Get on the track to success by setting the right goals
The clocks were going back at the weekend, and Bob had decided to use the end of daylight savings as a marker to re-start his fitness regime. Over the past ten months, since his aborted attempt to create a regular gym routine for himself, he’d bemoaned his ever increasing waistline and gradual decline in energy. Bob knew he wanted to be fitter, and this time he was going to do it right. He knew he had to set a goal, so he’d set his sights on the local 10k in February. That gave him something to focus on, and he had four months to get himself fit enough to do it. He’d bought the running shoes, found a routine that would take him ‘from couch to 5k’ in eight weeks and he was raring to go.
Sunday morning came and Bob got up for his training session as he had planned. At the end of it, he felt, well, not exactly great, he didn’t realise just how unfit he was! He did feel as though he had achieved something though. Bob continued to train every other day for the next two weeks, and he felt better every time.
At the end of the second week, Bob went out with some friends after work. He had a great evening with them, telling them all about his new found love of fitness. He told them he couldn’t stay out too late as he was up in the morning training. The next morning, though, Bob realised he’d drunk a little more than he thought he had. His head spinning and his stomach churning, he decided to skip the training that morning. “It’s OK” he thought to himself, “I still have a few months, one day won’t hurt.”
Bob made his next training session, but he decided he was much too tired the time after, having worked late the night before. Over the following two weeks, Bob found more and more reasons not to train. Then, the following week he didn’t train at all. His running shoes got moved into the hall cupboard so they wouldn’t be fallen over. A week later, Bob looked at his training plan and realised he probably didn’t have time now to get ready for the 10k. Never mind, he thought, there’s always next year.
Does Bob’s story sound familiar?
Have you done something similar? If you’re anything like me, and the other 92% of people who don’t achieve personal goals, the answer to that question is a resounding yes! Perhaps it wasn’t running the race, but writing the book, or starting the business, or taking a trip to the exotic location. But most of us have the experience of setting out to achieve something and then getting side-tracked by everything else in our lives.
Why is this? Why is it that we decide upon these great, worthwhile ideas to improve our lives, get really pumped up over them and then just give up? In many cases, it’s because we have set the wrong goal in the first place! In this article I want to look at two ways in which we do that, and how we can set goals differently to give us more chance of achieving them.
One way we set the wrong goals is to specify a solution to a problem as a goal, rather than setting the goal as fixing the problem. Let’s look again at Bob’s situation. Bob has decided that his problem is that he needs to be fitter, and he has decided that the solution to this problem is to get himself to the point that he can run the local 10k race in four months time.
If we consider the way we’ve always been told to set goals, this appears to be a correctly formulated SMART goal:
- It’s specific – run the local 10k race.
- It’s measurable – he either can run it or he can’t, and he has a training plan against which he can measure his progress (at least to 5k).
- It’s achievable – we assume that Bob doesn’t have any injuries or medical conditions that would prevent him from achieving this goal.
- It’s relevant – it’s related to his desire to be fitter.
- It’s timebound – he’ll run the 10k in February.
So what’s wrong with this? Let’s ask Bob a few questions:
Hey Bob, you say you want to be fitter, tell me, how does your lack of fitness manifest itself?
Well, I would say that I’m getting bigger (he looks down at his waistline and smiles), but the main reason is I just don’t seem to have the energy I used to.
You say you don’t have the energy you used to, and what is the impact of that not having the energy you used to have on you?
Hmmm, the main impact is that I find myself nodding off at work mid-afternoon.
Right, so you nod off at work in the afternoon, and what impact does nodding off at work in the mid-afternoon have on those around you?
My boss hasn’t noticed yet, thankfully, but I do put off my team members who need my assistance in the afternoon. This is slowing everyone down on the project we’re on.
By drilling down into what he thought the problem was and how it impacted himself and others, Bob has now identified that the problem isn’t necessarily a lack of fitness (though this could be a causal factor), but is actually more about energy, how the lack of it affects him in the afternoon, and how that is causing problems for his team. As a result of this Bob now decides that his goal is a way to avoid that mid-afternoon slump so he can improve his performance at work. This is a wider goal that allows for more solutions which can be tried until Bob find one that works for him.
So, the first key to setting goals is to ensure they are correctly framed as genuine goals, not solutions.
However, even when we correctly frame our goals, we can find that we are unable to motivate ourselves to stick with them. The second way we get goal setting wrong is by picking goals that aren’t meaningful for us.
In Bob’s example above, the reason, or the meaning behind Bob’s goal, was to improve his performance at work and better support his team. Work is important; we all have to earn a living! But what if, actually, Bob isn’t passionate about what he does at work, or the people he works with? If this was the case then the meaning behind this goal, though worthy and of value in the context of the job Bob does, when considered against the backdrop of his feelings toward his work is unlikely to motivate him, and consequently, he’s unlikely to succeed.
Goals need to have real, emotion laden meaning if you are to have any real chance of achieving them. Ideally, your goals will be aligned to your life purpose, but you may not have figured that out yet. That’s OK. The key is to be curious and not settle on a goal immediately. Let’s go back to Bob.
Hey Bob, you said that you wanted to overcome the slump in energy that you feel in the afternoon so you can better support your teammates right?
Sure, seems like a good goal to me!
OK, but let’s examine this a little further. Can you tell me, have you always had this mid-afternoon dip in energy?
No, when I first started this job I always had plenty of energy!
Right, I’m curious, what was different when you first started your job and had plenty of energy?
Well, I was in a different team. My work was a little different. And, now you mention it, by diet was better then, I always had a salad at lunchtime.
OK Bob, so what changed?
I got promoted. When that happened I had to take on more planning responsibilities. To be honest, I don’t really enjoy planning, I find it draining. I guess that’s when I stopped having salads at lunchtime, I allowed myself treats at lunchtime to motivate myself. Ohh! I see it now, it’s my job which drains me of energy and, of course, the sugary, fatty lunches I’ve been using to motivate myself don’t help; and not with the waistline either!
By being curious, Bob has uncovered something about his motivations and has had the epiphany that he is actually doing the wrong work. So now the goal that has meaning to him become to change the work he does. The impact on him of doing this is that he will feel more fulfilled and energised, and he might even start eating better again! He also sees that the impact on others will be that he would be less grumpy with his partner, and have more energy to spend time doing recreational activities with the younger members of his family. He thinks he might even get around to organising that extended family BBQ he’d been considering for a while… with plenty of salad of course!
Note here again that Bob’s goal wasn’t to get a new job, this is a solution. The goal that meant something to him was to change his work. This goal can be solved in any number of ways, for example: delegating more and keeping more of the work he likes in his current job, reviewing his role and seeing if you he can actually change it, or even doing some volunteer work that energises him.
So, the second key to setting an achievable goal is to set one that has underlying meaning.
When you combine these two keys and set goals, which are really goals (not solutions) and which have genuine meaning to you you significantly increase your chances of succeeding.
Of course, a coach can help you with this! And a coach can also help you to define your approach, and unlock your potential by overcoming limiting and dysfunctional beliefs. The sky really is the limit, and a coach can help you to fly! But, with or without coaching, following the advice in this article will put you on the right track to success.
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