Goal setting: friend or foe?
Even if you’re not one for resolutions, you may find yourself setting goals. Whether for personal achievement or professional development, there is a truth to first consider. Jeff Schneider of Sander Training put it this way, “When you set a goal, you create a problem for yourself.” He further explains that there are two outcomes to solve the problem you’ve created.
1. You achieve the goal and the problem is solved.
2. You give up on the goal and the problem goes away.
Is there a third choice? A third option doesn’t exist because it would negate the very reason a goal is set in the first place. And if you can’t stomach the possibility of owning failure, you have no business owning the success.
So how do we respond to that truth? What’s interesting is why we allow ourselves to abandon the very goals we've set. Where is the disconnect? Did we not mean it when we accepted the challenge? Was there a “just kidding” card available in the fine print? Reality is, goal setting is only beneficial as long as you understand and expect that the ultimate responsibility falls on you as the goal setter. Do you have an excuse waiting in your back pocket? Toss it. As legitimate as it may seem, if you are looking to set a meaningful goal for 2018, personal or professional, it helps to have a game plan, a roadmap so to speak. This will allow you to fully own the success or genuinely learn from the failure.
And if you can’t stomach the possibility of owning failure, you have no business owning the success.
Goals are not something you just set; but rather objectives we should identify, clearly define, and systematically work toward achieving. The acronym SMART is used when setting goals: S-Specific, M-Measurable, A-Attainable, R-Relevant, and T-Timely. Although this can be used in development within professional learning communities, SMART goals are an excellent template to use in your personal ambitions. Here’s some context if you’re looking to structure your goals in this way:
S: Be Specific when formulating a goal.
What exactly are you setting out to accomplish? Do you want to lose weight? Increase sales? How much? By when? By doing what? Generic goals lead to ambiguous results that are hard to quantify in order to determine success or failure. Use language that will ultimately hold you accountable to the challenge you’ve accepted/created.
M: Be sure that your goal is Measurable.
How will your performance be measured? A good rule of thumb is to base your goal on numbers. Looking at real and valid numbers when evaluating performance is one of the greatest indicators of growth and decline. Otherwise, you could be determining success or failure by emotion alone, which may not be what you’re after. By identifying a specific unit of measure (days, dollars, words per minute, etc.) you can easily track progress and know exactly where you are in your journey to victory or defeat.
A: Consider if this goal is Achievable.
Lofty goals are great, but don’t fool yourself into thinking something is realistic if it’s not. There is no room for phony martyrdom when it comes to your development. You know yourself and your habits better than anyone else. Ask yourself if this task is possible with an appropriate amount of effort and commitment. Do you have the resources to achieve the end goal? If not, how will you acquire them? List the action steps necessary to meet this goal.
R: Is your goal Relevant to your current situation or need?
If you’ve gotten to this point then you’ve already determined its level of importance. Be sure that this goal is not only intentional, but also well calculated. Put some thought toward how the result of your goal (win or lose) will affect you, your team, your family, etc. How will you proceed after the dust settles?
T: Like everything else, Timing is critical.
Timing is perhaps the simplest, but quite possibly the most important of all the factors when setting goals. It is certainly the most self-negotiating element of the SMART acronym. Ask yourself, “By when will I reach my goal?” Commit to it. Goals are abandoned in droves due to this final step not being clear and defined. Don’t think that you can simply extend this vague concept of time to attain your goal. The concept could surely fizzle into an oblivion.
"If at first you don't succeed, try hard work." - William Feather
There should be a universal understanding that any goal may need to be abandoned for a number of reasons and/or under certain circumstances. That goes without saying. What is also obvious is that if you want to encourage the attainment of realistic goals, you need to promote and impose some element of personal responsibility.
There’s always that fear of not accomplishing what you set out to do. That’s great, it shows you’re committed and the stakes are real. Once the goal is set, try not to change the rules along the way. There’s a fancy word for that: it’s call “cheating” and it comes with consequences that, depending on your goal, can be detrimental to your personal and/or professional life. You may get the undeniable premonition that you’re not going to make it. At that point, reassess your game plan, attack from a different angle, change your approach, but don’t quit. In the end, if a goal is set, stick to it even if the road gets hard and failure seems inevitable.
Just to note, I set out to complete this article by February 1st. Ah, the exhilaration of victory! Onward!