Would implementing a set of effective goal setting principles help you make steady, consistent progress and increase the chances of achieving a personal goal of yours? Ralph Marston, author and publisher of The Daily Motivator said, “Every day you spend drifting away from your goals is a waste not only of that day, but also of the additional day it takes to regain lost ground.” Hence, my goal in providing these three principles of effective goal setting.
To make a conscious effort in designing our lives, we do need to set goals, but more specifically, the right goals. Without setting these short, mid-range and long term targets, we are basically going with the flow. Now, what if that flow is taking us where we don’t want to go? I think there’s a Yogi-ism that illustrates this point. “You got to be careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there.” Simple, but very true…
Effective Goal Setting Principle #1: Choosing the Right Goals
There are many types of goals we can aim to achieve in our lifetime and it’s different for everyone. However, how do we know that we are setting the right goals to begin with? Firstly, looking outside of the SMART model, meaning, even if a goal is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant/realistic and time-bound, how do we choose the right goals to work towards in the first place? Here are a few, what I believe, effective questions to help make a better goal choice.
- Should I be taking the time to analyze what I really want? What if I don’t?
- What do I really want in my life, career, health, relationships and personal finances?
- Why have I not achieved these goals already? Which obstacles have I allowed to stop me and what am I willing to do to move forward?
- With my current skills, can I achieve these goals, or do I need to develop the skills?
- Why have I chosen to make this a goal? Is it aligned with my life’s purpose?
- Who is the goal going to benefit?
- What needs to happen, in order, for the goal to be achieved? What are the steps?
- What are the smaller goals?
- How will the achievement of this goal improve my life and those I love?
- Is the achievement of this goal an absolute must?
- Am I willing to raise my standards for this goal to be achieved?
These are just a few questions that can help you gain some perspective and clarity, and also help you decide if a goal is the right one to put your best efforts into. Also, the right kinds of goals will most likely be aligned with our life’s purpose and be congruent with our core life values and personal beliefs:
- How do we know what our life’s purpose is and that our goal is aligned with it?
- How do we know what our core values and beliefs are, and when they are congruent, or in agreement (in harmony) with our goal? How do we even know if those beliefs are really true?
These two questions might explain why such as small percentage of people achieve their goals, let alone set the right ones to begin with. It’s a skill that is never given its proper teaching. Luckily it can still be learned.
To answer the first question, how do we know what our life’s purpose is? I simply refer to this quote from Og Mandino, “I am here for a purpose and that purpose is to grow into a mountain, not to shrink to a grain of sand. Henceforth I will apply ALL my efforts to become the highest mountain of all and I will strain my potential until it cries for mercy.”
I believe that if we are growing and contributing to life in some specific way, that’s near and dear to our hearts, we are serving our life’s purpose.
As I answer question two below, I believe the answer will show how values and beliefs play into this and why we make or don’t not make progress with our goals.
Answering question two is a bit more complicated. I’ll define our values as personal ideals for what is good. Love, certainty, variety, acceptance, freedom, importance, usefulness and beauty. These are just some values, but what do all these values do for us? What’s the end result we want to experience here? The end result or experience these values create are that they make us feel good. The values are a means to an end. The end is how they make us feel and the preferable emotion is feeling good. For example, why do you want to feel loved and not the opposite? Answer: to feel good. Why do you want to be certain that you can pay your bills next month? Because it gives you some certainty, which will make you feel good – and not feel bad. We desire the emotion, which is the end effect of the value. So, the means to the end is the value, which helps create those good feelings – but we will ultimately value what we believe will give us those good feelings (love, friendship, a toy, food etc…). So, why do certain values make us feel a certain way? That’s where our beliefs come into play. Our beliefs are the rules we have set, or the general beliefs we hold true. The scary thing is, some of our beliefs may not be true at all, but seem so true to us! If I had a belief that, in order to feel loved, you had to buy me an expensive gift for my birthday each year. This year however, you gave me card and $40.00 gift card. What are the chances that I would feel loved in that moment? Can that belief cause some internal and external conflict? Absolutely! Would it be beneficial to take a step back at times and test these beliefs? How do we know that they are really true? The challenge is that our beliefs set us up to succeed or fail – and as part of setting up our goals, examining our beliefs surrounding what we think we’ll get from the achievement of the goal is key. What am I trying to accomplish? Is it really true that the ultimate achievement of the goal is the only value, or can I feel good along the way, as I make small steps of progress?
Also, some of us make the achievement of the goal so important, that when obstacles come up, and they always do, we tend to get thrown off course, and then we miss our target of achieving the goal. Say that happens once or twice – what do you think most people do? Well, they usually give up and they fail. That’s why this next step is key.
Effective Goal Setting Principle #2: Setting a Flexible Goal Date
When you decide on your goal, and write it down – never leave the scene, as it’s time to set a flexible due date for it. If no due date is set, it’s NOT a goal. Goals always have due dates. If it’s important enough to be a goal, it’s very important that you know about when you would like the goal to be achieved by. For example, if you have a long term financial goal to save up $50,000 set a flexible goal date. What happens if you miss achieving the goal by that date? Remember, the date is there to help us measure our progress, not to kill our dream. Set another date and keep making progress! Keep making reasonable progress in reasonable time.
Continuing on, remember to identify the smaller goals as well, because these will need to be dated too and ultimately are the smaller steps that help us gets to the final goal. When prioritized, dated and acted upon, the smaller goals will move us towards the bigger goal. But what if you keep bumping into obstacles along the way?
Effective Goal Setting Principle #3: Identifying and Overcoming Obstacles
This final key principle covered here is quite significant. After we set flexible due dates for our carefully chosen goals and sub-goals, we need to look ahead and determine all of the internal and external obstacles that must be resolved in order for us to move forward. Once the obstacles are identified, we must decide what actions we will take to resolve them. These actions will become part of our living goal plan and must also have due dates. It’s quite a dynamic process. Again, these action steps also need to be dated and must be completed to move forward. As new challenges arise, identify the solutions, date them and go to work on them. There will always be obstacles, so we have to get really good at taking these steps to move forward and make positive progress.