January. Gym. Diet. Organization. Relationships. Bad Habits. These are areas in my life that I look to set goals around in the beginning of each year. I join gyms, start eating more sensibly, start out getting myself organized, even quit smoking….but for some reason, I often don’t keep up with my good intentions. I have done it a hundred times. “This is the year I am going to organized.” Or “This is the year I am going to lose weight.” Why do I continue to set these seemingly fantastic goals and then end up just throwing them out the window after a month or so? Am I really that weak or uncommitted to making improvements in my life? I end up getting tired of failing year after year and, to ease the pain of failure, stop making these resolutions. I scratch my head and ask myself why….why can’t I seem to accomplish these seemingly simple things that would make my life so much better?
What’s Wrong With My Goals? What’s Wrong With Me?
The fact of the matter is that nothing is wrong with me. At least for the purpose of discussing this topic, nothing is wrong with me. My wife may have a different answer if posed that question about me. It’s not me, it’s my “goals.” They really aren’t goals at all. They are “wishes.” My father used to have a saying about “wishing” and about those who were labeled as “wishers” or “dreamers.” I won’t repeat it in mixed company though. He was partially right. And he was partially wrong. Any goal worth its salt starts with a wish…or a dream. And that is where many people just stop. The vital step that I usually missed in turning my dreams into reality was what came next; the goal-setting step. I never knew what constituted a good good versus a poor goal. Never knew the difference between a goal that had success built-in and a goal that had failure written all over it.
A goal that has built-in failure is one that doesn’t flesh out the details. It doesn’t describe first of all “why” I want to accomplish it. We have all seen hundreds of them. For me, these were my New Years’ Resolutions. Not that they were bad or wrong, they just didn’t have a clear description of concrete objectives that could be worked on every day. For me, it’s like starting out on a trip in my car. In addition to making sure I have enough fuel, my car has been inspected, and the weather will be ok, I need to know my ultimate destination. After that, if I don’t chart my course out on a map (the old fashioned way that I still use….sometimes), then I will be driving around aimlessly and eventually just go home out of frustration. Through using a map (or now the map app on my iPhone), I can chart my course. Each mile I travel, I know that I am supporting my ultimate objective of arriving at my destination at a certain time. Like planning and executing a trip, a goal needs a well-defined destination and a well-developed strategy to success.
Elements of a well-defined goal. The devil is in the details! And be S.M.A.R.T. about it!
Be SPECIFIC. I capitalized Specific because “S”is the first letter of the acronym I use to remember what should be part of any good goal. It is the only mnemonic technique I know of that helps me remember. Instead of writing that you want to become “better” at some skill or task, take the time to really define what “better” means. If better includes becoming faster at a task, for example, them put details in defining HOW fast.
Don’t forget to include the dream part. Write WHY you want to achieve this thing. Talk about affirmations within your goal. Describe how things will be different or better when you have achieved your goal. These can also serve as motivators in achieving goals. Even break this component of your goal down more. Create a list of support you will need to achieve your goal. This can be support from others, resources, such as additional training, or the allocation of time to achieve your goal. The more detail and specificity you build into your goal, the more chance you will be able to achieve it.
Build in MEASURES with your goal. That is the “M” of a S.M.A.R.T. goal. Write how you will measure your progress and your overall success. A critical part of this step is building in plans for anticipated failures within your goal. And many people need to fail multiple times before they succeed. Don’t be afraid of failing. Just have a back up plan if you do.
Also, ask yourself simply, “What is the time frame I will need to achieve my goal in its entirety?” Make sure you have a realistic time frame. I know I used to get caught up in this area. Often my goals were not realistic with regard to how long I thought they would take to achieve. For me, I need to have an open calendar when I develop this part of my goal. And time frames were not the only part of my goals that used to be unrealistic…
Set ATTAINABLE goals. This is the “A” of course. My goals used to be unattainable. That is another difference between a well-developed goal and simply a dream. Goals need to make sense. They should challenge us but not be so far out as to be unreachable. They should push our “comfort zone” a little. I used to set goals that had nothing to do with the direction my life was headed, the area I chose to study, my career, or the place I currently lived. Don’t know how you are going to do it? That is why we are developing goals with built-in success features!
Make sure your goal is REALISTIC. Although I know many people who would probably be great Presidents of the United States, how realistic is it to set a goal to do that? Be careful not to crush dreams. (We talked about the importance of dreams earlier). For me, I want to set realistic goals in the four “Fs” of my life: Family, Finance, Friends, Fitness and Faith. Oops, I meant the FIVE Fs of my life. (I’ll leave it up to you to figure out which one I forgot!). Strike a balance between your goal being achievable and it being challenging. Always remember that failure doesn’t mean we have to through the goal away. It means we should anticipate it and have a plan when it happens.
And finally, your goal should be TRACKABLE. An easy way to do this is by putting the finish line date on your calendar. If you really want to track your progress, set dates within your goal to achieve various milestones. These milestones should be “mini-objectives” that are all in harmony with achieving your overall goal. Setting and achieving “mini-objectives” not only helps me work toward achieving my goal, it also boosts my self-confidence level regarding my goal. Breaking otherwise seemingly huge goals which can be intimidating into smaller, “bite-sized” pieces is a great way to be constantly working on your overall goal, every day. Remember, the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step!
I remember hearing some statistics on how many people in the US actually set goals. It was amazing to me that they suggested on a couple percent (2 or 3) of the population in our nation actually set goals. I wondered at the time if the majority of people did not set goals because of the frustration they experienced in not accomplishing them.
Here at Lehman Engineers, everybody sets goals. They are based upon annual performance evaluations. I always suggest to employees that they target areas within their evaluation that are not as strong as they would like as goal-setting territory. I really believe that just the act of writing a goal down, combined with the thought process needed to incorporate the elements discussed above, is crucial to achieving a goal. I write my goals in a notebook that I carry with me everyday. That way, when I have down time, I can re-read what goals I have set.
Marty Malone, Client Services Director, has been with Lehman Engineers for close to 20 years. To contact Marty, please email him at MMalone@lehmanengineers.com.