The “What –If?” of Goal Setting
Last week, I spent time talking about the “which” of goal setting as it related to identifying which obstacles might keep you from attaining the goal you have set. This is all part of looking at the entire process of working towards our goals. Once you’ve identified what obstacles you might face, then you want to create possible solutions to fall back on, should those obstacles arise.
In project management, this would be similar to risk planning. How much time you spend here depends on the probability that the obstacle will arise, as well as the impact it will have if it does arise. If there’s a high probability that you’ll run into the obstacle you’ve identified, then you will want to give greater consideration to planning a solution for it. Let’s say that you want to take a web design class. You’ve never studied anything like this subject before, and you’re concerned that there will be material that you just don’t understand. If that’s the case, then you might begin to consider your options. You want to spend time now, not just thinking about the solution, but putting the pieces of it together. That way, when you’re in the middle of the journey, you don’t have to stop and try to figure it things out in the heat of the battle or worse, under the stress of last minute damage control.
In this case, before you sign up for the class, you could do a number of different things. First, you could try to convince your friend who designs websites for a living to commit to helping you with coursework when and if you get stuck. Second, you could ask the school for a list of appropriate tutors who work with students studying that curriculum. Then, you could call a couple of them ahead of time to find out availability, fees, and any other pertinent information. Third, you could ask your instructor to recommend a few helpful books or reference materials that you could read prior to the beginning of your class to help you prepare. Fourth, you could get with someone else who’s already taken the class and ask that person his opinion on the level of difficulty of the material. That person could possibly work with you on the material that you might struggle with, or he might know someone else that could help you out if you get stuck. In this situation, another solution would to take some type of preliminary or prerequisite course before attending the actual web design course you listed as your goal.
When you start to examine possible solutions to an obstacle you think you’ll face, you’re on the way to setting yourself up for success, not failure. You will be more confident because you already have solutions in play. You will feel more “in control” of your situation because you’ve thought through it on a deeper level. When you feel like you’re in control, you naturally feel more confident. Think about this proactive process… it’s just like making sure you have the car gassed up and the oil changed before you begin a long road trip. The point is to buy your AAA membership before you even put the key in the ignition!
Next Week: The “How Will I Know” of Goal Setting
The “Which” of Goal Setting
Last week I talked about planning to acquire resources you need to complete your goal. Equally important is discussing which obstacles that you may run into along the way to successful achievement of said goal.
When you try anything new, the biggest obstacle to your own achievement is ….well…uhm…er…YOU. Let’s start there. You are the person trying to integrate a new behavior change into your routine. Your own brain, however, is wired against your attempts to change anything. When we do something repeatedly, it becomes a habit (like eating whatever you want whenever you want and not caring about the choice involved). Over time, your brain develops a “memory” of that behavior habit and when you try to change it or alter it in any way, your brain fights that. You may be successful a time or two, but then the old habit starts winning over the new one and you’re right back where you started.
To break an old habit, you need to repeat the new pattern many times over. Eventually, the old “memory” that’s associated with that old behavior habit will be overwritten by the new memory that you’ve now associated with the new behavior habit. It’s a lot more scientific than I’m getting here, but for purposes of this blog – let’s try to keep it simple. I think it’s important that I address the fact that this is going on in any attempt to change an existing behavior to something new. When you address that it’s just “not in your makeup,” you’re not giving yourself an excuse to fail, but rather you’re giving yourself greater power to succeed in spite of that challenge. As a side note here, exercise actually helps you in this entire process – whatever the new behavior habit is that you’re trying to implement, exercising helps your brain in building the new “memory” that’s associated with it through something called neurogenesis.
There are other obstacles that you may run into along the way to reaching this new goal. It’s important that you look at your past performance to determine if there is anything there to give you a clue to what you may face again that could derail you. What has happened in the past that’s kept you from being successful in reaching goals? How did you handle it? Were you effective in dealing with that particular obstacle(s)? What didn’t work in your effort to overcome it? How might you approach this obstacle(s) differently this time with a more successful outcome?
It’s always helpful to run the idea of potential obstacles past other people who know you and support your efforts to reach your goals. You might be surprised to hear what others see in and around you that you may have missed. Once you’ve identified the things that can (and have) pull you off course, work out strategies to deal with them should they happen. Everyone is better with a plan. It’s typically the unexpected thing that arises – the thing we didn’t think about and have no plan on how to deal with – that keeps us from staying on the forward track to achieve our goals. To be forewarned is to be forearmed. Essentially, this is the process of “risk planning/management,” for the goal seeker.
Next Week: The “What-If” of Goal Setting
The What of Goal Setting
Last week, I suggested working backwards from the desired goal as a planning tool. I mentioned that when you work backwards from the finish line in your planning, you are likely to see new information about steps you need to take or differences in the amount of time that you originally thought you needed to complete your goal. In keeping with that thought, while we’re planning the steps for HOW to achieve this goal, we have to consider WHAT we need in order to successfully complete it. The WHAT doesn’t refer only to things. It can also relate to people or skill sets and what’s necessary to secure those resources.
For example, let’s say that you have a goal to achieve a formal certification in project management. You may determine that you need additional information on risk management in order to pass the certification exam. You might determine that only a class in risk management will provide sufficient knowledge. In that case, the resource you need is a greater knowledge of risk management. Now you need to decide how best to receive that additional knowledge. Will it be a night class over 6 weeks? Will you do an online course at your own pace? Do you prefer a traditional classroom with real time interaction between students and professor? How much will you be able to spend on acquiring this knowledge? Will you need to acquire financial aid if you take a college class? If you take a traditional class that’s conducted at night, will you need childcare on those evenings? Who will provide that? How much will that childcare cost? Are there other options for gaining this desired knowledge?
At first glance, this can seem overwhelming. It may seem that if you pull one string (question) it will unravel the whole ball of yarn. In essence, you do want it to unravel. You need to examine this process piece by piece in order to plan accordingly. Too often, people fall victim to their own lack of thorough planning when it comes to their goals. If you don’t think through WHAT you need before you begin, you most likely will reach a point during your journey where you have to stop and do it at a later time. For example, it may be that you need another person who’s a resource to help you out. If you neglect to secure him during the planning, now you may have to wait until he can work you into his schedule to help you with this piece of your journey. If that happens, you can end up postponing action towards your goal.
If you do have to stop your journey due to poor initial planning, it’s even tougher for you to get going again once the resource has finally been secured. People tend to lose momentum and become frustrated when they have to do planning like that in the heat of battle. You need your strategy and your ammunition before you enter the battle field. You need to bring all the artillery you need in order to win with you when you show up for the battle. The best way to do that is to think through all the things you need for survival before you even begin the journey.
Next Week: The Which of Goal Setting
The How and the When of Goal Setting
Last week I focused on the importance of visualizing the impact that reaching your goal will have on your life. When you buy into the end result before you even begin your steps towards it, you’re more likely to stay focused along your journey to attain it. That helps when you run into rough patches along the way. Visualization alone, however, won’t get you where you’re headed. Just like you might plan a trip, plotting how you’ll get there and accounting for the time the entire trip will take, you must plan how and by when you want to reach your goal.
Planning the “how” in goal setting means that you are looking not only at necessary steps you may need to take, but also the order in which those steps need to be taken. At this point, you are mapping how to get from your current situation to the desired situation of successfully completing your goal. While you’re planning, you may run across a step that is new to you. Perhaps you’ve never done anything like it in the past. It’s at this point that you may need to add additional steps, listed prior to that one, that detail how you will go about acquiring the necessary information, money, or resource you need, or possibly even a skill set that you don’t yet have. Whatever it is that you need but don’t have, proper planning will more than likely bring it into focus. There’s nothing more frustrating than jumping into action head first, only to realize you don’t have all the things you need to finish the endeavor successfully. Begin with the end in mind during the visualization step, and then work backwards in your planning to map out the “how.”
Once you’re comfortable with the planning steps you just enumerated, you will have the information that you need to establish the “when” of your goal. The “when” relates to the date you have successfully reached your goal. When you look over your “how” planning steps, you may realize that your goal can be accomplished in less time than you originally anticipated. It may be that you originally underestimated how long it would take. Be realistic when you set your target “due” date for reaching your goal. No matter what, though, you must set a target date. When we don’t set a date on our calendar for something we want to achieve, it doesn’t usually become a reality. If it by some miracle does, it’s much later than we would have liked it to happen. Having a target due date allows us to work towards something. It keeps us on track. Without it, there is one less accountability push. With it, we run the race with our eyes fixed on the finish line!
Next Week: Examining the What of Goal Setting