It seems we all naturally set goals in the new year, for many people this takes the form of New Years resolutions, for me it’s an extension of the planning I started prior to Christmas, my blog “Plan, plan, plan”  talked about revisiting your vision, mapping the gap between current state and that vision and planning the path forward, this is relevant whether in your personal life, your family context or for your business. So goal setting is the next logical step now that I have a refocused vision of the future.

Seth Godin wrote an interesting blog once on goal setting “The Thing about Goals” which has always stuck in my mind, perhaps because he tries to paint a picture of a blissful life without goals which sounds like more fun but fundamentally wouldn’t quite be as satisfying and doesn’t translate to really achieving measurable success.

Not all goals however are created equally. It’s easy to set a good collection of short term goals, it’s much harder to define and set a strong collection of Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs). I was thinking about this on my run in the weekend. For me running is the lesser of many evils – I don’t enjoy the gym and running provides me with a decent chunk of headspace time to think. However, I’m just not good at it and don’t really enjoy it so my goals are all very short term focused – lets say microscopic – eg: I will run for 40 minutes today not 30 or I will run up the steep path not walk. There is measurable improvement over time but I don’t see it as I simply don’t track my progress. My dearly beloved on the other hand loves to run, it’s something he is passionate about and thoroughly enjoys. His goals are far larger like distance over time of run (running further over a 45 or 60 or 90 minute period) with specific improvement over time goals along with associated fitness which he tracks his progress against. Even farther towards the BHAG end of the spectrum is one of my friends Paul who is a marathon runner, his goals are both time focused – running 2:15 in a Gold Standard Marathon and qualifying for the Olympics this year vs his PB of 2:16 – and winning / ranking focused. To achieve his goals Paul has a detailed work plan and tracks his progress at a microlevel but over a long period of time measuring his progress towards this BHAG of running an Olympic marathon (and I imagine placing is really the ultimate goal).

There are loads of goal setting tools and techniques out there, napkins and post-it notes work as well as any lovely software if you have really thought through what you plan to achieve. Here are my top 5 goal setting tips:

  1. Goals must be achievable – even BHAGs need to be something you can realistically plan to achieve, dreams are awesome but it’s incredibly disappointing to set a goal you can’t see progress towards or won’t ever succeed so be realistic. Winning lotto shouldn’t be a goal for instance.
  2. The devil is in the detail – everyone should know about SMART – specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound – employing these principles when defining your goals goes a long way to defining the detail you actually need when setting goals.
  3. Give yourself some Flexibility – things do change so keep that in mind when setting goals, you might need to extend a timeframe or massage an outcome due to events out of your control so revisit your goals often and tweak them slightly if required.
  4. Build in a Rewards system – rewards motivate most people (unless you are a stick person not a carrot one of course) so plan what your reward will be at the time you set the goal, you may be surprised at just how motivating that reward is! It could be a new pair of shoes or a chocolate bar – if a reward works for you use it.
  5. State Positive Goals – in simple terms you  can’t strive towards a negative goal, state your goals as positives not negatives. For my running goals instead of a negatively focused goal like “force myself to run at least 35 minutes at least 3 times per week” I could (and plan to) have a positively stated goal of “Improve the distance I can run in 35 minutes by 20% over a 3 month period”.

Your goals do all need to be symbiotic and not conflicting so before locking them in have a quick sanity check and think through the implications of each. It also works well to keep a log and diary in checkpoints so you make the time to track your progress along the way.

Good luck! I look forward to gaining some momentum in my running through setting goals, hope you can see the momentum of your own progress very soon too. Enjoy Vic.

PS: the tracks that got me through that first run of 2014 after being so sick were: