Setting goals is one of those things that is often talked about but rarely executed well. We are told to set goals at work, in our personal lives, and for anything that we want to achieve. Some people dislike setting goals or have difficulty doing so. Some just don’t see the value in the exercise.
I am a fan of setting goals, and you should be, too. It is one of the few pieces of commonly shared advice that I agree with. There are some models for setting successful goals out there and they cover some of the big improvements that can be made when setting goals. One such model for goal setting is setting SMART goals.
SMART is an acronym for:
S – Specific
M – Measurable
A – Achievable
R – Relevant
T – Time-bound
The SMART model is a great model for the mechanics of setting goals; however, it falls short in application because it doesn’t cover some of the more fundamentals needed to make the best and most successful goals you can make.
A lot of what was discussed in the last few blog posts apply here in terms of having your goals be a part of your Values and Philosophy if you really want to achieve them. Your goals must align with your Philosophy and your vision for yourself; else, pursuing those goals is going to pull you off course.
Beyond that, there are some other core ideas that will benefit you as you set out to make goals for yourself. These are a few steps deeper than the common pieces of advice thrown around.
Additive and Iterative Goals
We should first consider the types of goals that we create as they come in two flavors – additive and iterative.
When you start a new pursuit or want to change directions in life, you are going to create additive goals. These are goals that require you to develop new behaviors and to carve time out of your schedule to work on them. These are goals built around those activities that you are not currently doing and need to have their place in your Strategy.
Your iterative goals are those goals created to continue to lead you along your current path. When you have your Philosophy and Strategies working to achieve goals, you have a direction to move in. Your iterative goals are your smaller goals that you will set for yourself to create milestones along the way. Iterative goals continue to grow as you grow so that once you achieve one, you modify it; growing to the next step along your path.
It is important to understand the types of goals you are setting because you have a limited number of resources at your disposal – there is a finite amount of time and energy you have in a day to accomplish different things. If you have too many goals and exceed what you are able to put out, you are setting yourself up for failure. This becomes a problem more so with additive goals rather than iterative goals. The important take-away here is that you need to have a plan for accomplishing your goal before you set it. If you cannot determine where you are going to spend time pursuing an additive goal, you don’t get to set it as a goal. This is how you maintain consistent action without feeling overwhelmed.
Iterative goals are less of a concern in this way because, as defined, they grow with you. As you achieve one, it changes to something bigger. The number of iterative goals you have will remain close to the same number, they just change periodically.
A quick aside – what happens when you have a goal to stop doing something – a subtractive goal? These types of goals need to be framed as an additive goal to maximize their success. If you only focus on stopping something, this is called avoidance, and is only a short term solution to the problem. Avoidance of a problem is prone to failure because you are having to actively keep yourself from doing something – you need to spend time thinking about that thing you want to stop. It takes willpower to prevent yourself from falling into old habits and is not sustainable.
Instead, you should create additive goals in these instances to replace your old habit with a new one. So, instead of your goal being to stop drinking soda, for example, you would set a goal to drink more water. You are taking something subtractive (stop drinking soda) and creating an additive goal (drink more water). This will help you to be more successful because you are focusing on accomplishing something rather than refraining from something.
Timing and Understanding
Many goals that are not accomplished are doomed from the get-go. When you have a poor understanding of what accomplishing a goal actually requires, you enter into setting and pursuing goals with unrealistic expectations. Not meeting these expectations leads to frustration and disappointment and will ultimately result in you walking away from that goal.
To prevent this from happening to you, don’t set goals too early. Anything worth doing is worth doing right and is likely to take some time and effort to do. Spending some time up front to learn about what you are going after is time well spent.
At the beginning, just learn. Watch videos, read articles, play in sandbox a little bit. Figure out how this new activity feels, figure out how and where you are going to fit it into your life. Get a feel for how long it will take and what type of costs are involved. These are all things best learned by getting involved; immersing yourself in the arena and just feeling it out.
Once you have at least a basic understanding of what you’re looking to do, then start to define your goal and some iterative goals to go along with it, as required.
You don’t want only one goal that is going to take years to accomplish because it makes it difficult to track. You need intermediate, iterative goals along the way to give you an idea of how you’re tracking.
Understand Your Direct Impact
Another important concept to make sure you consider is that you must understand how and to what level you are able to directly impact your way toward a successful end. Too often, especially in the corporate world, people make goals that are largely out of their hands. For example, a goal of “I want to be promoted by next year” is not a good goal to set for a few reasons:
- There are a lot of factors outside of your control that will determine whether you get that promotion.
- Is there a job opening?
- Who else are you competing against?
- What are the criteria to be considered for a promotion?
- Who is going to take your position if you get the job?
- You will be relying on someone else to create that opportunity for you.
- Whether you get promoted is not your decision.
Now, since you are Initiated, you are already thinking of ways you are going to get that promotion – you’ll work harder, take on more responsibility, etc. You are going to show everyone why you deserve that promotion – and that is exactly what you should do. However, in the context of setting goals, “I want to be promoted” is not the goal you should set.
Instead, you should set goals that you have more control over. Construct goals around what responsibilities you are going to take over and which tasks you are going to seize ownership of. Determine what training you are going to complete to make yourself more qualified. These are all better goals than a promotion because you have far more impact over your achievement of these things. Ultimately, your goal is to prove you deserve a promotion, but these other goals are better in terms of ensuring achievement and will also give you the best chances of achieving what you really want.
Also important to consider is that this alternate approach is providing you a contingency plan. Never leave yourself in a position where you are relying on others for your ultimate success.
Here’s what I mean:
Staying with this example of a job promotion – if you have gone forward and done everything you could do to prove you are the man (or woman) for the job and you still get passed over for the promotion – you always have the option to leave. Should it come down to that, you have all of these qualifications to put on your resume to show the next employer why you deserve the job that you want rather than the job you already have. This is the Initiated way to handle a situation. This is self-reliance. Elevate yourself to be able to play at the next level and then go find the opportunity you need to get there. Rinse and repeat until you get to where you want to be.
It was touched on before but each of your additive goals should turn into iterative goals down the road. If you create goals that align with your Philosophy and your Values, you should always have another iterative goal to go after.
Even if you have a lofty goal that is going to take you years to achieve, that’s great. As you start to close in on that big goal you should start looking for how you are going to roll that achievement into the next large goal – iterating your achievements and carrying that momentum into the next pursuit.
Said differently, if you are setting good goals in alignment with your Philosophy and where you ultimately want to go, it will be easy to carry that momentum from one goal into another because it is all connected – your Integrity is strong. There should be an obvious next step for you so that you continue down the path you have laid out for yourself.
Perhaps one of the worst things a person can do is set a dead ended goal – a goal that once achieved, doesn’t leave them anywhere else to go. Upon achievement of these goals, they hit a wall and all of that momentum is lost. The achievement of a goal should be short lived and followed quickly with the next action.
In these instances it is worth considering what the real value of achieving that goal was. Was it integrated into a person’s path? Was that pursuit strengthening their Integrity? In the case of hitting a dead end with nowhere to go next, it may be the case that this was an offshoot of their path and now that they have reached the end they need to bushwack their way back. The efforts to achieve that goal may not have been as fruitful as it could have been.
These tactics for setting goals will ensure that you are setting the right goals for the right reasons. Considering these criteria when setting goals will leave you with the best chances of achieving your goals because they will be created in alignment with your Values and your Philosophy rather than being disconnected from them.
Create strong goals for yourself that have a high probability of success and go work your ass off until you make them happen.
Yours in strength,