Most of my clients come to me because they’re looking for some kind of change. They want to be better at managing their time, or communicating with their teams, or managing the complexities they face every day. On its face, nothing could be simpler. “I am here, I want to be there. I just need to get serious and make it happen, right?”
As any of us who have set New Year’s resolutions only to forget them by the first of February knows, however, the truth is much more complex. Creating change in your life – driving new levels of success and satisfaction – requires a process of reflection and action that very few of us ever really commit to.
In fact, for the majority of us, we get off track before we really get started because we don’t know how to set goals. Sure, we have fleeting ideas of things we want to accomplish, but we never make them any more serious than a dream. If you’re really serious about success, however, goal-setting is a skill you must master.
Write Them Down…Really
Despite all our talk about the power of written goals, research shows that very few of us follow through on this simplest component of goal-setting. In fact, some sources says fewer than three percent of Americans have written goals.
Writing down our goals is actually a powerful first step in achieving them, however. It requires us to consider what we want with enough detail that we can actually commit it to words. In addition, the simple act of writing itself helps us to encode those goals into our memory better than just thinking about them does. The result is better thought out goals that we are more likely to remember.
So, what keeps us from taking this crucial step? For many, carving out the time it takes seems like a waste. But, for even more of us, I suspect the real barrier is fear. We’re afraid to face what we really want because we don’t have the faith we can achieve it. Unfortunately, this avoidance tactic may be a large part of what keeps us stuck.
Make Them Specific
Once you’ve taken the crucial first step of writing down your goals, challenge yourself to go further by making them specific. This task can feel particularly daunting in the area of professional or personal development where our goals often sound a lot like “I want to communicate better” or “I need to manage my time more effectively”.
To get started, ask yourself about a particular circumstance or situation where the skill you want to improve shows up. Maybe you feel like you’re not communicating clearly in your staff meetings or that you’re not making good use of your time when you first arrive at the office. Then, ask yourself how it would look if you accomplished your goals. Would you leave your staff meeting with every attendee having a clear action plan? Would you work on your most important project first rather than diving into emails or returning calls?
These questions help you focus your goal narrowly so that it feels achievable and keeps you out of the fuzzy world of “better”.
Goal-setting is a process and an important part in that process is celebrating your achievements. These celebrations give you the momentum to continue with the next challenging goal and help quell the voice of self-doubt that says you can’t meet your goals. But, if you don’t start out with a goal that is measurable, achievements are difficult to track.
Again, creating measurable goals can feel challenging in the area of professional or personal development. How do I know if I’m communicating better? How can I tell if I’m managing time more effectively? I’d encourage you to answer these questions by looking at what drove you to set this goal in the first place. Was your team always working at cross-purposes? Were you scrambling to meet last minute deadlines? These can be powerful indicators of how you can measure success.
One caveat about measuring goals: Be sure not to let your success be totally dependent on other people. In other words, your communication skills should not be totally measured by how your team responds. Allowing other people’s reactions to us to drive our behavior completely can result in us tipping toward manipulation and even more self-doubt.
Find the Positive
Finally, it’s important that your goals be stated positively, rather than focusing on the behavior you want to stop. “I want to show up for all meetings on time,” rather than “I will stop being late for meetings”.
This shift may seem subtle, but focusing on what you want instead of what you don’t can really help fuel your success by taking the focus on how you’re currently “doing it wrong”. Most of us approach personal change as if we were our own drill sergeant, barking orders and yelling corrections at ourselves. This tactic just isn’t effective, however. It’s much easier to adopt a productive tone with yourself if you start out by focusing on the positive and your potential to achieve it.
Goal-setting is a superpower – one you can use to fuel almost anything you want to accomplish in life. If you can master these simple steps to set more effective goals, you’re much more likely to build the career and life you want most.
Already taken these steps, but still struggling to meet your goals? Something else might be standing in your way. Be sure to check out this week’s newsletter on secret goal saboteurs and how to move beyond them! (Don’t get my newsletters? Sign up here!)