I'm writing this blog post on January 1, the universally acknowledged (if technically unofficial) day of goals, aims, and resolutions. We all set them, and at the moment that we do, we're bursting with hope, determination and enthusiasm. It turns out, however, that these good intentions are generally not enough to carry us through to the actual achievement of our goals.
One of my favorite topics when facilitating management training is that of goal-setting. Impact Learning Systems' course Making It Happen™ includes a section on how to set meaningful and realistic goals. The formula includes four key criteria which I've found to be extremely helpful in crafting individual and team goals. In service to goal-setters allwhere, I'd like to offer them to you here.
A well-written goal is:
- Specific and measurable
To illustrate how these criteria work, let's apply them to a simple goal that we're all familiar with—that of losing weight. And let's give our designated goal-setter the name of Hugh. Hugh's New Year's refrain goes something like this: "I'll lose weight." Well, that's a great intention, and a good place to start, but it's a long way from an actual goal. Let's run it through the four filters.…
Is this aim specific and measurable? Yes and no. Or, rather, no and yes. It's measurable insofar as Hugh can get on a scale to see if the weight has been lost, but it's not specific—how much weight does Hugh want to lose? In order for the goal to be meaningful (and for Hugh to have the satisfaction of knowing when the goal has been achieved) we need to designate a specific measurement. So, let's say Hugh's goal is to lose 10 pounds. Is it now specific and measurable? Yes! Let's move on.
The next indicator is positive, meaning that the goal should be framed as an affirmative, constructive action. Hugh's goal is positive–the action is to lose 10 pounds. If it were phrased as something like, "I'll stop gaining weight," it wouldn't be so positive because the action would be to stop doing a "negative" behavior. One of the reasons it's so important for a goal to be positive is that then there's something to celebrate. Hugh can feel great about losing weight, whereas if he had instead just "stopped gaining," there would be less of a sense of accomplishment.
The next step is to ask whether the goal is oriented toward a result rather than an attempt. The result here is 10 pounds, so yes, it's a result-oriented goal. Consider, however, if Hugh had said instead, "I'm going to try to lose weight." This notion is admirable, but the problem is that it's subjective and can give a false sense of accomplishment. What if Hugh does try really, really hard but still gets no result? Will the goal have made a meaningful, measurable difference in his life? Probably not.
The final criterion for a well-written goal is a crucial one: a goal has to be obtainable. This is probably where the majority of us giddy goal-setters go wrong–we shoot too high and thereby sabotage our own success. By setting reasonable, obtainable, incremental goals, we can continually make progress (which in turn allows us to feel a sense of accomplishment and inspire ourselves to keep going).
So, back to Hugh. Is his goal of losing 10 pounds obtainable? Most likely yes. Note, however, that the the degree to which we make goals specific and measurable influence their obtainability. If Hugh's goal were to lose 1o pounds this week, it wouldn't be reasonable.
Specific and measurable, positive, results-oriented, and obtainable–four keys to success when setting goals. And here's one final tip: Make just one resolution at a time; this will allow you to keep your focus strong and to feel a strong sense of accomplishment. Once that goal has been attained, Hugh (or you) can always set a new one!