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
Identifying and Visualizing the Benefits
Last week, I talked about understanding the “WHY” of a goal. I examined the importance of understanding why you feel a particular goal is important to achieve. I concluded with the concept that if the goal you’re working towards doesn’t really belong to you (i.e., if it’s being imposed on you by someone else, or you’re doing it to please someone else), then you probably won’t experience sustainability with it even if you do reach it momentarily. Sustainability is what you’re after when you work towards a goal that brings a desired change.
In order to have sustainability, you need to fully embrace and consider how successfully attaining your goal will affect your life. It’s important to visualize your life as you imagine it will be once you’ve attained the goal. When you allow yourself to experience what successfully reaching the goal will feel like, you are giving yourself an upfront taste of the change it brings. Consider what aspects of your life will be different – better – after you’ve realized this goal. How will you feel? What are the emotions that come with this? What will be different about you – what will others see that is different? How will your life be improved by realizing this goal? Will you be healthier? Will you be wealthier? Will you be happier? Will you weigh less? Will you look different? Will you be more professionally fulfilled? Sometimes a goal you are working towards will impact other people. If this is the case for your goal, imagine how those other people will feel as well. What will be different in your relationship with them? How will their lives be enriched?
When you allow yourself to develop the image and visualize how your life will be after you successfully reach your goal, then you not only have an image but a feeling to carry with you during your journey to get there. You are beginning – as Stephen Covey says – with the “end” in mind. You are drawing a picture of the end result to put in your pocket and keep with you on your travels to get there. It serves as a constant reminder to you of what you are working towards and why.
So many times, we allow ourselves to get pulled off the road to achieving a goal. At the first sign of turbulence on the journey, we forget why we wanted to take the trip in the first place. This happens because we haven’t really bought into the end result before we ever took the first step towards it. If we can allow ourselves to concentrate on how victory will feel and what it will mean in our lives and possibly the lives of others, then we are more apt to “stay the course” when the road to it gets bumpy.
Next Week: Putting together the plan – the “How” and the “When” of goal setting.
Thinking through our goals
Many of us don’t do what I call a “360” when we goal plan. Doing a “360” means that you examine the goal from all possible angles. You think through the goal you want to achieve before you actually start working towards it. In essence, you walk all the way around the goal, examining every aspect of it.
To successfully set and achieve a goal, it’s important that we think through these things:
- WHY (Why do I want change/improvement in this particular area?)
- BENEFITS (In what way will my life change when I realize this goal? Is there anyone else who will be affected by my achievement – if so, how?)
- HOW and by WHEN (How and by When do I plan to accomplish this change/improvement?)
- WHAT (What resources – people, equipment, etc- will I need to accomplish this change/improvement?)
- WHICH (Which obstacles might I be faced with while I’m working towards my goal?)
- WHAT IF (What will I do IF I am faced with one of the obstacles I defined)
- HOW WILL I KNOW (How will I know if I’ve attained my goal? What are the measurements by which I’ll know it’s been reached?)
- RELEVANCE and REWARD (How important is this goal to me and how will I reward myself once I’ve successfully achieved it?)
This week, let’s focus on the “WHY” we want to achieve our goal. When we focus on the “WHY,” we have to find out from where the desire to change or improve is coming. When it’s a desire that comes from outside sources or one that is imposed on us by others (social influence), we tend to fail in our attempts to reach the goal (or change the behavior). If we do succeed initially with the goal or change in behavior, we lack sustainability. Sometimes we may even resent the very thing we’ve changed.
Moreover, embracing a goal because it’s what others think should be our goal can actually keep us from focusing on things that would produce positive change/growth in our lives. In other words, things like losing weight or quitting smoking (or exercising, or eating healthier – etc,…) can be useful and helpful things to do, but unless we each perceive the value in those things as it relates to our individual lives and our personal desires, our results will not be lasting.
When we examine the “WHY,” we may need to modify the original goal or even discard it entirely. That’s not all bad. That’s how we drill down and focus on the goals that are truly important to us – the ones that WILL change our lives for the better and the ones that will have LASTING positive impact.
Let me speak for a moment from experience. While I was growing up, our home was spotless. In fact, it looked like it could be in a magazine. Everything was always in its place and our home was in pristine condition just in case anyone stopped by unannounced to visit. This meant that my mother, bless her heart, was constantly cleaning, dusting and vacuuming. I mean every single day those things were done. At times, I’m sure you could even have eaten off the floor and been fine (no 5 second rule needed).
Now, let’s fast forward to my adulthood. While working unbelievable work week hours at the peak of my corporate career, I carried with me the goal that I had to have my own home as spotless as my parent’s home was when I was growing up. In order to reach that goal, that meant I would have to spend my weekend – Saturday to be exact – cleaning my home. My home, you see, was really a 1000 square foot apartment with two bedrooms and two bathrooms. To clean it the way I felt was required to hit my “goal” meant that I would need to spend 4 hours cleaning every Saturday. Needless to say, I was exhausted when Sunday rolled around. That didn’t leave much time for “fun” on the weekend, much less time to rest before my grueling work week started over again.
The other notable factor was that while my home place was indeed clean, I was not progressing forward in building a gratifying social life. When I met my husband, I realized that I wanted to spend time on the weekend with him instead of with my head stuck in a toilet or tub. Granted, the clean toilet and tub were rewarding, but not nearly in the same way as having a mutually gratifying relationship with another human being.
Humor aside, I had to think about why I willingly embraced a goal that was actually holding me hostage. I realized, after pondering the WHY for awhile, that the goal belonged to my mother and not me. That was HER goal, not mine. I had accidentally packed it when I left home and I needed to return it as soon as possible – or at least a part of it. So I did. What a freeing experience it was to rethink that goal. Cleanliness was and is important to me, but to make it workable in my world in the form of a personal goal, I needed to realize its relevancy. How important was that goal to ME?
Once I decided that, then I could modify that original goal with parameters that worked for me. I redefined what level of “clean” was acceptable for me. Then I redefined what “filth” meant in my world. Ultimately, I decided what was acceptable to me in both of those categories. With that done, I was free to put into motion some time management practices that allowed me to work on a far more important goal – spending time with the man that I love and building a lasting relationship. That goal was more important than the dust on my coffee table that had accumulated during the work week. After all, I felt like the dust would wait on me.
Next week: Realizing and visualizing the benefits of achieving your goal.
Over the last few weeks, this series has been focusing on what works against us when we try to set and achieve goals. I’ve been discussing some helpful information found in Ken Blanchard’s book, Know Can Do!. Previously, I’ve discussed the negative effects of information overload and negative filtering.
This week, I’m taking a look at the concept of “lack of follow-up.” Most people, after being exposed to new information or new material don’t have any kind of follow up plan. Because of that, many of us revert back to our old routines. Sound familiar? We need to put our newly learned knowledge or ideas or know-how into action. We have to have a follow up plan. In goal setting, just as in learning and applying newly learned material, we need structure, support, and accountability.
Lack of Follow Up
Without immediate follow up after learning something new or deciding to implement a new behavior within our daily schedule, we will typically revert back to our old ways and habits. The quicker we pull the trigger on using this new knowledge or implementing this new behavior, the greater the chance that we’ll be successful in our attempts to create sustainability. Sometimes, we need help in getting the desired results in our lives. Here’s where a coaching relationship can help provide you with structure, support, and accountability where goal setting and achievement is concerned.
Structure: Working with a coach will help a client focus on a limited number of areas where changes/improvements are desired. With the assistance of a coach, the client defines a specific goal(s) and then maps out an effective strategy to move from where he/she currently is to where he/she wants to be in relation to that specific goal.
Support: A coach will encourage a client to think differently about situations, opportunities and perceived obstacles. Additionally, a coach will guide a client in reframing an existing approach to reaching a goal in order to achieve the goal faster and easier.
Accountability: If you are committed to the coaching process, a coach can help you stay focused on your goal and why it’s important to you. The coaching relationship helps you maintain the motivation and commitment you need to achieve your goals. Studies show that when you tell someone else about your goal and have a regularly scheduled time to meet with an “accountability partner,” you have a greatly increased chance of completing the goal successfully. In fact, The American Society of Training and Development conducted a research project into the probability of completing a goal based on the actions a person takes related to that goal. Information from that research suggests that the probability of completing a goal jumps to 95% if we have a specific accountability appointment with another person related to the implementation of our action plan to reach our goal.
Getting the Results We Want
For many people it is far more successful to have a professional coach, rather than a friend or family member, help them through the process of goal setting and accountability. A professional coach is trained to walk a client through a structured type of questioning to help that person understand why the goal has priority his/her life. Sometimes, when that first piece of the pie is examined, a goal can be restructured or thrown out entirely. Because a coach has only the success of the client in mind, there are no hidden agendas. As much as we love friends and family, we cannot say the same of them.
While our friends and family members may outwardly claim to want only the best for us, they may unintentionally hinder us from desired achievement due to their own negative filtering. There are also other reasons this happens with people close to us. In his book, Emotions Revealed, author Paul Ekman discusses the concept of emotional triggers being universal and individual. Individual emotional triggers may be affected by the activity of each person’s own “auto-appraisers.” He suggests that we have built in “appraising” mechanisms that are continually scanning the world around us in order to detect when something important to our survival or welfare is happening. The auto appraisers to which he refers are our senses, simply put. The conflict arises because everyone’s senses may react differently to the same situation. What one person’s auto-appraisers may tell him/her is scary, another’s may acknowledge differently.
Because a coach doesn’t give “advice” or try to sway a client one way or another in choices, the client makes the decisions about which directions to ultimately take or avoid. The very nature of coaching acknowledges that the answers are already within the client, but that the coach is needed to ask the right questions. A great coach will be able to ask unbiased questions that provoke true and open responses from a client. A close family member or friend might have a much tougher time handling biases from their own emotions, which in turn, would affect the truthfulness and openness of the responses from the same person (client).
When I look back through my early life, my parents always attempted to provide structure and accountability. The amount of support I received, however, was in direct correlation to whether the course of my action (whatever that was) met with their personal approval. That approval/disproval was most likely influenced by their personal auto-appraisers. But whichever of those was offered to me, be assured that it peppered my own experience with one of two things: either additional confidence to move forward, or doubt about my chance for success.
Later, as an adult, I can list more than one occasion where one parent’s fear regarding my suggested courses of actions could easily have kept me from taking necessary steps towards personal and professional achievement. Although that parent’s love for me is unquestionable, fear drove the motivation for said parent. Although I understood where the fear originated, I refused to personally embrace it and ultimately allow it to stall my personal/professional growth. Had I allowed the influence of fear to stop me in that situation, I would not have met my husband. What a shame that would have been!
The follow up of implementing newly learned material or desired changes in behavior needs to be driven through structure, support, and accountability. If you are someone who routinely has trouble reaching your goals or someone who feels stuck, realize that what you’ve been doing isn’t working. First, examine whether the proper structure, support, and accountability exists for you on any level. Secondly, if it does exist, you may need to make changes relating to where you find it. In other words, who influences your follow through and follow up?
Next Week: Thinking through our goals.
Negative Filtering is the next thing we need to look at when trying to understand what works against us in setting and achieving our goals. This is an especially important concept to understand since negative thinking, rather than positive thinking, is prevalent among the majority of us. But why is that? If we can actively choose to think positively, rather than negatively, why do so many of us choose negativity?
It typically starts during our childhood. We want to be accepted and loved unconditionally. Our parents give us reinforcement, however, largely based on our behavior – which is perceived to be conditional acceptance. We, in turn, then try to get attention or seek praise and approval through our achievements and accomplishments. The reality for most of us is that when we behaved correctly during childhood, it was expected and therefore no one really gave us reinforcement. In other words, because it’s how we should have been behaving anyway, we didn’t really receive positive reinforcement. When we misbehaved, however, we got the attention of our parents or teachers, etc. We didn’t get caught doing anything “right.” We did, however, get caught doing things wrong. Even if our parents were great at giving positive reinforcement, we still were exposed to negative thinking and attitudes by other people in our lives – other family members, teachers, friends, managers, etc.
With the lack of positive reinforcement, we can begin to doubt ourselves and also other people. Some of us may try to protect ourselves by developing defense mechanisms. With those defense mechanisms in place, our mind filters things (new information, ideas, etc.) through negative thinking. We can become closed minded. We often develop judgmental attitudes and our thoughts are often motivated by fear and not possibilities.
More damaging results surface when we believe the negative things we’re told about ourselves by others. If we don’t realize this is happening, it can keep us from achieving more in our lives. We can end up living our lives totally under the influence of negativity. Sadly, many of us won’t achieve in life even a portion of what we’re capable because of this negative filtering.
To overcome the self-limiting that comes with negative filtering and thinking, we have to change our mindset. We have to become possibility thinkers and doers. We have to permanently change our attitudes – that change ultimately impacts our overall life performance.
Next Week: How lack of follow-up affects us in achieving our goals.
Now that the new year is upon us and the hectic schedule of the Christmas holiday season is behind us, it would be so easy – and almost welcome – to drift back into our old and comfortable routines. The changes we want to make (insert New Year’s Resolutions here) will somehow seem to elude us. Even though we may have the best of intentions to improve our lives in some way, or to set goals for marked achievement in specific areas of our lives, we will be pulled off course, yet again this year.
Because so many of us desire change in one area or another of our lives, but just can’t seem to actually make it happen, I thought it would be helpful to examine the idea of goal setting in greater depth. This is the first in a series of blogs that I will post in the coming weeks about what goal setting really involves. We’ll begin by examining what things work against us in our own mindsets when we try to change or implement newly learned ideas. Then, we’ll examine the preliminary planning/thinking steps that are not only required, but also critical in setting and achieving goals.
What keeps us from attaining our goals?
Why do we solemnly resolve to improve our situations, only to burn out in our attempts a few months (or weeks or days) after we start the process? Why does this happen, year after year, for some of us? Simply put: we don’t do the necessary preliminary planning/thinking work it takes before we attempt to change/improve something about ourselves or in our lives. When we don’t do the necessary preliminary work, goals can become a moving target and so can our own accountability for achieving them. If we aren’t clear about our goals, much less the decisions we need to make surrounding them, how can we be held accountable for achieving them? That’s the trap we gravitate towards – that’s the trap that makes it easy to be pulled off course. Even worse, it creates the situation we use to let our efforts to reach our goals fade off into the sunset. Lack of accountability breeds abandonment of the goals we’re trying to achieve to improve our lives.
Not doing the preplanning, however, is only a part of the problem we face in goal setting. I think another huge reason we don’t successfully achieve when we goal set is that we don’t fully understand what works against us in our own minds and personalities before we even begin the planning process. When we want to change one of our behaviors, we have to begin with what’s in our hearts and our minds. Once our hearts and minds are changed, then the desired behaviors will follow. So what is working against us? What do we need to acknowledge before we begin to work towards our goals?
Ken Blanchard’s book, ‘Know Can Do!’, gives us a good indication of what goes on in our own head when it comes to processing new information or thinking about implementing something new in our lives. It examines the ideas of information overload, negative filtering, and lack of follow up as reasons that keep us from implementing new information that we learn (example: courses, seminars, and workshops). Those three reasons are not just reasons working against us to learn new information and apply it in our lives. They are also things working against us when we try to implement the changes that goal setting inevitably brings into our lives.
Information Overload is where we need to look first. Most of us can’t leave home without our own connection to the internet. Many of us are joined at the hip to our mobile devices. We never stop checking email, googling various subjects of interest, or spending time on facebook. We are overstimulated all of the time. We have such easy access to so much information that we find ourselves virtually lost in it. We study a little bit about a lot of things. Our areas of focus are broad, not specific. We tend not to focus on just one or two or three important areas of interest. Rather than sharpening our knowledge in one or two or three areas, we learn a little about many things. As a result, we never really become well-versed in any given subject of interest. There’s never any real significant knowledge gain in any one area. Thus, there’s never any real signficant or measurable change in any one area we seek to improve.
For example, many people take workshops and classes to learn ways to improve themselves (time management, organization, communication, etc). Unfortunately, those same people never really implement the new material they learn from those classes and workshops. Weeks after coming back excited from a workshop, nothing of significant change has happened for the person who learned the new material. There’s a gap between the newly gained knowledge and any useful implementation of that knowledge. It’s more fun to learn the new stuff than to actually apply the effort to use it. Human nature pushes us to do what’s fun, not what’s work. So…we take more classes and workshops on more topics that seem interesting, rather than zeroing in on one area that needs significant improvement and forcing ourselves to utilze the new material we’ve learned.
The same can be true of us when it comes to goal setting. We sometimes get lost in setting the goals and never even get beyond that process because we are overwhelmed. There may be so many areas in which we think we need to improve, that we can’t seem to focus on the one or two that are of critical importance to us. Rather, we have trouble deciding which one of those areas will give us the biggest payoff once the goal is reached. We may list so many goals that it looks like a to-do list to be checked off. Goals are not to-do’s.
Another problem is that we have trouble saying to ourselves and others that we’re working on just one thing. We are a culture of multi-taskers. We’ve been conditioned to think we have to have many things we’re working on all at the same time. We’re embarrassed to say we’ve only got one thing on our list of improvements that we’re planning to tackle. We think somehow we’re not working hard enough or we’re afraid others will think that about us. As a result, we plug away until we eventually give up because we aren’t seeing significant results from our efforts. What we are seeing is our efforts strewn about many things, but we’re not feeling a sense of accomplishment that comes with significant visible and measurable results. We tend to look at the overall picture of all that needs to be improved in our lives or ourselves, versus looking at the improvement process one piece at a time. We have to start to change our paradigm here. When I teach a class on organizing the home, I start out by having students identify the one room that each will focus her de-cluttering efforts on through the duration of the class. We don’t look at the house in its entirety. We focus on one room at a time to improve its condition and the quality of life that exists in that room on a daily basis. In short, we concentrate on one area and apply our efforts and resources to that area until we have significant change. Then and only then do we proceed to the next room…
Next week: How negative filtering works against us in goal setting.