You may be happy to hear that goals are not for everyone! Despite everything we hear and read in leadership and management blogs and publications, there are many people who never set goals and who end up living happy and fulfilled lives.
This is nothing new. In a study about goal setting in 1953, Yale University interviewed all graduating students and found that only 3% had actually set goals and written them down.
Goal setting is only for people who want to achieve something specific and measurable. If there is nothing you want to achieve and you are happy with things as they are, you can stop reading now – no need to waste any more of your time and energy! If, however, you want to be successful in achieving something, then goal setting is going to increase your chances of doing so dramatically.
This comes as no surprise to successful people: Steven Covey wrote: “To begin with the end in mind means to start with a clear understanding of your destination. It means to know where you are going, so that you better understand where you are now and so that the steps you take are always in the right direction”.
In fact, going back to the 1953 Yale study…20 years later, those 3% were worth more than the 97% put together, and more importantly, they proved to be in better health, happier and in better relationships.
There are two skills that make or break a person’s success in life. Firstly the ability to set goals, and secondly the ability to create and maintain motivation in order to do whatever it takes to achieve those goals.
The good news is that you shouldn’t be too hard on yourself for failing to reach your goals up until now – chances are you made all the classic mistakes and soon forgot what the goal was about in the first place. The bad news is that you will never achieve any goal unless you stop making these four mistakes every time to set a goal.
Mistake #1: You get what you focus on
Over 80% of people never set any goals. Of the 20% that do set goals, only 4% write them down and only 1% review their goals regularly. No prizes for guessing that the 1% are amongst the highest achievers that walk the earth! Most people spend more time planning their next holiday than planning their lives! If you ask people what they want, most will tell you what they don’t want. Was your New Years’ resolution to stop eating junk food or stop being so disorganised? The law of attraction tells us that we will get what we focus on to the exclusion of everything else. Have you ever bought a car only to start noticing that all of the sudden every second car on the road is the same make and model as yours? The problem with stating goals in the negative is that our sub-conscious mind cannot process negative information, so it will work towards getting what you focus on, whether you actually want it or not. Factories with the sign “Careful don’t slip” report a much higher rate of incidents that those displaying “Watch your step”.
So next time you set a goal, remember to write it down to establish the focus, and state in the positive, for example ‘I will eat a healthy, balanced diet’.
Mistake #2: Real life kicks in and your to-do list takes over your life!
Psychology studies tell us that human behaviour is motivated by two sources: you are either moving towards something you want (gain), or preventing the loss of something you have (prevent pain). (McClatchy, 2014) Results from goals motivated by gain or growth have much more significant and positive result than those motivated by the need to prevent pain. Why? Because you actually want to do them, and that desire creates an energy and excitement that is motivated by the need to improve your life. Growth goals will make you feel like you have accomplished something. Prevent pain goals, like sorting out your finances, staying on top of your emails or doing your laundry are things you have to do to maintain your life. To-do lists will keep you busy and too exhausted to pursue any of your gain goals. Here’s the kicker: Your brain is wired for survival and to prevent pain, so you will instinctively be drawn to these tasks for fear of getting your electricity cut off, missing something important in an unread email or running out of clean clothes to wear.
Next time you set a goal, don’t wait for all the prevent pain to-do list tasks to go away before you work on your gain or growth goals – they never will and doing them will exhaust you, leaving you no time and energy to focus on your gain goals. You will need to do both your prevent pain and gain goals in conjunction. Schedule time in your calendar for working on your gain goals, and defend those time slots vigorously. Focus on doing the top 3 tasks on your to-do list each day to maintain your life, and use your calendar to start moving your life forwards!
Mistake #3: Not knowing your WHY?
There are 3 components to every goal: the HOW or the content of the goals, the WHO you need to be to reach you goal, and the WILL, that thing that motivates and drives you, the reason WHY the goal is important. Chances are you’ve been focussing mainly on the HOW component (if I want a healthy lifestyle I need to go to the gym, eat healthy food, stress less etc.) of your goal and not nearly as much on the reason WHY the goal is important to you. You don’t break your New Years’ resolutions because you forget HOW to get to the gym or what food to avoid. You do in fact lose your WILL, your drive, your WHY! Successful people know there is a big difference between knowing what to do and actually doing it, and the gap in between is where success can be found (Kyosaki).
Next time you set a goal, be really honest and ask yourself WHY your goal is important, what will it mean to have it, what will it give you? You answers may surprise you and may even help you rethink your initial goals. If your WHY is clear and powerful, the HOW and WHO will fall into place easily. It is your WHY that will help you push through when you face obstacles and chocolate cake. It really is true that where there is a WILL, there is a way!
Mistake #4: Not being held accountable
Did you tell anyone about your goal and ask your friends or family to support you and check in on your progress? In his book “The four hour work week”, Tim Ferris suggests you take a photograph of yourself in your swimmers and send it to your friends. That may sound a little drastic (and I wouldn’t recommend it if your goal is to manage you email more efficiently) but let’s face it, most of us are masters at lying to ourselves, or conveniently ‘forgetting’ our goals when it suits us. Being held accountable by someone you value and respect will increase your chances of achieving your goals dramatically, because at heart, most of us are people pleasers. We’d rather inconvenience ourselves than disappointing someone else. So chances are you will give your goals the priority it deserves if you know you will be asked for a status update.
Next time you set a goal, nominate an accountability buddy and agree up front how you want to be kept accountable and schedule it in your calendar, whether it is a call each week or a coffee meeting. Make sure you defend that appointment – your growth depends on it!
Goal setting is not for everyone and most people live happy and fulfilled lives without ever having any goals or resolutions. If, however, you want to achieve something specific in your life, avoid these four mistakes next time you set a goal and join the ranks of the 1% who get what they want!
Kyosaki, R. (n.d.). How to make meaningful goals and resolutions.
McClatchy, S. (2014). Decide: Work Smarter, Reduce Your Stress, and Lead by Example. Wiley.
With over 15 years' experience working as a Project Manager, Coach and Mentor, I am passionate about assisting others to learn how to communicate across cultures, reframe problems, align goals, manage stakeholder groups, resolve conflicts, find solutions, motivate teams, mentor and coach, and generally be a better leader!