Goal Setting

How to Achieve Your Goals

The beginning of the year traditionally has been a time for setting new goals. However, recently I read that only 5% of people achieve their New Year resolutions by December and 80% of their goals don’t even make it till end of February!

Why? In this article I’ll outline nine steps that will help you fulfil your desired goals.

  1. WRITE THEM DOWN – Goals that are not written are not really goals – they are little more than wishes, hopes or desires. Only written goals that are highly visible provide the ‘in your face’ accountability that helps you persist with achieving them.

  2. ENSURE THEY ARE SMART GOALS – ‘SMART’ is a clever acronym that helps people remember what constitutes a good goal:

S – Specific – Achievable goals are specific; they are clear, explicit and unambiguous. When a goal is specific you know exactly what you’re aiming for. Specific goals also avoid words such as I: ‘hope to…’ and ‘would like to…’ Instead they are framed positively: ‘I will…’ and ‘my team will….’

M – Measurable – In order for a goal to be specific it is, at least to some degree, able to be measured. Ideally objective measures are preferred (eg. numbers, weight, time, etc.) but sometimes more subjective measurements such as feelings are appropriate. (With subjective measures, I recommend making a percentage estimate of how you want to be compared with where you were before you started working on the goal.)

A – Achievable – This aspect addresses the degree of influence or control you have on being able to reach the desired outcome. Obviously, you have greater influence over those goals that depend only on yourself, especially personal goals such as weight loss, fitness, or academic success. However you also have significant influence regarding those that involve your immediate family or your team. Also, setting an achievable goal is not simply a matter of operating on ‘cruise control’. If your goal is easily achievable you would be there already. Achievable goals need to stretch you beyond your comfort zone, but not to breaking point. Achievability includes how realistic, yet challenging, the goal is.

R – Relevant – Relevance concerns the extent to which your goal takes into consideration your situation and context. For example, is your goal relevant in light of your health, your personal or family circumstances or your team’s current capacity? Can you change it in some way to make it more relevant?

T – Time-Framed – Goals that are time-framed have a ‘by when’ date, i.e. a date by which the goal is to be achieved. Never-ending goals without a due date, such as “I will lose 10 kgs some day’ will never be realised. Believe me – I know from experience!

3)  FOLLOW THE ‘5 W’ PROCESS – I encourage my clients to write out their goals according to the ‘5 W’ model – WHEN (i.e. ‘by when’, a specific achievement date): WHO (the person or group responsible to achieve the goal – eg. ‘I’, ‘my family’, ‘my team’); WHAT (I call this the ‘guts of the goal’, i.e. the particular outcome you want to achieve); WHERE (the context in which the goal will be fulfilled, eg. ‘our home’, ‘my church’, ‘the XYZ department’ – sometimes the actual context is implicit in the rest of the goal and isn’t therefore needed); WHY (the reason for having this particular goal – usually it’s best expressed as ‘so that….’ I believe it’s helpful to include in your goal your reason for it, to serve as a motivational reminder).  Each goal should be no longer than 1-2 sentences (but may include dot points if appropriate).

4) CHECK YOUR MOTIVATION LEVEL – Research has found that unless people are strongly committed to achieving their goals they probably won’t. Ideally 100% or 90% motivation is preferred. Motivation levels of less than at least 80% are likely to result in their goals never being achieved.

5)  PERIODICAL ACTION STEPS – Obviously no goal will be achieved unless the person takes the necessary actions to do so. Actions need to be sequential but in a world of rapid and discontinuous change it is unwise to establish them too far in advance. With my clients I use the metaphor of a river. Imagine you are on one bank of the river and your goal is on the opposite bank. There’s no boat or bridge available to get you across but there are several stepping stones you can use. But because a river is dynamic and subject to sudden change (eg. some stones could be washed away in a flood, or inaccessible due to a log jam, or become too slippery to use) I advise my clients to identify 1-2 action steps they can take between now and our next monthly session.

In choosing appropriate action steps I encourage people to act on lead measures and not lag measures. Lag measures are those measurements that indicate success or failure afterwards. (A good example is the read-out on your scales for a weight loss goal – you only know whether you’ve been successful afterwards.) Lead measures are those 1-2 actions you can take in advance that you know have a high probability of making a positive contribution to achieving your goal. (Again with the weight loss example, regular aerobic exercises and reducing your calorie intake would be good examples of lead measures.)

6)  PRIORITISE – One of the main reasons people don’t achieve their goals is because they fail to prioritise their action steps in their calendars. Therefore schedule your actions into your calendar between each review session (see step 7 below) and mark them as a priority. If for some reason you consider to be significant (such as a crisis, emergency or your boss has called  a meeting) be sure to reschedule with sufficient time to undertake them before step 7. When you receive a request for an appointment that clashes with when you’ve scheduled an action step and you don’t consider the request to be significant simply respond, ‘I’m sorry I have another commitment at that time. However I could be available… (suggest a time that suits you).’ Yes, you do have another commitment – it’s with yourself!

7)  REGULARLY REVIEW PROGRESS – It’s always appropriate to take a regular pulse reading of how you’re progressing with achieving your goals. This is where lag measures can be helpful. Are your action steps around your lead measures proving successful or are changes needed? My monthly sessions with my coachees provide a natural process for doing that. When people can see that they are making progress it’s a great motivator for them. (Usually, when there’s no progress, or even a backwards move, people can generally identify the reason and are able to take appropriate action to move forward again.) The frequency of one’s reviews will depend on the ‘by when’ date of the goal, the nature of the goal itself plus developments re its context. For example, if unhealthy conflict erupts among certain team members for a goal around developing a high performance team, progress reviews may need to become more frequent and even the goal itself may need to reframed.

8)  ESTABLISH AN ACCOUNTABILITY ‘SYSTEM’ – While strong motivation and commitment are essential for achieving any goal, it’s also helpful to have someone whom you choose as your accountability person. In a work context that person is usually your line manager. Part of a manager’s role is to hold their direct reports accountable for delivering on their key results areas. However for personal goals such as getting fit, eating healthy food, developing an investment strategy it can be helpful to ask a person who knows you well and whom you can trust to be that accountability person for you. Their role is not to criticise or praise you regarding your goal progress but to ask how you’re going with achieving your goals, what’s working, what isn’t and what, if anything, you need to do differently. (One of my clients has his adult daughter as his accountability partner for a particular personal goal.) I explain to my clients that they are not accountable to me for achieving their goals. They are accountable to themselves (and their employer where relevant). I’m simply a mirror that helps them be accountable to themselves for achieving what they’ve stated. Invariably they often say one of the best things about having a coach is it helps them be accountable to themselves.

9)  CELEBRATE – Taking time to celebrate progress on the journey at significant points, as well of course once the goal has been achieved, is a great way to affirm a person’s ability and reinforce commitment. It’s important for people to celebrate in ways that are helpful for them. For example, extraverts may like to celebrate by having some kind of party. Introverts, however would probably prefer doing something by themselves or just with 1-2 friends.

A Final Few Words … Because as humans our reactions to events and experiences are processed via the limbic system in the brain before reaching the frontal cortex, the centre of logical decision-making, we are designed initially to react emotionally, before responding rationally.  Hence, many people do not realize that issues such as, procrastination are essentially an emotional problem, which also makes emotional intelligence critical for achieving our goals. For further information on emotional intelligence I invite you to check out the two articles on our Australian Coaching Collective blog page (Emotional Intelligence: The Foundational Leadership Ability & Emotional Intelligence: Critical Leadership Development – yet watch the trap here!). Also I recommend Travis Bradberry and Jeanne Greaves’ book ‘EQ 2.0’ as a practical resource to discover more about emotional intelligence and how to develop their own EQ skills. The hard copy of the book includes a ‘scratchie’ that gives owners a code to an online assessment for identifying their own EQ scores.

Graham Beattie

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