Tomorrow is the 1st of February 2016. One month ago, many people around the world were setting goals for 2016. Most people have already given up on those goals. Most people had already ‘failed’ within the first week.Why?
Why do people like to set goals? And why do they so often fail?
Let’s tackle the first question: Why do people like to set goals?
People like to set goals because they want to achieve more. They want to improve themselves or achieve things that they had not previously achieved. While some goals are quite common such as ‘I want to be fitter’, I want to eat better’, I want to stress less’, others are very specific to a particular person. It might be that your goal is learn how to bake an apple pie or start your own business. It doesn’t matter what the goal is. Setting a goal is about working towards achieving something that you want. Something that helps you be the person you want to be or achieve something you want. Achieving a goal can give a person a significant sense of accomplishment. That is something that feels good. As people, we like to feel good. If setting a goal and achieving that goal makes us feel good then why wouldn’t we? However, what happens when we don’t achieve the goal? That can mean that positive feeling of achievement is replaced with a negative feeling of success. If we don’t want setting goals to result in negative feelings then we need to make sure we achieve our goals.
So why do people often fail to reach their goals? Often the goals that people set are not achievable, or there is no plan on how to achieve the goal. For example, what if I want to get fitter? Does that mean I need to exercise everyday? Have I failed if I miss a day. Giving up when I miss a day (which people often do) is setting yourself up for failure as most people will have days when they can’t exercise- when life gets in the way or they are sick or injured. Further, if you are not specific about what it means to get fitter, then how do you know you have achieved your goal and what are you working towards?
So how can we set goals in such a way that increases the chances of success? We can increase the chances of success by setting SMART goals. These are goals that are specific, measureable, attainable relevant and time-bound.
Let’s first look at specific. Rather than saying ‘I want to be fitter’, be more specific- what is your measure of fitness? Is it to be able to run 10kms without stopping? Is it to be able to complete a marathon? Is it exercising 3 times a week for 30 minutes. Specific means set something that is defined rather than a vague goal. Then you will know what you are working towards and you will also know when you have achieved your goal.
Measureable and specific are close to each other. If a goal is measureable, there is an element to it that means you can know if it has been achieved. If your goal is to run 10kms, you have not achievedit if you only run 5kms. You have overachieved if you can run 12kms. There is a measure on the goal that means you know when it has been achieved.
Attainable. A goal should be something you can achieve with some work. You don’t want to set a goal that you have already achieved or that is too easy to achieve, but you don’t want it to be too hard either. If it is too easy then there is no sense of accomplishment in achieving it, if it is too hard there is no motivation in setting the goal as you know you won’t achieve it. If you can already run 9.5kms, learning to run 10kms is not a challenge. However, setting a goal of running 10kms in two weeks time is unrealistic if you currently can’t walk 500 metres continuously. For a goal tobe attainable it has to be something you can achieve if you set your mind to it and create a plan to achieve it.
Relevant. The goal should be relevant to you and what you want out of life. It needs to achieve something that is important to you. Your best friend might set a goal of learning how to play the piano. Setting the same goal is pointless if playing the piano has no place in your life. If the goal is not relevant you won’t be motivated to achieve it.
Time-bound. People respond to deadlines. So set a realistic deadline for achieving your goal. Don’t just say you want to learn to run 10kms. Set a goal of running 10kms within the next 12 months.
The SMART goal setting system is very helpful. However, I have a couple of other parts to goal setting that can help you achieve your goals.
If your goal is big- break it up and set mini goals and deadlines. If your goal is to run 10kms in a year, then you might aim to increase the distance you can run by 1km each month until you achieve your goal. You may also plan out how to achieve that- set weekly workouts that will get you there. By making a plan with shorter term goals within your big goal, you will make your goal more attainable but you will also make it less ‘big’. A significant goal without a plan to get there can feel overwhelming. Running 10kms might seem big. Running 1km can seem easier, then once that is achieved, running 2kms is easier than going straight to running 2kms.
Revisit your goals. Put your goals somewhere where you can see them regularly. Remind yourself of what you are working towards and why. Review your goals, once you have achieved one, extend the goal or start working towards another goal. Ammend your goal if something unexpected happens rather than just giving up on it- sometimes things happen that are beyond your control. By doing this you will constantly push your boundaries and achieve what you want.
SMART goals are something you can use in both your personal and professional lives. When setting goals with your employees or your employers, make sure they are SMART goals and don’t wait a full year to revisit them. Meet with your emploiyees or employer every three months for an update. If it is an employee who is struggling, see what you can do to help them achieve their goal- maybe they are missing a requeired skill. You can help them achieve their goals if you have the right conversations and if the goals are relevant to both the person and the organisation then ultimately the business will benefit if the employee reaches their goals. Have the same conversation with your employers- if the goals are geared towards helping both you and the organisation achieve their goals then it is in their best interest to make sure you have the resource to achieve your goals. It also helps you stay motivated if you assess your progress and if you have the tools you need to achieve the goals.
So make your goals SMART and set a plan to make them happen. Most importantly, don’t forget to celebrate achieving your goals- you worked for it!