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Getting Real With Your Resolutions Vasudha Deming

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
  • Pos­i­tive
  • Results-oriened
  • Obtain­able

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!

Vasudha leads the Per­for­mance Solu­tions Team at Impact Learn­ing Sys­tems, reg­u­larly work­ing with lead­ing com­pa­nies to improve per­for­mance of their customer-facing ser­vice, sup­port, and sales teams. She is a lead devel­oper of Impact's suite of train­ing courses and has authored four books, includ­ing the pop­u­lar Big Book of Cus­tomer Ser­vice Train­ing Games, all pub­lished by McGraw-Hill.
5 Getting Real With Your Resolutions
Vasudha Deming
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