Blueprint for Achievement: Mastering Goal-Setting Strategies

If intentions were enough to get us where we wanted to go, there would be no need for goals. We could all be the best versions of ourselves at work and at home – the best managers, team members, partners, spouses, parents and friends without ever having to do anything but aspire to it.

Of course, while intent is important, it is clearly not enough. There must be something more. Something direct and specific.

The simple definition of a goal is “something you want to achieve”. But the process of getting there typically isn’t simple and it’s often made harder than it needs to be.

Understanding the essence of goal setting

While goal setting is a fundamental skill, the challenge lies in understanding the specific steps necessary to accomplish those goals.

People are 42% more likely to achieve their goals just by documenting them, according to a study by the Dominican University of California. You may have heard the phrase, “A goal is just a wish until you write it down.” And while putting fingers to the keyboard (or pen to paper) is certainly an important part of the goal-setting process, it can’t be the only part.

Why traditional goal setting fails

Traditional goal setting often fails for lack of a coherent strategy. People often assume that goals are a list of all the ideas they wish would be true in their lives. They suffer because they don’t know how to narrow their goals and they don’t know how to narrow their goals because they don’t know how to prioritise.

Part of the problem lies in each person’s unwillingness to start at the beginning. To set effective goals, a person must define and embrace their top priorities in life. This act of winnowing down leads to the discovery of each person’s governing values, those ideals that truly motivate someone every day of their life.

Traditional goal setting is too often the act of describing wishes and wants that are temporary and rooted in the moment. Furthermore, we’re often prisoners of that moment in ways that interfere with our best intentions. As Goethe said, we must never let things that matter most be at the mercy of the things that matter least. Yet most of us are guilty of doing just that regularly, in part because we don’t know how to best determine what priorities matter most to us and choose to make time for them.

Goals aligned with our governing values are far more likely to be accomplished because they truly matter. They are linked to core beliefs, and core beliefs are unique to an individual. People who fail to achieve their goals are often those who take the least amount of time to uncover their “why”.

Strategies for effective goal setting

There are numerous strategies for enhancing goal setting. One of the most successful is one that is easily understood.

1. Make Your Goals SMART

The SMART acronym has become synonymous with goal setting and it’s especially helpful for those struggling to select and set the right strategy. Here’s how it breaks down:

S: Specific. Is the goal clear?

M: Measurable. Can you easily measure your progress?

A: Achievable. Is the goal realistic and attainable?

R: Relevant. Does your goal align with your long-term aspirations, interests and values?

T: Time-bound. By when do you want to reach your goals?

For those who don’t quite know what an effective goal-setting strategy looks like, SMART provides the most effective and quickest checklist possible. It can also move the needle on what’s considered achievable.

Setting specific and challenging goals led to higher performance 90% of the time for companies studied, according to a study.

2. Visualise Success

Habit 2 of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is Begin With the End in Mind®. This is an acknowledgment of the importance of visualisation.

Just as the construction of a building follows a blueprint, the physical act of reaching your goals follows the mental act of creating them initially. Being mindful upfront about what success looks like is one way to ensure it happens.

How to Use Visualisation Techniques: Are you able to picture yourself having already achieved your goals? Seeing what success looks like, even if it’s initially only in your mind, can help propel you towards the actual accomplishment.

People who want to complete a marathon don’t just wake up one day and run 26-plus miles. They envision that as a goal and then work backward. They understand what the end looks like and that allows them to chart out the steps necessary at the outset to get there.

Leveraging Yourself or a Team to Create a Roadmap: That journey towards goal achievement really does begin with the first step – but it’s helpful to also plot out the steps after that before you begin. This success roadmap will help you or a team see where they’re headed, whether something might block their path and how to logically get around it to the desired outcome.

3. Integrate the right technology

There are a million tech solutions out there. Fortunately, those with the greatest potential to help with goal setting are ones we’re probably already using. Think of the digital calendar you use to organise your life, or even something analogue like a journal.

Anything that organises your daily tasks is an effective tool to help you accomplish your goals. Why? Because, just as the process of goal setting is an exercise in choosing what’s important, the process of organising your life does the same, just on an hourly, daily, weekly or monthly schedule.

Begin every week by identifying the two to three activities most important to you. Tangible activities that will help you make concrete progress towards accomplishing your goals. Next, make time for them.

The first “choice” in The 5 Choices to Extraordinary Productivity® is to Act on the Important, Don’t React to the UrgentTM. There are two basic parts of the brain: The Reactive Brain and the Thinking Brain. The Reactive Brain is where we store our habits and routines; the Thinking Brain is the part where we make conscious choices. It’s also the part of our brain that allows us to identify and reach those goals we’ve set.

The Reactive Brain always chooses urgency over importance because it wants to quiet the pressing, noisy issue competing for your attention. It will take charge of your day or week if you let it. If you don’t do the work necessary to engage your Thinking Brain, if you don’t take time to identify the priorities that matter to you, your Reactive Brain will take over and you’ll end your workweek no closer to your goals than you began it.

Technology can be both a gift and a trap. The tools we use to help us reach our goals are only as good as we are at using them. Honouring your commitments to yourself is a huge part of engaging that Thinking Brain, making time for those steps you need to take and ultimately accomplishing the goals that matter most.

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Overcoming obstacles in goal setting

Many of the obstacles present in proper goal setting are just the mirror image of the best framework used to accomplish it. Take SMART and hit reverse.

The biggest obstacle in goal setting is choosing which goals will make the biggest impact. If the end you have in mind isn’t crystal clear, your path to getting there will be that much blurrier as a result.

If the specific steps along the way aren’t measurable, you’ll have no way of knowing if you’ve made progress. If the goals you have in mind aren’t achievable, it doesn’t matter how specific you get – they’ll remain out of reach. If those goals aren’t relevant, you won’t be motivated to accomplish them. And if there’s no ticking clock, you’ll feel no sense of urgency either.

Yet the biggest obstacle in goal setting is probably the one that’s easiest to ignore. People are social creatures with an inherent need to please others. It’s often in our best interest to think of others’ needs first, whether that means our employer, colleagues or family. But when it comes to accomplishing our own goals, this inability to value and prioritise our time is a massive roadblock. The only way to overcome it is to acknowledge it and then take small steps that, in the moment, may feel selfish, but in the end will reap dividends for everyone who’s important in our lives, ourselves included.

Continuous improvement and reassessment

If you adopt the proper goal-setting techniques, if you prioritise your own needs and if you start with a clear sense of what success should look like in the end, you may find yourself in the privileged position of being able to reassess your goals. Run a single race and your next goal is unlikely to be to simply run another. It’ll often be running longer, faster or more often. But no matter what it is, some form of continuous improvement is a necessary, important part of the aftermath of proper goal setting.

This could be as simple as an annual check-in. No one’s life stays static and, for that reason, neither are their priorities. The values that govern your life will and should change over time. It follows, then, that your goals will as well. The first habit of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People® is to Be Proactive® – that goes for your goals, too.

Goal setting is more than just a matter of reaching the next step in your personal or professional life. It is a process of deciding what matters most to you and then moving forward from there.

If you want to set powerful goals that will change your life, you need to plan them properly. We each have wishes, dreams and hopes for our future. What’s standing between us and those goals are concrete actions, available to all. Consider closely these tips for mastering goal-setting strategies and you’ll make lasting changes towards the life you want.

Download 4 Steps to Refine and Execute Your Team Goals for free to start your journey towards effective goal setting.

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