Goal setting - How to succeed

Jan 15, 2024
Bulletin board with multi-coloured post it notes - pixabay/geralt


The subject of goal setting is an important part of the human psyche.  We set goals all day long, some are habitual, some are thoughtful, some are intended to help us avoid suffering, some intended to make us better people.  Still some are associated with our own ego, whilst others are about needs, either ours or others.

But broadly speaking the purpose of goal setting is to help us achieve our vision. 

Your vision can be for any period or any area of focus.  In the UK, there is a long-standing tradition of New Year resolutions.  There is also a tradition of breaking these resolutions (goals) in the coming weeks and months as they are often set in haste, or as part of wishful thinking rather than as part a strategic process.

To create greater alignment with your vision, and improve your chances of following through, a great question to ask as you set your goals is are they aligned to a core purpose?  My reason for asking is that if they aren't then as a stand-alone goal they may lack the motivational energy necessary to carry you through to completion.

As an example, one of my goals this year is to see if we (my team and I) can work from locations outside of the UK.  This is aligned to creating an agile business model that is less dependent on any one governmental or societal infrastructure, which in turn creates space for richer experiences with clients, projects, and family.

Another reason for aligning goals with core purpose is that it makes decision-making easier.  Asking 'does this action bring us closer to our goal and core purpose?' is a great qualification and prioritisation question. 

Having aligned your goal, you may want to use some or all of the following tactics to help you.

3 x 1 goal setting

3 x 1 goal setting is the practice of having 3 points of achievement for every 1 goal. 

  • Goal - The first level of achievement - this can be your minimum viable goal (MVG).  If you don't reach this level then you need to reassess your focus.
  • Target - The second level of achievement is your best case - this sets you firmly in the boundary of achievement and means that you have delivered your best case scenario using the resources available to you.
  • Stretch - The third level of achievement is your upper quartile of performance.  it requires determination, focus, and commitment.  But not at the expense of other goals or priorities.  

An example is:  My goal this year is to spend 3-weeks working outside of the UK.  Creating 3 x 1 is:  2-weeks working offshore is my MVG.  To not achieve this requires me to understand what the barriers are and how to refocus, 3-weeks working offshore is my target and achieving this enables me to learn sufficient to inform any longer plans, 4-weeks working offshore is my stretch and demonstrates higher agility, but will also require additional planning and alignment of operational elements.

Using a 3x1 approach means that I have 3 levels of attainment, including

  1. 3 opportunities to celebrate
  2. Reducing the risk of a 'winner takes all' goal that could be demotivating
  3. Created the space to overachieve on my goal thereby building energy beyond completion, just like a golfer putting beyond the hole

Use future pacing to define your steps

Sometimes when we set goals, whether for the year or some other period it can be hard to get started.  This can be for a number of reasons, including:

  • The challenge looks overwhelming.
  • Not knowing where to start
  • How do I know I'll be making progress if I start in the wrong place
  • Fear of the unknown

These are all legitimate concerns.  Future pacing seeks to answer these concerns by starting at the furthest point and working backwards.

An example:  If I want to lose 2 stone in weight and a reasonable rate of reduction is 1lb a week, it could take me circa 28 weeks to achieve my goal.  Allowing for setbacks along the way, I might suggest that it will take me 36-weeks to achieve my goal.

- Starting at the 36-week point with the goal of having reduce weight by 2 stone, where would I need to be in weight loss terms in 26 weeks/6months to be on track for 2 stone?

- Where would I need to be in 20 weeks to be on track?

- Where would I need to be in 16 weeks to be on track?

- As I get closer to today, I may need more regular points of reference to assess whether the actions I am taking to reduce my weight are having the desired impact whilst remaining healthy.

- I can also build on this approach to include the healthy options that I might be choosing at each point e.g exercise, diet, meditation, etc

By using the future pacing approach, you are building your plan backwards, which both validates the reality of your plan, but also gives you confidence that you don't have to achieve everything on day one. The focus of the plan is consistent practice rather than looking for perfection

Track performance

Somebody once said, 'If you can't measure it, it won't get done.'  I am not wholly convinced that is true, but it is a useful sentiment.  Having a set of Key Performance Indicators, or as often is preferred OKRs - Objectives and Key Results, helps you understand whether the actions you are taking are making the right impacts, or do you need to reassess your activity?

If you are to achieve a multi-layered strategy, then having a dashboard that feeds you leading and lagging information will help you know what is happening to your goal.

Example: Using my goal of living abroad, I have a dashboard of:

Productivity - Does my productivity increase or decrease?

Revenue - Will my revenue be impacted positively or negatively by this action?

Mindset - Will my mindset be better or worse before, during, and after this experiment?

Customer Satisfaction - Will my clients be better served by achieving this goal?

Net Zero - Will my carbon footprint increase or decrease?

Philanthropy - Can I make a bigger impact in the causes I support?

Learning - What will I learn through this achievement?

This information will help me know whether achieving my goal keeps me aligned to my core purpose, whilst also tracking the results I create

Allow space for experimentation.

In achieving my 'living abroad' goal, I do not want to be constrained by only taking one approach.  I want to experiment with different ways of achieving the agility and freedom. For example: Do I use a fixed location?  Do I adopt a nomadic approach?  How do I achieve higher levels of productivity? etc

Creating the space to experiment, means that I have contingency built into my goal and I know I am personally motivated by variety and problem solving.

This may not always be possible.  If my goal were to build a house, I would be constrained by regulation, my knowledge of building, having the resources, etc.  But within the wider goal of house building, I might experiment with different materials, tools, and methods that still allow me to achieve regulatory conformity but offer innovation in my approach.

However you choose to set goals and achieve them, my hope is that considering alignment, and some of the tactics above will aid you in finding success and enjoyment along the way.

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