Monday, October 25, 2004

On Goals

I have been encouraged to have goals most of my life and while having goals is good, they never taught me a good way to setup my goals so that I could actually accomplish them.

Goals are end-states. Places you want to be when you are done. They need to be something that has caused growth within you as you attained the goal.

Goals need to be written down if they are to be of any good. An unwritten goal is just a wish. A USA Today poll tracked people with New Year's Resolutions and it was found that those people who wrote them down where more then 10 times as likely to achieve them then if they did not write them down. Write them down in the present tense as if they had already happened and revisit them everyday.

Jim Collins, in Good to Great, talks about BHAGs or Big Hairy Audacious Goals. and he talks about good ones and bad ones.

Bad BHAGs, it turns out, are set with bravado; good BHAGs are set with understanding.

Bad goals can be very dangerous. For example, something I learned long ago was that some anorexics do set goals but there goal is to loss a certain amount of weight, like: "lose another 10 pounds." It didn't matter that they were 20 pounds under-weight. This is not a good goal because when you lose too much weight you become unhealthy. A better goal is "I am healthy, strong and flexible."

Now writing, "I am healthy, strong and lean," isn't good enough. you need to create a goal plan to define what those words mean. Clarity is the most important thing you can have with any goal. To increase your clarity you need to create a goal plan.
A goal plan is just an outline of objectives that need to be reached and measures that you will use to determine if you are getting closer or further from your goal. What you are trying to do with the plan is to create a system of feedback. By creating a plan it clarifies your thinking and your goal. You are creating a list of objectives that build on one another getting you closer to your goal. It also let's you see if there are skills or equipment you need to get at some point. It will also show you where things might need to be changed. If your goal plan requires, at some point, a major technological breakthrough, someone "discovering" you, or some other miracle occurring, then you need to revise your goal to something more realistic. An old military adage is that "The plan never survives first contact with the enemy." and that is true everywhere. As soon as you do something, everything changes. People react differently then you anticipated, you learn something new that you didn't know before, some new product reaches the market, your or someone else makes a mistake, or something happens that throws your goal plan for a loop. That is okay, be clear about your goal, but flexible about how you get to your goal. You need to revisit and rewrite you goals often, daily is best, weekly is good.

Feedback is very important, in Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, there are two important factors in creating optimal experience: Immediate feedback and a sense of control. If you have immediate feedback you can tell if you are getting closer or further from you goal. You don't want to wait for the feedback to come days or weeks later that dissipates the power of the feedback. This depends on what is important to you so you have to put some thought into what motivates you that can give you feedback immediately or at least in a few minutes of the action you took. You aren't going to weight yourself right after some exercise it just wouldn't tell you anything, but an objective of "I weight 180 pounds." is just fine.

Objectives are milestones along the way you use to check if you are getting closer to your goal. They are objective measures you will use to check your progress. For example, if you are trying to lose weight and you weigh 220 pounds and you want to weight 180 pounds you will need to reach 210, 200 and 190 pounds along the way. To define strong objectively you can write "I bench-press 150 pounds" you can set up a series of measures from where you are now to that level. To define flexible objectively you can state "I can reach my toes and sit Indian-style."

To give yourself a sense of control you need to create a Next Action. In Getting Things Done by David Allen, a Next Action is the next physical action you need to take to get closer to completing a goal. This is something that goes on your To Do list that you can do. There are two kinds of Next Actions, things that take less then 15 minutes and those that take more then 15 minutes. David Allen uses a 2 minute rule to say if you should do it right away or not. I don't think it is such a good idea to do everything that way. You need to ask the question that Brian Tracy asks in Victory!, "What is the highest and best use of my time?" To achieve flow, it takes about 15 minutes of uninterrupted concentration, so you need to group similar tasks together. If you group your Next Actions together you might be able to get into flow, since you are doing similar things over and over again.

In Summary
Create a Goal that will take you to a place you want to get to.
Create a Plan to learn what it will take to achieve your goal.
Create Objectives that provide immediate feedback to tell you if you are getting closer to your goal.
Create a Next Action to meet objectives on the way to your goal.
Revisit and revise your goals everyday.


Stephen said...

Hmm, must be that my e-mail link is swallowed by the "no anonymous comments" rule. I'm at a loss for how it works, though my e-mail is the same as my handle.

Enjoyed the essay on goals. Tangible, road marks are how I see good goals, though the occassional aspirational goal is good too.

One problem is situations that do not lend themselves to concrete goals.


Stephen M (Ethesis)

effective goals said...

Thanks for a good read.

I’m leaving a little “teaser” for you here to start you thinking about something you may have disregarded for awhile.

Perhaps it will make a difference in your day, month or year. Who knows, it could change your life!

I hope this is of great benefit to you, and maybe you can pass it on…

How to Begin to Achieve Your Goals

Once you have set your lifetime goals, the best thing that you can do is set a 25 year plan of smaller goals that you should complete if you are to reach your lifetime plan.
From there you can just shorten your overall goal spans for example, you set a 5 year plan, 1 year plan, 6 month plan, and 1 month plan of progressively smaller goals that you should reach to achieve your lifetime goals.

Each of these should be based on the previous plan. It is the best way to begin to achieve a lifetime that is filled with and results in a life without any failed wishes. It results in a life without regret.

You see, by starting out slowly, you are giving yourself the chance to realize and work on achieving the goals that you set out to.

Nobody ever succeeds at attaining a goal that was forced through. Those that tried never really got what they were hoping for. In rushing through and trying to achieve your goals quickly you will likely miss a few key aspects that can really change your outcome.

Think of it this way; if you were to run a 10K marathon and decided to take a cab for half of the journey; have you really achieved that goal? Would you be satisfied when you crossed the finish line?

It would be a hollow victory that could only provide a moments happiness.

Finally set a daily to do list of the things that you should do today to work towards your lifetime goals.

At an early stage these goals may be to read books and gather information on the achievement of your goals. This will help you to improve the quality and realism of your goal setting and in effect; make it easier to achieve them.

You also have to review your plans, and make sure that they fit the way in which you want to live your life.

Once you have decided what your first set of plans will be, keep the process going by reviewing and updating your to-do list on a daily basis.

You have to periodically review the longer term plans, and change them to reflect your changing priorities and experiences in your life.

Have a GREAT day, and set a few new goals while you’re at it!

You can find more "tidbits" on goal setting at my life goals