Goal Setting 101: Ready to Light Things Up in 2018? Me Neither. But There’s No Time Like the Present.

As we get closer to the end of the year, the inevitable lack of focus on what we’re currently doing closes in so that we can instead focus on setting goals for next year.

Yep, go ahead and read that sentence again, I’ll wait.

Maybe I’ve made my point and this blog post is finished. But maybe not. Cozy up. The guru of goal setting is in.

Owning a business often feels like a delicate balance—a dance between planning so much for the future that we have no time to focus on today’s tasks and not planning at all, but instead, hoping that everything is going to turn out just fine. I would even suggest that productivity could increase simply by ensuring that we are spending half of our non-productive time in brainstorm and logistics mode. That way when we are back to being productive, we can really bang out what’s on our plates right now.

Sound like a lot of work? It’s okay! The good news: even that change leaves plenty of non-productive time to recharge and recover.

We are human, so we have a tendency to move from one extreme to the other, wavering wildly from not paying attention at all to putting too much maniacal focus on one little thing. When we do this, we miss the bigger picture and we exhaust ourselves. Yep, we all do this. Take a deep breath. It’s going to be okay. Let’s acknowledge this about ourselves, so that we can move on from here. There’s no goal setting for anyone who can’t see this about themselves.

Ready to move on? Okay. Here’s all you need to know as you start to think about your goals for 2018 and beyond. In a nutshell…

Realistic goal setting starts with seeing reality.

When it comes to setting goals, it’s generally either overdone or underdone. I have struggled with this aspect of goal setting. It seems so silly. It seems like an easy thing to do. People around me are always talking about their weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly goals. I used to envy them because I felt like I didn’t know what I should be shooting for or even how to go about locating realistic goals for myself. The last thing I wanted was to set an unrealistic goal and feel defeated.

But then I realized that talk is cheap. And we all make the mistake of setting too many goals or setting unattainable goals for ourselves sometimes. And often it makes sense to stay focused on the daily stuff until the longer term goals reveal themselves in time. It’s human psychology. Our brains are plastic—retrainable—but we also know that the way they work is through habitual patterns. So if we can work with what we’ve got, we can work within our human parameters and limitations.  

Classic New Year’s resolutions include losing weight, maybe even a specific amount of weight. But because losing weight generally takes a lifestyle and mindset overhaul, rather than a short term fix, most people inevitably fail to hit their weight loss goals. Most people who struggle with their weight are working against a lifetime of behavioral patterns that inhibit healthier lifestyle choices. These habits may even be connected to deeper emotional issues, how they grew up, who influenced their lives, etc.. Sometimes, losing weight is about facing some deeply ingrained pain and trauma from childhood.

While it’s easy to see this in others, it’s perhaps not so easy to see it in your own business or life. The idea of setting realistic goals is knowing the root of a problem, not just band-aiding something by taking the symptoms away.

The Example:

Consider an example from the business world. As department head, your goal is to increase the productivity and profitability of your department. That’s great. So you can make all sorts of plans putting forth creative ideas and amazingness. But if your VP is a bit of an asshole and the main roadblock to increasing productivity and profitability is a turnover problem due to VP Asshole’s ego problem, then your creative awesome plans aren’t going to work. The problem is only likely to be solved by the Head Asshole changing his ways or disappearing (I don’t mean Tony Soprano-style, of course).

Of course, this isn’t an easy solution when VP Asshole is one of the founders of the company, but it happens. All. The. Time.

So perhaps the key to setting realistic goals is to look more closely at your problems before you create solutions. Putting temporary fixes on top of big foundational problems is just going to make the card castle top heavy. Instead, work to take it apart, find the weakest point of the foundation, and fix it there first.

And if things are looking perfect, look again. Dreaming big dreams is great, but fixing big problems and starting fresh is the breeding ground for real growth. Remember, The Rolling Stones song is spot on: you’re not going to get what you want, but you’re always going to get what you need—if that’s what you are seeking.

Set short term goals to support the long term goals.

Staying focused on attaining goals is a well-rounded way of looking at everything. So staying focused with goal setting is paramount. Set a couple of attainable (there’s that word again) long term goals (say 90 day goals) with four or five supporting short term goals is a good way to go about it. Think of your goals as all-encompassing. When you set spastic goals that are disconnected and compartmentalized, the tendency is to neglect or forget. If you want to set new patterns and new habits, you have to retrain yourself to think differently.

Let’s go back to the weight loss example. If the overarching goal is to lose 50 pounds, a realistic yearly weight loss goal, those who are successful at cutting the weight set small goals including those aimed at mindset changes. They commit to therapy. They find supportive groups to help with accountability. They develop daily routines of exercising and eating well. And they even build in opportunities to treat themselves without feeling guilty, since it’s built into the goal itself. This goal seems realistic, attainable, and those who stick with such a plan will likely lose more than 50 pounds. Perhaps more important than losing the weight is what they learn about themselves in the process.

These successful Biggest Losers have built a structure where they will grow, thrive, and change their lives forever. And after a year or so, they may no longer even have any interest in going back to those foods they once craved. They will find new ways of treating themselves that are much more nourishing. That’s what happens—habit change not some esoteric fancy magic potion—it’s blood, sweat, tears, and a retraining of old patterns.

The Lesson:

Think carefully about your goals and imagine what might prevent you from achieving them (whether it’s a McDonald’s addiction or an Asshole VP). Then set little goals that support your bigger goals (oh yeah, and figure out how to let go of the stuff you really can’t control), and you’ll be way more likely to change old patterns of behavior. Success in goal setting is all about getting to the root of the problem and finding the right nourishing solutions.

Logically, then, if you set too many long term goals, you’re asking for your own failure. You can’t expect to retrain every negative habit all at once. Instead focus on changing one big habit at a time. Still, you’ll likely discover that if you truly grow from the inside out, many things begin to come together at once. So the concept of setting very focused, specific, attainable goals has a super far reach.

Allow for new short term goals to surface.

Sometimes, you find new short term goals while your focus remains on the overarching long term goal. Don’t let the little things that come up trip you up, but don’t ignore them either.

I joined a great group of women during the past 90 days in a lovely peer coaching program called Savor the Success. We all declared our 90-Day Visions and checked in each week for 12 weeks talking about our goals and pitfalls along the way. Of course, new short term goals surfaced for each one of us along our journey together. But when those pivots to new and different goals bubbled up, it never felt like a setback. It always felt like a moment of growth. So, if it becomes clear to you that you need to change course along the journey to your big goal, ride that wave. The ROI is well worth it.

The fact is it’s really hard to see our way from here to 90 days from now, let alone December 2018. We might make some missteps or even take some wrong turns. But if we’re really listening and being present, we can put on the brakes and figure it out. When this mindset of accepting that we’re going to overlook some things becomes more the norm, the less it comes up as anything other than adding to the overall goodness of staying focused and on task to meet our goals.

Stay focused on your goals until you achieve them.

Back to the snarky cutesy sentence that lured you into reading this blog in the first place, here’s the number one DON’T for goal setting. Because everybody does it. Whatever you do, don’t take your focus off of your goals to make new ones. I’m pretty sure that’s ADHD by another description.

Don’t set new goals, until you achieve the old ones. If you haven’t achieved the old goals yet, then you’ve learned from your own experiences about how valuable it is to set realistic goals that you can meet in a particular time frame. It is not helpful for you or anyone to clear out old goals just because it seems like a good idea at the end of any given year.

Whatever you do, stay focused on your goals, stick with what you’re doing if it’s working, and change course otherwise. Follow these recommendations and you’ll be teaching the next Goal Setting 101 class. I promise.

And because even gurus need other gurus to help them on their paths, I signed up for this challenge, which starts next Monday (November 6). It’s just 30-minutes per day for 5 days. It’s free and you can do it at your own pace. I can’t wait. Let’s make 2018 our best year ever! Won’t you join me?

And if you have any questions about your goals or how to go about finishing them before you go and start new ones, give me a call. It’s one of my long term goals to help you with yours. Let’s work together!

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