The same problem can occur in the work setting: "If only I could get organized, I would be
more successful at work." Or in sports: "I just don't stick with things. I give up too
easily." Again, the problem is likely to be problems with setting goals. We tend to set
goals that are unreasonable, perfectionistic, and unachievable. You may question this
statement, "What do you mean unachievable? I see people achieving these goals all the time."
Which is true. However, most likely they achieved their goals by following some of the
principles I discuss below.
GOAL SETTING PRINCIPLES
First allow yourself to fully imagine what you would like to
achieve. When you imagine your goal, try to imagine it as fully as possible. Allow yourself
to picture what it would be like when you achieve it. What does it look like? What are the
differences in your life? How will you feel? What will others see? In fact, write down
what you imagine. If your goal is to start a business, imagine opening the door to your
new business and looking around at what you see. If your goal is to perform well in a
tournament, imagine your performance fully, what your body feels like, what you notice
around you. Write these things down.
1) Realistic but challenging.
However, even though this is your "dream"
it needs to be within reason. For instance, it may be reasonable to lose weight and to feel
healthier, but is it reasonable to "look like a supermodel?" Unless you already have the
genetic makeup for it, you are setting yourself up for failure. Or, you might dream about
developing your own business, but to expect that you should be as successful as Bill Gates
within 10 years is unrealistic. Besides, from what I have read about Bill Gates, I don't
think that is the sort of goal he set for himself. He focused upon the more immediate goal
of developing a personal computer that was within the ability of most people to own. The
business and financial success came later.
At the same time you want to make the goal challenging. If the goal is too ridiculously
easy, it won't have any meaning for you. Beyond that, you may not even achieve too easy
of a goal because there is no point in it. We need some challenge for us to be motivated,
but the challenge can't overwhelm us, and thereby decrease ability to follow through. One
mistake people frequently make when setting goals is to set too many goals at one time
as a way of making the goal challenging. However, you want to be challenged by specific,
2) Performance goals rather than outcome goals.
The most achievable goals
are personal performance goals rather than outcome-oriented goals. A goal of winning a
competition, for instance, is an outcome goal. One problem with an outcome-oriented goal is
that we have less control over outcome than we do over performance. For instance, another
competitor may have an outstanding day or you might be suffering from a virus that diminishes
performance. In addition, sometimes there are outside factors that influence outcomes such as
umpires or audience behavior.
Performance-oriented goal allow us to evaluate ourselves independently of these other
factors. I know when I competed in martial arts, I had times when I thought I had just
done my best performance in kata competition yet I didn't win, and other times I won when
I thought it was a poorer performance. Therefore, I found I could maintain more consistency
by evaluating myself independently of the outcome based on specific goals I set for my
In the work setting, an outcome-oriented goal may be a goal of obtaining a promotion
or increased salary whereas a performance-oriented goal may focus on specific activities
to improve the work environment or productivity. The interesting thing about this type
of goal is a person may be more likely to achieve the desired outcome as well. For
instance, I once had a client who had not been promoted at work in years. He felt he
did a good job but he never focused on how he could improve upon his job or performance.
As we discussed the situation, he showed a great deal of insight into the problems at his
place of employment. We developed the goal of being assertive and communicating about the
problems he observed. Within weeks of a long discussion with his supervisor about his
observations, he was promoted to a supervisory position.
Develop specific goals
If goals are vague and unclear, they are not
reachable. However, you also don't want to become discouraged by a goal that is too
specific. Sometimes this may be based upon personality. One person may set a goal and
if they don't achieve it in the specified time they just change the goal using what they
learned from the process to improve the goal, whereas another person may set the same goal
but become discouraged if they don't meet it in the specified time. Therefore, be as
specific as your personality allows. For instance, it may be better in a weight loss
plan to specify "I'm going to reduce the amount of sweets I eat" rather than specify a
certain amount of weight to lose.
1) Long-term goals.
Identify specific long-term goals. These are
usually similar to the dream goal you imagined but they may be more specific. For
instance, if your dream goal is to open a retail shop, your long-term goals may involve
finding and renting the space, finishing the interior, purchasing the products, and
hiring and training the employees.
2) Short-term goals.
Once you have identified the long-term goals you can develop
short-term goals to help you achieve each long-term goal. Using the retail shop example
above, you may have short-term goals of researching the area where you want to open the
shop to determine the competition, the availability of space, and the need or interest for your product.
3) Practice goals and competition goals.
In sports and other activities
involving competition, you want to develop goals for practice that will help you to meet
your competition goals. For instance, I am currently training for a local stair-climb
competition that raises money for the American Lung Association. My competition goal is
to climb the 42 flights in less than 10 minutes this year (last year was 11:34). My practice
goals involve gradually increasing the number of stairs I run in an allotted amount of time
(usually 20 minutes).
Set target dates
For us to be able to progress in the achievement of goals, it is best
to have target dates set for each goal. These target dates may need to be changed at times
if you don't meet the goal, but having the date specified, preferably in writing, keeps you
Develop strategies for achieving goals
Once you have developed the goals,
you need to create a specific, concrete plan for achieving those goals. These strategies
are a specific description of what you are going to do to achieve the goals as well as to
evaluate the goals. The specific strategies should include daily tasks as well as
If your goal is to reduce the amount of sweets you eat, what are the specific methods
you will you to do that? Perhaps, you plan to write down all the sweets you eat so
that you are aware of how much you eat which may, in turn, reduce the amount of sweets
you consume. Or you may choose to remove sweets from your immediate vicinity so that
it's more difficult to find them.
Develop support network for achieving goals
When I taught smoking
cessation classes for the American Heart Association we instructed our classes to develop
a goal with a quit date that they shared with other people they knew would be supportive.
By sharing the goal, they developed a support network of people who were likely to check
with them about their progress. This increased the likelihood of them quitting cigarettes.
However, if your support network is critical and negative, you may find that sharing reduces
motivation and success.
Develop plan for goal evaluation
Finally, you need a method to help
you evaluate the goals you have set. The plan may keep track of progress, or it may
need to determine if the strategies actually work towards accomplishing the goals, or
it may need to examine what factors block the goal achievement. This part of the
process becomes easier if you set measurable goals initially. The more comprehensive
the evaluation, the more it allows you to modify goals or change strategies to achieve
the desired outcome. One thing I always loved about behavior therapy that I tell my
clients "There is no such thing as failure. There are so many different ways to achieve
your goals, that each time something doesn't work it just gives us information to develop
strategies that are more likely to work."
Example of implementing this procedure
I have the goal of developing my website.
Currently, approximately 2500 people a month visit this site. My long-term goal is to
attract 20,000 people a month within the next year. To achieve that goal I have developed
short-term goals. One of my strategies for achieving this goal became one of my short-term
goals which is to write two articles each week so that in a year I will have over 100
articles posted on this site. To write that many articles I needed to delineate particular
times for me to write. I chose times during which I typically am most alert and motivated
so as to increase the likelihood that I would follow the plan. Now the strategy I chose of
writing two articles a week to increase traffic to my site might not work. So I've developed
another short-term goal of examining Google Analytics monthly to determine if the number of
visitors is increasing as the number of articles increase. If I find that the strategy
doesn't work, I can then develop different goals or modify my goals and strategies for them
to become more effective. I'll tell you in 2011 whether this worked.
: Didn't quite make the goal by 2011, but did achieve it by 2012 by changing
strategies and developing Android apps. This example demonstrates that we also need flexibility in
pursuing our goals.
Copyright © 2010 by Excel At Life, LLC
Permission to reprint this article for non-commercial use is granted if it includes this entire copyright
and an active link.
Often people state "I'm just lazy" or "I'm unmotivated" when they are unsuccessful. Yet, most
of the time, the problem isn't laziness, but lack of understanding about how to achieve goals.
For instance, I believe that much of the problem the American people have with weight control
is related to inability to set goals. Oh, we can set goals alright! We can set them until the
cows come home. But if we don't set goals properly we are unlikely to be successful. For
instance, I hear people all the time "I'm going to lose 10 pounds in the next two weeks" or
"I'm going to exercise an hour a day" or "I'm going to limit myself to 1200 calories a day"
or some combination of these statements in attempts to manage weight. However, even though
they might achieve these goals over the short-term, any long-term change is unlikely. They
will revert to old habits with resignation sighing, "I'm unmotivated. I'll never be able to