Not everyone bothers with New Year’s resolutions, but most of us recognise the value in taking time out at certain points to reflect on our progress and plan our future. It’s kind of like stopping during our voyage to get our bearings, confirm our destination, check our supplies and adjust our headings as needed. If we don’t, we can end up wasting a lot of energy going in the wrong direction, or worse, getting to our destination but realising when we get there it’s not where we want to be!
We know from motivational psychology that the process of setting goals is critical to the achievement of any desired performance improvement or behaviour change. And anyone who’s ever been to any kind of training workshop knows that for maximum motivation, our goals have to be SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound).
I could write a whole chapter on the nuances of SMART goals, and the dozen or so other factors that are important considerations when setting goals, but the point of this article is to bring you in on another, often completely neglected, part of the picture. That is, setting goals (SMART or otherwise) has only a very weak effect on our actual behaviour.
What is far more important is the plan we set in place to achieve our goal, and the striving we do to implement our plan. It may sound obvious, but I see too many people who have set great goals – goals that are both feasible and desirable – who think that the mere existence of the goal will somehow propel them forward to achieve it. Too many goals are thwarted because people haven’t taken the next, more critical step, of planning what they will do to achieve them! Your intention to implement your plan is far more important to the final outcome than your intention to achieve your goal, so get out your notebook and start planning! Here’s some suggestions to get you started:
- Plan your overall strategy – what are the specific actions you need to do to reach your goal, are they sequential, contingent on other things, or will you do them all together
- Plan to get started – what will you do first, how and when will you do it
- Plan for challenges – what or when are the critical situations that are likely to get you off track
- Plan your response to challenges – what alternative behaviour will you do to keep moving towards your gaol when you encounter distractions or hindrances
- Plan to monitor progress – how will you keep track of whether you are doing what you said you would do, and how will you reward yourself for completing each part of your plan
- Plan for persistence – how will you sustain the resilience to persevere towards the goal in spite of setbacks or lack of progress.
Say for example my SMART goal is to weigh under 70kg by the end of April 2012. My implementation plan could include the following intentions:
Strategy: I’ll walk for 40 minutes 5 times/week, drink alcohol only on weekends, no longer eat chocolate and desert, and after 6 weeks I’ll start a gym program 2 days/week
Getting started: this Friday night I’ll get out my walking clothes so when I wake on Saturday, I’ll get straight up and go for my first 40 minute walk
Challenges: I’m likely to find it hard to walk on days when I have to start work early, and I get tempted to eat chocolate in the evening when I’m tired and at home alone
Responses: so when I have early morning work commitments that prevent me walking first thing, before I go sleep the night before I’ll plan another time during day for my walk; and when I do my shopping, if I’m tempted to buy chocolate I’ll head to the health food section and buy a bag of dried fruit and nuts to snack on at home
Progress: I’ll reward myself for sticking to my eating and exercise plan each month by arranging a night at the movies with friends
Persistence: I’ll meet with my coach each fortnight to keep me focused on why my goal is important to me, and to get encouragement when I’m feeling demotivated.
These are by no means the only things that may need to be done to achieve this goal, and they may not even be the right strategies for you, but notice the level of detail in each of the statements, and also notice how they are framed.
Coaching is a proven strategy which helps people define goals, develop plans and keep on track to achieve them. So if setting goals or implementing plans is challenging for you, or you want help in getting started or staying on track with a specific goal, then coaching is the perfect support tool for you. Please contact me for a confidential discussion about how coaching can help you reach for the stars in 2012!