Effective goal setting

‘When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.’ Confucius

Where are you now? Where do you want to be?

Who are you now? Who do you want to be?

There are many ways to find answers to these questions. They can be found individually or with support. When the answers are found, however, one thing is certain: effective goal setting will be at the heart of someone’s search. In this blog we look at in more detail at how to develop an effective goal setting strategy.

Effective goal setting requires: an effective conversation

If you need answers to the above questions, but cannot find them, then this means one thing: your existing conversations are not making the difference you are after. Unhelpful conversations can take different forms:

  • The ones we have with ourselves
  • Those we have with someone else in either a personal or professional capacity
  • And even those we have that are influenced by external sources e.g. a self-help book or app

Irrespective of the type of conversation, ineffective goal setting emerges from ineffective conversations. Effective goal setting requires someone – with or without support – to find the qualities and characteristics that are missing from their existing conversations that will make THE difference.

The right goal, but the wrong strategy

Many people find it easy to identify the right goal such as to lose weight or change job, but find achieving it more difficult. One explanation can be a disconnect between goal and strategy. As a client said to me once, ‘I was aiming for a summit, which was sat on top of a different mountain to the one I was climbing.’ Many people misinterpret their struggles to achieve goals as evidence they are beyond them. The ‘right goal, but the wrong strategy’ suggests otherwise. Effective goal setting focuses on changing the strategy to ‘connect’ it to the goal i.e. ‘the right goal with the right strategy’.

Hence the Confucius quote at the start of the blog.

Present and future

Findings from neuroscience suggest that parts of our brains are already in our future. This ‘future brain’ of ours, makes forecasts of our likely future, based on an assessment of our present. Effective goal setting is a way to keep our future brain happy and reassured, rather than unhappy and worried. When it is happy, it means we have a goal setting strategy that consists of bigger, future goals (a personal and/or professional vision) that are being realised through the setting and achievement of smaller, present goals. When our future brain is unhappy, it means that our future and present goals are misaligned. The most anxiety-provoking scenario for our future brain is that we have neither future nor present goals.

Challenge – The Goldilocks Principle

If we are at Point A in life, but we want to be at Point B, then we are faced with the challenge of how to get there. The Goldilocks Principle suggests that not enough challenge means we remain at Point A; too much challenge means we remain at Point A; and, yes, you guessed it, the right amount of challenge sets us on our way to Point B. Sources of challenge can be internal i.e. when we challenge ourselves, and external i.e. from others. However, regardless of where our challenge comes from, effective goal setting uses the Goldilocks Principle by ensuring our goals are challenging enough to motivate us, but not so challenging that we fail to achieve them and become too demoralised.

Breaking it down – finding your entry point

When we first imagine a goal we would like to achieve such as losing weight or a career change, it will always be too big or difficult to achieve immediately. In order for this truth to be motivating rather than disheartening, it is important that we break down the overall goal into smaller ones. One way to discover what our first goal can be – our ‘entry point’ – is to assess how we feel about or act in response to some initial candidates. If we feel stressed or anxious, or if our first instinct is to procrastinate by avoiding starting on the goal, this might well be evidence that our starting goal is too big or too difficult.

Difficult emotions and problematic behaviours are VERY USEFUL pieces of feedback. They DO NOT mean the goal is wrong, rather they indicate that it needs breaking down and simplifying. For a more detailed look at this see our other blog A Helpful Model of Positive Change.

Purposeful drifting

Effective goal setting can sometimes include knowing when to stop – setting goals. It might sound odd, but sometimes doing nothing is better than doing something, at least when previous ‘doing’ has become part of the problem. Einstein’s definition of insanity captures this perfectly:

Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome

It can take courage to ‘do nothing’ – to not set and work towards goals – when we have something important to achieve, but sometimes we have to acknowledge that Plan A isn’t working. Instead, we can engage in what might be called ‘purposeful drifting’. Purposeful drifting is an approach to problem-solving, where we take a leap of faith and trust that a resolution to our difficulties and challenges will present itself, without us having to consciously find it. As the phrase suggests, we allow ourselves to drift through life for a while, trusting that as we do so we are gathering the material we need for an effective goal setting strategy to emerge.

Getting support to effectively set YOUR goals

If you have enjoyed this blog and found it thought-provoking, then why not get in touch? Whether your goal-setting needs require therapy or coaching, or relate to eating problems or business, Conversations With Impact can support you to set goals that can change how things are for you.