Tonight we round the corner into a new year! For our last radio show of the year, we spent many days reading, researching, brainstorming and examining the kind of goal setting that actually works.
In everything we do (from radio to blog posts to seminars to magazine articles), we encourage families to start with the end result in mind. So it’s no surprise that we are big fans of goal setting, but we also know that it has to be done right or it doesn’t work, and in some cases, we found out, it can actually backfire.
In the book “The Circle Maker” Mark Batterson writes, “If dreams are destinations, goals are the GPS to get you there.”
But goals in and of themselves don’t help people get to where they want to go. In fact, some recent research shows that if they’re not done well, they can actually be counterproductive.
Aubrey Daniels, author of Oops! 13 Management Practices That Waste Time and Money, cites a study that showed only 10% of employees actually achieve “stretch goals”. Those are the big audacious goals — the ones that are going to take massive changes to achieve. So, that means that 90% of employees FAIL to reach their stretch goals. Yikes!
Harvard Business School published a report called Goals Gone Wild, and in it, they identified several negative side effects associated with goal setting, including an overly narrow focus that neglects non-goal areas, a rise in unethical behavior and distorted risk preferences.
Max Bazerman, a Harvard Business School professor and co-author of Goals Gone Wild, suggests that rather than relying on goals, we should create workplaces and schools that foster an interest in and a passion for work because work requires a certain amount of creativity and judgement, whereas merely reducing complex activities to a set of goal numbers can end up rewarding the wrong behaviors.
Process Over Product
In other words, what really works is to focus on creating the mindsets, the spaces and the habits that will produce success. It’s about focusing on the process more than the product.
Let’s talk about that word focus for a second. I once heard it described as an acronym for Follow One Course Until Successful, and I can’t tell you how many times that has helped me complete a hard thing. Whether it’s sticking to a diet or finishing a difficult book, I’ll often remind myself to just follow one course until successful, and when I listen to my own advice, it works!
11 Steps to Goal Setting That Work
Step 1 — Set the goal
Setting the goal gives you permission to focus in the face of all your other responsibilities and obligations.
Make it Fun
Start by asking yourself why you want to reach this goal. Then ask yourself what’s the best way to get there? For example, let’s say you set a goal to run a half marathon this year. Ask yourself why you want achieve that goal. If the answer is that you want to get in shape, ask yourself if you actually LIKE to run. If you do, great! If you don’t, find another way to get in shape.
The goal HAS to be enjoyable on some level or you won’t get there. So, if your goal is to lose weight, you’ve got to be able to eat foods you like. If your goal is to read more this year, you’ve got to figure out how to make reading enjoyable (even when the material is not so exciting) — maybe find a comfy spot on the couch, grab a blanket and make a cup of tea. If the goal is to spend more quality time with your kids, you’ve got find things that you all enjoy doing or it will feel like drudgery.
Be Specific? Maybe Not.
Goal setting gurus say that goals have to be specific, but we think there’s more to it than that.
Usually what these people are saying is that your goals should be specific in quantity and time (i.e. lose 50 pounds by July 1st). We think this actually causes more failure than success.
Here’s how it often plays out. Let’s say you’ve got 25 weeks to reach your goal, so you figure out that you need to average two pounds a week. But then for a few weeks, you don’t hit the two-pound mark. Instead of focusing on the fact you still LOST weight and didn’t GAIN any, you feel like a failure for not meeting your goal, and you give up.
It happens all the time!
Instead of being specific about the outcome, be specific about the plan to get there, which leads us to the next step.
Step 2 — Create the Plan
Talk to people who have been successful and find out what they did. Look carefully at your schedule and figure out when you can devote time to reaching your goal. Examine things that have caused you to fail in the past and plan ways to either avoid or overcome those things.
Read, research and become a mini-expert on what it takes to reach your goal. Then spell it in detail, on paper!
Step 3 — Create Supportive Spaces
If you’re going to be successful, you’ve got to create an environment that will support you.
If your goal is to read more this year, keep your reading glasses, book and blanket near your reading spot. Or if your plan is read more on the go, make sure your purse is big enough to hold your book and remember to return it there when you’re done reading so it will always be with you.
A great tip we learned at creating supportive spaces from Weight Watchers is to keep good choices at eye level. When you get back from the store, cut veggies and put them in grab and go backs. Divide up the big pretzel bag into serving size snack bags. Precook some veggies to toss into an omelet. Wash and spin lettuce so it’s ready when you want a quick salad.
If you’re going for that half marathon this year, keep everything you need together near the door and ready for your daily run.
Step 4 — Measure Your Progress
The goal should be regular forward motion. Success comes from making changes in your thinking and your habits, so you’ll want to track those changes.
Some goals are easier to track than others. Weight loss is monitored in pounds and inches. Running can be monitored in time and distance. Reading can be tracked in pages completed.
But what if your goal is to be more gentle with your kids this year? For those trickier ones, keep a log. Put it somewhere that will remind you to jot down how you’re doing (on your nightstand or pillow, in the bathroom, on your car dashboard, etc.). Decide how often you need to check in with yourself, and make the commitment to quickly record how it’s going.
Track your progress in a way that shows whether or not you are regularly moving closer becoming the PERSON who is ________ (thin, in shape, an avid reader, more patient, etc.).
Step 5 — Make Yourself Accountable
Groups make people more successful. Look at the success of AA, Weight Watchers, book clubs, counseling groups, exercise classes…you get the idea.
They keep you accountable and give you new ideas, strategies and encouragement. Human beings were created to connect. And when it comes to achieving our goals, connection can make all the difference.
So join a group to support your goals. Can’t find one? Check out MeetUp.com.
Step 6 — Think Ahead and Plan for Success
Check your calendar before bed and set your coming day up for success. Pack healthy snacks, find blocks of time to read, plan time to train for the marathon, have the workout bag ready to go in your car.
Ask yourself what has caused you to fail in the past and how you can plan ahead to avoid that kind of failure again.
Step 7 — Renew Your Mind
This step is SO, SO important! Read over your goals at least once week, and educate yourself on a regular basis.
Subscribe to magazines to support your goals. Watch documentaries. Do research. Listen to motivational speakers on the topic. Put up motivational quotes throughout the house to keep you going.
Visualization is an important part of renewing your mind. In the book The Circle Maker, Batterson writes, “The future is always created twice. The first creation happens in your mind as you envision the future; the second creation happens when you literally flesh it out. Vision starts with visualization.”
He goes on to tell about a very interesting study done in 1995, which validated the importance of visualization. A group of volunteers practiced a five-finger piano exercise while they were hooked up to neurotransmitters that monitored their brain activity. The neuroimaging showed that the motor cortex was active while practicing the exercise. No surprise there; the motor cortex controls movement.
But what happened next was very interesting. Still hooked up to the neurotransmitters, the participants were then told to mentally rehearse the piano exercise in their mind without moving their fingers.
The motor cortex was just as active when they were mentally rehearsing the piece as it was when they were actually playing it! “That study confirmed statistically what athletes already knew instinctually,” Batterson wrote. “Mental rehearsal is just as important or more important as physical practice. It’s mind over matter.”
Meditation is another way to renew your mind. Recent research shows that certain mediation practices can actually change your brain chemistry! Looking for an easy but effective way to meditate, check out this book on Mindfulness.
Step 8 — Identify Triggers for Failure
Recognize those little moments when your goal gets threatened to be hijacked. And become aware that there are two paths you can take in those moments.
If answering the phone derails your time with the kids, decide ahead of time that you’re going to turn it off when you sit down with them. If eating out throws you for a loop, pack food when you have to be out of the house.
If you know that you have to wake up early to reach your goal, turn down the offer to go to a late movie or stay up with your hubby watching TV.
In those moments, remind yourself to FOCUS!
Step 9 — Plan for Flexibility
Sometimes you can’t avoid the trigger. So give yourself opportunities to indulge, but set limitations. Pick one night a week for a late cuddle on the couch in front of the TV. Eat before you go to a party so you’re not hungry, but then allow yourself to fill one small plate with anything you want and enjoy it.
Step 10 — Evaluate Slips
Along the way, you’re going to have slips. Don’t take a bath in the pool of shame. Don’t quit. Just ask yourself these three questions:
- What went wrong?
- What did I tell myself just before I slipped?
- What could I have done differently?
Step 11 — Reset the Course
After you’ve slipped, make a plan to get back on course, and remind yourself that with this mistake also came new wisdom.
Small set backs are learning opportunities. Tell yourself that everyday you are becoming more and more of a person who _______________ (makes healthy choices, handles her kids with patience, is an avid reader, etc.).