Goal Setting for Everyone
We’ve all heard the corporate acronym that good goals should be SMARTER:
This is a great starter. But new research can show us how to think of goal setting even smarter! At its heart, effective goal setting isn’t about daydreaming. It’s about changing habits. Ray Williams writes in Psychology Today that: “Recent neuroscience research shows the brain works in a protective way, resistant to change. Therefore, any goals that require substantial behavioral change or thinking-pattern change will automatically be resisted.” Resist resistance, and overcome it with science.
Come Up with a Backup Plan for Your Backup Plan.
Michael Phelps was destined for Gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. But when circumstances nearly thwarted his chances in the form of foggy goggles, he still won. How? Phelps was using visualization with his coach, training his mind not only to daydream the positive outcome, winning the goal and beating a world record. He got bored with the positive daydream and started dreaming of what he’d do if something went wrong. So when he was all but blinded by unforeseen obstacles, he kept calm. He’d been here before but in his mind. His body had memorized the number of strokes it took to get across the pool. Planning for obstacles while envisioning success boost systolic blood pressure. This is a good thing for the heart, mind, and ultimately, your goal to act under pressure.
Focus on the Approach, not Avoidance.
Take a second to think about the first goal that pops in your mind. Is it focused on avoiding negative outcomes? Or is it dreaming of a possible positive one? Research shows that the latter is left-brain thinking, and more likely to come to fruition. Rather than setting a “goal” to run away or avoid something, swap your focus instead to something that could make things better.
AIM for the Prize.
Neuroscientist Elliott Berkman has a great tactic for bringing your goal to life, one portion of his AIM tactic for goal setting. Create memorable dreams around a goal, something striking that sticks. Thinking about promoting is dry; it lives in your head. Fantasize instead how reaching a new echelon of your career will feel, what you’ll do when you reach that goal. Don’t just set a goal, dream big.
Attach with that sticky goal a motivational behavioral trigger. Connect your goal with a physical motion or phrase. Even if it feels silly, go with it! Is it a jump or a fist pump? Is it a phrase or a word? Keep it to yourself. Repeat it every morning on your drive to work. Write it on a sticky note on your bathroom mirror. Say it under your breath when you’re reaching an impasse or a difficult moment in the pursuit of your goal. Take your goals outside your intellect, off the paper, and into physical space. This helps further bring your goal alive in reality.
Tell Someone Else Your Goals.
Share with people your hopes for the future and goals. This does a few things. It lets people around you know your intentions, which could help involving others in achieving your desired outcome. You’re also bound to gain some cheerleaders along the way, and who doesn’t love support? It also holds you accountable. If a tree makes a goal in the woods and no one hears it, was it ever really a goal? Don’t suffer in silence either! Talking about your goals also means talking to others about the opportunities for growth you may meet along your path. And you may be surprised how much you’ll learn and connect with others by authentically sharing your wins and struggles.
Push UP the Deadline.
Creating a goal with a deadline is fine. But be real with yourself. If you can reasonably accomplish something in 2 weeks, saying you’ll finish it in 3 weeks is cheating yourself. See if you can move that goal up to 10 days. You’ll be surprised what a little zip in the timeline will do to your motivation!
Be careful if you’re the type of person who creates unfair goals for yourself. Have a peer check to see if your stretch goal timeline is reasonable.
Stick With It, No Matter What!
And no matter what, stay fair to yourself. There are always circumstances that get in the way, things outside our control that change our ideal timeline for accomplishing what we set out to do. Remember the only difference between an accomplished goal and an unfinished one is this: commitment and time! Keep on keeping on. If you miss a deadline, evaluate, reassess, pivot if necessary. But by all means, keep going!