I can remember having conversations with my old man when I was young. He would ask me what I was working toward and what my goals were both now and in the future. Wow! Talk about asking the big questions of a twelve year old! I knew the actions my father was trying to provoke in me and I believed in the power and importance of goal-setting. Yet now with more life experience, I would argue that goal setting is much more detailed than simply stating what you want and going after that goal at all costs.
With this post, my GOAL is to (oh, this is awkward) show you how to incorporate goal setting in your life in a practical, healthy and beneficial manner.
Is Any Goal A Good Goal?
Poor goal setting practices can actually be detrimental to achievement. For example:
- Goals that set unrealistic expectations in a given time period negatively affect your psychology when the goal is forsaken;
- Goals that focus only on the outcome and not the strategy are unlikely to be achieved;
- Goals that are set around traditional ideals of achievement like money and career often run at cross-roads with where the goal-setter’s real passion and interests lie. This can mean that the pursuit of such goals is futile and possibly a negative impacter on achievement.
- Goals that are set without life context can narrow one’s focus not only causing them to miss potentially fulfilling life opportunities but giving rise to a ‘win at all cost’ attitude. This may encourage engagement in unethical or even high risk behaviour.
I am a huge advocate of the importance of present-moment awareness and mindfulness when it comes to goals. One may argue that an ‘attainment’ mentality where we are constantly striving for more is at odds with being in acceptance of the present moment and what ‘is’. As my appreciation of mindfulness and presence has increased, I must state I have personally found this seemingly opposing paradigm to be quite the conundrum – How can I want more but still be genuinely happy with what I have?
A Worthy Consideration: Mindfulness in Goal-Setting
As I have begun to explore the topic of present moment awareness further, I have come to realise that how you perceive goals and your attitude toward your goals is of utmost importance. Typically, the imagery conjured up when we think of an individual going hard out at their goals is one of endless pursuit, always chasing, never satisfied and never happy until that goal is achieved. We think of a constant clinginess or attachment to a material outcome that is meant to bring us some higher level of happiness. And often when the goal is achieved, the elation and feeling of attainment is not all that we built it up to be. This is because we have incorrectly tied our sense of worth and WHO we are to WHAT we have achieved. The reality is that you are much more than the value of your wallet!
When you build mindfulness into your goal-setting approach, your goals become so much more relevant and likely to positively influence your life. This is because:
- You base goals around your values and ideals and not society’s ideal of what it means to be successful;
- Your attitude toward your goals is a healthy one – your goals represent a direction you want migrate rather than an expectation of something you need to achieve at all costs.
Mindfulness is actually a tool that sharpens your focus allowing you to wholly submerge yourself in the actions of the present moment that will give rise to your future achievements. Rather than focussing solely on OUTCOMES, your focus is upon ACTIONS in the now.
Outcome Versus Action Goals
Whilst it is important to identify your outcome goals clearly, your strategy or action goals dictate the behaviours you will implement to make what you define as achievement a reality. The achievement of any one outcome goal will be dependent on a number of strategy/action goals. This is because it usually takes more than one action to bring about the achievements you so desire. To give an example:
Your outcome goal may be ‘to lose weight’.
Your strategy goals would need to include:
- Ensuring you eat a healthy and balanced diet;
- Ensuring you engage in a minimum level of physical activity;
- Ensuring you get enough sleep and restful downtime.
Without addressing all three action goals above, you would be unlikely to make a serious dent in reducing your weight.
The Most Important Step – Making Your Goals S.M.A.R.T.
Referring back to the above outcome goal ‘to lose weight’, let me ask you a key question – how do you know if you have successfully achieved the goal? For example, if you lost 0.5kg by the end of next week, does this indicate the goal has been hit? Or what about trimming off 2kg in 12 months? Would you deem that a success? Whilst by definition you have indeed lost weight, the answer to both questions would probably been ‘no’ or ‘not yet’ a success.
When it comes to setting motivational goals, the devil lies in putting enough detail down so you can establish your strategy goals properly. As the old phrase goes – ‘what is measured, gets managed.’ Without adequate detail, you will have no way of knowing whether your have indeed arrived at success or not.
Enter S.M.A.R.T goals! This acronym dictates an excellent way to establish your goals in a manner that drives proper strategy and sets you a benchmark to monitor your achievement. Here’s how to use the S.M.A.R.T formula:
S – stands for specific. Be clear about exactly what you are trying to achieve.
M – stands for measurable. You must tie your goals to an objective unit of measurement that allows you to see whether you are moving closer or further away from the destination.
A – stands for achievable or attainable. Setting ‘pie in the sky’ goals that are totally unachievable will only serve to demotivate you. Make them a stretch but totally doable!
R – stands for relevant . As mentioned above, only set goals which truly resonate with you and your values. Setting goals for another person’s agenda is an absolute waste of time.
T – stands for time-bound. Adding the time parameter gives your goals a context in which success will be determined against. It adds a sense of urgency to what you are striving to achieve.
Putting It Together – Outcome Goal
Now let’s again revisit our ‘lose weight‘ outcome goal and make it S.M.A.R.T – How about this?
‘My goal is to drop my abdominal waist circumference by 5cm within the next 6 months. This would significantly improve my health!’
The above outcome goal is very specific, measurable in centimetres, absolutely achievable and relevant to me and in a reasonable time frame. It’s SMART!!
Putting It Together – Strategy Goals
Now what strategy goals would I set to help me achieve the above outcome goal? Remember, we usually need a cluster of strategy goals to achieve any outcome goal. Try these:
> I am going to restrict my alcohol consumption to no more than 7 standard drinks per week for the next 6 months. This will reduce my empty calorie intake.
> Starting Monday, I am going to start exercising on 4 days per week for 1 hour each occasion. Monday and Thursday will be a spin class; Tuesday and Friday will be a gym session with a registered PT.
> I am going to make a solid attempt to eat more healthily starting Monday. As such, I will start doing a weekly shop every Sunday for fresh, healthy foods so to ensure I am always prepared.
> I will follow my shopping commitment by cooking 5 x healthy lunchtime snacks to freeze and take to work Monday to Friday.
> From Monday, I will make the switch to water as my primary fluid choice. I will attempt to drink 5 bottles (the one I use at the gym) each day and will keep it tasty by adding a wedge of lemon or lime. I will also limit my consumption of coffee to one skim milk latte per day.
> From Monday, I will commit to being in bed and winding down with a book by 930pm Sunday to Thursday nights. This will ensure I get 8 hours of sleep and feel recharged for both work and exercise the next day.
Now look back over the plan above. This seems a relatively well-thought strategy to achieving a well-defined outcome goal. This is your blueprint and with a mindful, focussed approach, movement toward your goals is a reality. Because your goals are aligned with your values (i.e. relevant), you feel purpose in your day because your goals are for you! Mindfulness actually cultivates focus and drive.
A Few Extra Tips
So now you have the formula for developing goals, here’s a few key tips to improve your compliance and chance of hitting those marks:
- Write your goals down – putting your goals onto paper is the first step in seeing them materialise. You can refer back to them frequently as a reminder of your motivation for action. You do not need to share them because you are accountable only to yourself.
- Keep them relevant and few in number – I would argue that having a whole host of loosely defined goals dilutes the power of goal setting. Ask yourself, ‘how much does this goal mean to me?’ Only decide to formalise it if the idea of attaining it gives you a real kick of motivation.
- Review them frequently – see your goals as a dynamic and developing destination not a static, unchanging set of rules. You cannot predict your life circumstances and your goals must remain flexible to remain relevant.
Best of luck on the goal-setting front! Please take it from me, dedicating an hour today to putting your goals to paper will repay you in spades! JS