The Power of Goals
Setting goals in life is one way to achieve success. Researchers have been studying the power of setting goals for years. Harvard Business School’s 1979 study is one that is often cited. It showed that students who had written goals made twice as much money 10 years later than those who didn’t. Even better were the students with written goals and concrete plans to achieve them, who made 10 times as much as the rest of the class. So, while it’s clear that setting goals is important, it’s even more important to make sure you’re creating concrete, actionable goals.
My personal theory on goal setting is to make my goals STRONG. STRONG stands for Specific, Timed, Reach, Objective, Not Negative, and Gradual. Following this method has completely changed my goal setting process.
Before, I suffered from goals that were too vague, which made it difficult to come up with an action plan for success. This lack of focus also zapped my motivation. Since I didn’t have a clear end point, it was nearly impossible to determine my progress. Looking at what it would take to accomplish the goal I set, it seemed like a monumental task. So, instead of working towards achieving what I set out to do, I often found myself procrastinating or making excuses to do something else.
Now that I have made my goals STRONG, I find myself more motivated to work toward achieving them. The framework has allowed me to clearly state what I want to accomplish.
The first step to setting a goal is to make sure it’s specific. When they are first starting out, people often create goals that are too broad. Maybe a work goal you have is to increase your salary. By how much? Do you want to make $100 more or $10,000 more? By being broad, you leave too much up to interpretation. Let’s say you get a raise of $100. Your mind will say, “goal complete”, but another part of you will probably say, “yeah, but it’s only $100.” By having specific goals, you’re able to bypass this conflict of knowing if you accomplished your target or not.
Have you ever felt the pressure of a deadline? Remember how much more focused you were knowing you only had a limited amount of time? The same goes for setting goals. If you leave the date you want to reach your goal open ended, then you will never reach it. You will always keep putting it off since there isn’t any pressure. But once you set a date, you have something to work toward. Timing your goal helps you concentrate and provides a way to determine if you’re falling off track or not. When setting your goals, make sure to include a time frame.
The next step to a STRONG goal is to pick a goal that you think is past what you can accomplish. Achieving a goal is supposed to be a challenge. If you always stay inside your comfort zone, you’ll never grow personally or professionally. In the same respect, don’t go overboard with your goals. Chances are you will never make it to the moon, but becoming the #1 sales person in your company is reasonable and will probably push you outside of your comfort zone. That’s the sweet spot for goal setting. Finding something that makes you a bit uncomfortable to help you grow, but doable enough that you won’t get frustrated and give up.
Goals need to be based on facts and not feelings. You can’t feel that you accomplished something, you need to be able to prove it with evidence. Take this example for instance. Say you want to set a goal for your retirement savings. Which one seems like a clear, more actionable goal? Saving $1 million for retirement or saving enough to retire comfortably?
The former is a more powerful goal. The latter is too vague and subjective. What does comfortably mean? How will you know when you’ve saved enough? By not being objective, you make it difficult to measure your progress, which makes reaching your goal that much more difficult.
Accomplishing a goal is something positive, so it stands to reason that the goal itself should be positive as well. It turns out your subconscious is programmed to only listen to positive thoughts. If you think negatively, it will actually bypass the negative phrasing and turn it into a positive. “I will not” becomes “I will.” In order to keep your subconscious focused on your goal, make sure you use a positive statement. Instead of saying, “I will not use my phone at dinner” try phrasing it, “I will keep my phone in my pocket throughout dinner.” This simple change, from negative to positive, makes a major difference.
People often try to encompass too much when goal setting. While it is important to set a goal that is a reach, you still must remember to set a realistic timeline. As humans, we tend to underestimate the time it takes to perform tasks. Bill Gates summed it up best when he said, “Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.”
Remember that saying as you are setting your goals. Reread your goal and ask yourself if it taking too big of a leap. Take this goal for example:
Place in the top 10 of my age bracket of the New York City Marathon next year
This clearly meets the first four STRONG criteria. It is specific, has a defined time, is a reach, is objective and is not worded negatively. But is it gradual? If you’re a professional runner who thinks a brisk 20 mile run is fun and consistently places in the top 25 in marathons, then yes this is a gradual goal. But what if you’ve never run more than a few miles? Going from running a few miles to placing in the top 10 of a major marathon is not gradual.
Instead of jumping straight to the top 10 for your age, maybe you start with completing a half marathon. I’ve run in four half marathons and trust me, it’s difficult enough just finishing. Then you could move up to marathons and then work toward completing for one of the top spots.
By making your goal too big a leap, you are setting yourself up for frustration and ultimately failure. Instead, break the goal down into smaller, more manageable pieces. That way you get the rush of completing a goal, which will help keep you motivated, as you reach toward accomplishing your larger, longer-term goal.
Based on the STRONG method here are some example goals:
- Obtain a salary increase of 5% within the next 12 months
- Complete 5 freelance design projects within the next 6 months
- Increase sales conversions by 5% within the next year
- Pay down $10,000 in credit card debt by the end of the year
What are some of the goals you are working toward? Let me know in the comments.