear why you are working on it, will usually mean you won’t accomplish it.
As for me, I am very motivated to make my new business a successful venture. I believe that by organizing my writing schedule, I’ll be more productive which will generate more business. This is my goal and I’m clear about why it is important to me.
2. Before creating your list of action items, establish how you are going to achieve your goal. This can also be thought of as creating a strategy, or a group of behaviors that lead to an outcome. If you want to lose weight, think about the strategy that will address why you want to lose weight. If you want to look better in your clothes, perhaps you need to focus on exercise and strengthening your body rather than on strict dieting. If you want to lower your blood pressure, you might need to address stress and binge eating which may be contributing to accumulating and holding onto extra weight. Before getting into details, think about a strategy that will help you accomplish the why of your goal.
For my writing goal, I could choose several different strategies. I could plan on writing for a specified amount of time at at a certain time each day. I could block large amounts of time for writing, several times a week. I could focus on writing a page a day. I could promise myself rewards for accomplishing a certain amount of writing (Starbucks for each page…). I need to think about my current habits, energy levels, motivators, other responsibilities, and schedules in order to find the strategy that will be most likely to help me achieve my goal.
3. Once you establish your strategy, now you can think about the action steps that will lead you to success. Your action steps need to connect to the why of your goal in addition to leading you to accomplish your strategy. If you want to look better in your clothes, and your strategy is to exercise and strengthen your body, you’ll need to create a schedule for working out that meshes with your habits, energy levels, motivators, etc. If going to a gym makes you want to throw up, you need to find another way to exercise.
For my writing goal, I think I’ll try creating “content” once a day- at some point. My schedule varies each day, so locking myself into certain times for writing doesn’t always work. And I’m not particularly motivated by external rewards. So if my strategy is to try and write something each day, now I can establish steps for that: will I try to schedule when I’m going to write or will I just fit it in each day? Where will I write? Will I have set a time limit or a length of writing limit? How will I document that I have written? What will I do when I don’t write on any given day? These specific steps that connect to my why and how will be the guideposts for achieving my goal.
The building blocks for goal-setting success are these three basic steps- articulate specifically why you have the goal, establish a strategy or how you will achieve the goal, and then create specific action steps that connect you to the why and how of your goal.
There are, of course, many other activities that are helpful in achieving goals: tell people about your goals, have long-term rewards for achieving goals, post motivational pictures or statements to encourage yourself, etc. I’ll work on writing about some of these soon!