Insights For Success

Strategy, Innovation, Leadership and Security

How to set personal goals

Behavior, GTD, Motivation, StrategyEdward KiledjianComment

I will use this entry to talk about setting personal goals. Yes.. Yes… I know it is June and that most people set their personal goals in January but how are those coming along?

Do a cleanup

Before building a new house, the contractor will clear the ground to ensure he is starting with a solid footing.  The same concept applies to your personal life. Before even thinking about your goals, make sure you “clean your house” (both physically and mentally) to ensure you start with as clean of a slate as possible. The cleaner the slate, the more likely you are to achieve your future goals.

List your accomplishments

Before you spend any time thinking about your future goals, it is beneficial to do some introspection and create a list of everything (of importance) that you have completed in the last 12 months. This is an extremely powerful technique to ensure you go into your goal setting with positive energy and  fully recharged psychic energy.

Start with the end in mind

In his bestselling book “The 7 habits of highly effective people”, Stephen Covey shares one of the most powerful nuggets of wisdom I have ever heard: "Start with the end in mind." Would you get in your car and just start driving? Of course not. You want to know where you are heading, so you can plan the best route. Same concept applies to goal setting.

Stephen Covey says “all things are created twice”: once in the mind and once in the real world (in that order). Setting goals with the “end in mind” keeps your brain thinking positively about what can be achieved.

This concept is so powerful other business visionaries have also adopted it in their models of efficiency such as David Allen in Getting Things Done (GTD). Napolean Hill stated it as "What the mind of man can conceive and believe, It can achieve." Professional athletes use visualization as one of their training tools.

Know that it works and spend the time to think about what “done means” for each of your goals? What does the successful completion look like? How will it feel? How will you know when it is successfully completed?

Your goals should be “SMART”

Many believe that the concept of SMART goals was first proposed by the grandfather of modern business theory, Mr. Peter Drucker in 1954. The reason this concept has been around for so long is that it works and is based on sound logic.

  • S – stands for specific. As mentioned above, start with the end in mind and make your goal as specific as possible. Saying you will “lose weight” is not specific. Saying you will “lose 30 pounds in the next 6 months by lowering your calorie intake by 1000 calories and running on the treadmill for 60 minutes 4 times a week” is specific.
  • M – stands for measurable. Your goals has to be specific and measurable. Being measurable is important to ensure you know you have “arrived” when you reach this threshold. S and M go hand in hand.
  • A – stands for attainable. Your goals should be “Big Hairy Audacious Goals” as proposed by James Collins and Jerry Porras in their 1996 article entitled Building Your Company's Vision. This means your goals should not be easily reached but logically attainable with enough hard work and commitment. Too many people set unrealistic goals then get disappointed when they miss the mark.
  • R – stands for results-oriented. This further reinforces the first section above. When setting goals, don’t let your mind get overwhelmed by all of the actions you need to complete to reach your goal. There is a time and place for everything and when setting goals, accept that you think about specific actions later. Right now concentrate on the desired end result. I strongly recommend you read my article about using the “Next Actions” methodology from GTD.
  • T stands for time. This means that each of your goals should have a specific deadline. When engaged in coaching, I work with my customer to get as specific as possible (to the day even).

Don’t beat yourself up

Next December, take the time to ask your friends and colleagues about how many of their goals they achieved. You may be surprised at how negative the conversation get’s and how quickly people make up excuses. Remember that beating yourself up is very self destructive and will not help you achieve your goals. Instead acknowledge that you may have missed some goals, spend some time thinking about why and about how you can approach your goals differently next year to have a better chance of meeting your targets.

How many goals should I have?

This is a question I love asking my employees, friends and family. Ask people how many goals they set for the year. Most of the answers you get will be in the low single digits. People believe that making a small number of goals increases the likelyhood of successfully completing them. WRONG!!!!

I believe you should set as many goals as possible and my rule of thumb is 30-50. Remember that not all of your goals should be to “cure cancer” or “solve world hunger”. A goal is anything you would like to be true by this time next year. It can be as complex as finishing up a master’s degree or about as simple as how you would like to perform when playing golf or what kind of outlook on life you want to have.

Ask yourself “What would life look like in a year, if it was better?”

Remember that out of the goals you set at the beginning of the year, you will likely end up working on a handful (10% or less). Read the following section to find out why.

Remember that you will not achieve most of your goals

You set your goals at the beginning of the year based on the best information available at the time. As you work through your various goals, you will acquire additional data or perspective and may decide that something else is more worthwhile.  This new goal may not even have been visible when you did your initial goal setting. You likely saw this new more worthwhile goal because of the effort you put into achieving your original one. Without that original one, you may never have seen this more valuable one and that is why it is still important to set those goals and drive towards them with everything you’ve got.