The Golden Rules to Great Goal Setting
In every facet of our lives, careers and health in particular, modern society is always encouraging us to think about the next milestone. Determining how we can progress and grow is what keeps life stimulating and exciting. “When you stop growing, you start dying!” as William S. Burroughs put it.
As 2018 draws to a close it’s a good time to sit down, consider your accomplishments and evaluate those tasks, projects or goals that were left incomplete. What happened? Were you uncommitted or maybe even a little lazy? Did you have the right mindset but lack the support you needed? Or perhaps last year’s resolutions were just too lofty, uncertain or lacking in urgency. Whatever the case may be, we’re here to help you set yourself up for success in 2019. And that starts with a fundamental understanding of the rules to great goal setting.
The Benefit of Goals
We hear the phrase “goal-setting” and people might talk about all the goals they have for the year but what exactly is the meaning of a goal?
Goal (n) 1. A specifically desired end state, expressed in the positive tense, which provides motivation and direction on the path to achievement.
A goal can be perceived as a destination or desired outcome, that’s positive and that helps to focus our attention. If you’re looking to improve your health, physique or life in some other way, then it’s important to identify and visualize what exactly it is you want and why. The more concrete you can be about what you’re hoping to achieve, the more likely you are to achieve it!
Top-level athletes, successful business people and high-achievers in all fields, all set goals. Setting goals provides you with a long-term vision and short-term motivation. It focuses your acquisition of knowledge, and helps you to organize your time and priorities so that you can make the most of life and the time you have available – 24 hours a day may seem like a lot of time but it can disappear quickly!
Research has shown that setting goals can provide the following benefits:
- Setting goals leads to a greater sense of ownership over your behaviors, which can increase your natural motivation.
- Goal setting can lead to higher achievement.
- Achieving goals can increase self-efficacy which gives you greater control over your behaviors — leading to bigger and bigger achievements.
- The challenge or meaning attached to goals can even lead to a greater sense of interest, joy and pride.
- In pursuit of long-term goals, the accomplishment of subgoals (or short-term goals) can help to decrease feelings of anxiety, disappointment and frustration, increasing the likelihood of accomplishing the larger goal.
By setting concise, clearly defined goals, you can measure and take pride in the achievement of those goals, and you’ll see forward progress in what might previously have seemed a long pointless grind. You will also raise your self-confidence as you recognize your own ability and competence in achieving the goals that you’ve set.
Goal Setting Steps
1. How to set a goal
Start by considering what it is you want to achieve and commit to it. Write it down or tell several of your closest friends about it so as to make it more tangible. Don’t be afraid to dream big with your ultimate goal! It should be lofty, ambitious and really inspire you. It can be so ambitious that you might not even be able to describe how you would go about achieving it initially. This is known as a Stretch Goal. Whilst it may seem counter-productive to shoot for something so “unattainable”, we support the teachings of Charles Duhigg in his book “Smarter Faster Better”, and believe that Stretch Goals are beneficial when combined with a SMART goal approach.
SMART goals are identified by being; Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time bound.
Here’s a list of useful questions you may ask yourself when setting your goals and objectives:
- What exactly do I want to achieve?
- With whom?
- What are the conditions and limitations?
- Why exactly do I want to reach this goal? What are possible alternative ways of achieving the same outcome?
Generally, the more specific the description, the more likelihood you have of achieving that exact outcome. Instead of, “I want to look a million dollars!” how about “I want to lose 3 lbs. every month for the next 12 months by focusing on my nutrition and fitness.”
Measurable goals means that you identify exactly what it is you will see, hear and feel when you reach your goal. It means breaking your goal down into measurable elements. You’ll need concrete evidence that you are meeting the criteria needed to fulfill your goal. Being fitter is not evidence, but being able to run 1 mile, 2 minutes faster is.
Is your goal attainable? What this means is questioning whether the goal really is acceptable to you. Essentially, is the goal really worth all the effort, time and other costs (or sacrifices) that you’re going to have put in? How will your goal affect the other obligations and priorities you have in your life and are those consequences acceptable?
If you don’t have the time, money or talent to reach a certain goal you’ll certainly fail and be miserable. That doesn’t mean that you can’t take something that seems impossible and make it happen by planning smartly and going for it! If you shoot for the moon and miss, you’ll still land amongst the stars. Take our running example above, you might not meet your target of running a mile 2 minutes faster in the next 2 months, but you might shave 1 minute off your time. That’s still a win!
Is reaching your goal relevant to you? Do you actually want to lose weight or are you doing this for someone else? Do you have the type of personality that enjoys competing or are you just adding all this additional training in because you think you should? You have to decide as to whether your goals are in line with who you are or not.
If you’re lacking certain skills, you can plan trainings. If you lack certain resources, you can look for ways of getting them. The main question you should ask yourself is why you want to reach this goal. What is the objective behind the goal, and will this goal actually help you to achieve that?
You might think that having abs will make you perform better, but will it really?
Time is our most important commodity. It’s a finite resource and none of knows when we’ll run out of it. Making a tentative plan of everything you do will help you keep momentum. Everybody knows that deadlines are what makes most people switch to action. Keep the timeline realistic and flexible, that way you can keep morale high. Being too stringent on the timely aspect of your goal setting can have the perverse effect of making the learning path of achieving your goals and objectives into a hellish race against time – which is most likely not how you want to achieve anything. This is particularly important when it comes to weight loss!
In addition to these SMART considerations, your goal ought to be expressed in a positive tense and provide you with some inspiration, motivation or direction.
Let’s take for example, the following goal:
“I want to be my fittest & healthiest me in 2019.”
It sure is positive! But it’s not very helpful in terms of providing any concrete direction or measurability. Based on this statement, how would you know when you’ve reached your goal? This statement needs fleshing out with some careful thought and detail. How about this:
“I want to drop 2 dress sizes and improve my 5k run time by 10 minutes, 6 months from now (1st June 2019). “
Now the goal is specific, clear, measurable and timely too.
2. Long Term Goals
Start with your outcome goal which is usually a long-term goal. Long-term goals are typically completed in a time frame of 6 months or longer.
For long-term goals in particular, it’s important that the “why” aspect is clear. If you’re not sure why it is you’re wanting this particular outcome, then you’re unlikely to remain motivated in working towards achieving it when times get hard or obstacles stand in your way.
3. Short Term Goals
Next, identify short term goals that are challenging but doable. Remember that in order to keep morale and motivation high, it’s important to set ourselves up for success with smaller more immediate tasks and goals. Think about how when clients first get started with flexible eating and macros. You wouldn’t ask them to hit triple zero from day one. Instead you have them start by just tracking their food, getting familiar with using the app and remembering to log their food every day.
Although this might be challenging, for most it will be an achievable task because it doesn’t involve changing the way they eat. Once clients have shown themselves to be a pro at that, you can add on the next layer of difficulty.
“Nothing can be done, except little by little.” ~ Charles Baudelaire
4. Processes & Habits
Once you’ve identified you the long term and short term goals it’s imperative that you identify the procedural steps. In other words, what is the process or strategy for getting there? What habits do you need to cultivate? This is where having a coach will be the most help. No one has trouble saying “I want to lose 10lbs,” or “I want to stop eating out.” What they need help with is identifying the strategies or steps for actually doing those things. That’s where a coach comes in handy!
For example, if the long term goal is to lose 15 lbs. in 6 months, and the first short term goal is to weigh and measure all of your food for the first week, then a process or routine habit could be:
- Meal prep on Sunday night to save time and make it easier to track during the week;
- Pre-program dinner into MyFitnessPal each night since dinner tends to be the most challenging for many people;
- Eat only at home for that first week to prevent the challenge of tracking at a restaurant that early on;
- Alternate cooking and tracking meals with a spouse to share some of the responsibility.
5. Assess & Reassess
Short term and immediate goals are important. When accomplished, they build confidence in your ability to set and achieve more long term goals. As we’ve identified, a long term goal is nothing more than the successive accomplishment of several short-term, immediate goals!
Checking-in each week on your progress will help you identify what’s working for you and what isn’t. Perhaps you’ve tried limiting the number of times you eat out, but you’re finding there’s just no escaping it! Taking clients out to lunch is part of the territory with your line of work. So the strategy of “not going out to eat” during the week, isn’t working for you. It’s time to implement a new strategy, like learning how to pick the most macro-friendly items on a menu, or improving your eyeballing skills.
As part of our lifestyle program, our coaches help clients to identify two things:
- A weekly win – what’s working well for them? Are they sleeping better, feeling more energized or have they dropped another dress size?
- One thing they can work on – what hasn’t been working so well? Is the strategy or process too difficult to comply with? Or do they need a nightly reminder to plan their food for the following day?
A breakdown in a process or strategy can typically be attributed to:
- A practical/logistical constraint
- A certain behavior
- A person who might be hindering progress
We help clients frame their own learning and understanding objectively and critically so that they’re able to set goals and follow through on them on their own if they need to. We help clients develop the skills they need to be self-reliant and resilient.
One of two things will always happen in regards to your goals. You will either achieve them or you will not. If you complete a goal, then your next step is to set a new, challenging goal following the same process as before. This might be the same goal in essence, only bigger! Or it can be a completely different goal altogether.
If you don’t meet your goal, then reassess. You can try to identify what prevented you from meeting the goal objectively. Perhaps the skills required for the specific goal are simply not in your repertoire. Try not to be discouraged. This is a great time to set new goals and use your previous experience, to make better goals that you are more likely to achieve.
If you’re willing to adopt a “growth mindset”, this goal-setting process will serve you well in all aspects of your life.
Are you a coach or do you work with others who could benefit from a goal-setting exercise? Or maybe you want to gain clarity over your own goals for the up-coming year. Whatever the case, make sure you check out our free worksheet to take you through our own goal setting exercise!