Avoid Past Goal Setting Mistakes

Your business goals are probably already set. But, how about those for your personal development?  And, what about re-evaluating those goals you have already set?

Often, great plans start with a bang but end with a fizzle. So, why do well-intended people set goals but don’t reach them and what should we be doing differently? After 22 years of coaching executives, facilitating strategic planning and training businesses on leadership, this issue has come up quite a bit.  Here are a few things I’ve learned from people who consistently follow through on their goals:

State goals in positive terms

Imagine that nine patients are given identical diagnoses of heart disease. All will die unless they improve their diet, lose weight, cut back on alcohol and reduce their stress.

How many will make the necessary changes?

Only one, according Dr. Edward Miller from Johns Hopkins University.  “If you look at people after coronary-artery bypass grafting two years later, 90% of them have not changed their lifestyle,” Miller said.

In other words, faced with bad news, most people do not change. But, positive emotions do drive people in action.  The message: Set goals in a way that create positive feelings.  So instead of “I’ve gotta find a way to reduce my stress”, restate that goal to something like, “During the upcoming year I’ll be more healthy and content.”


Connect your goals to intrinsic motivators

According to Daniel Pink and 40 years of research, people who work in jobs requiring collaboration aren’t motivated by the “carrot and stick” approach: “Do X well and we’ll reward you with Y, do X poorly we’ll punish you”. This approach actually damages performance.  Instead, Pink advises to set goals that tap into three intrinsic motivators: Autonomy:  Create goals that allow you freedom to choose how it gets accomplished. Mastery:  Become an expert in a skill will encourage follow through and focus. Purpose: Choose goals that express your purpose.

Use Your Network for Help

Set up informal peer-to-peer mentoring. Suppose Susan, an acquaintance of yours, has a skill that you know you need for your career. Tell Susan specifically what your goals are and when you want them accomplished.  Pick her brain, ask her questions, and shadow her in her work.  Then implement what you’ve learned and report your results.  Tell Susan what you want to be told if you’re forced to admit that you’ve haven’t stay in action. Return the favor and mentor Susan in a skill she needs that you’re good at.

Going it alone increases the chance of repeating bad habits. You’re more likely to succeed if you involve others.

Einstein was right when he said we can’t use the same type of thinking to solve a problem that caused the problem in the first place. If 2014 is going to be different than last year we must use a higher level of thinking.  To start, let’s set goals that are powerful, purposeful and tap into our network.