Effective goal setting

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

  • Who are you now? Who do you want to be?
  • What are you doing now? What do you want to be doing?
  • Where are you now? Where do you want to be?

There are many ways to find answers to these questions, such as through our efforts or with the support of others. However, one thing is sure: effective goal setting will be at the heart of our search when we find the answers for which we are looking. In this blog, I look at how to develop an effective goal setting strategy.

Effective goal setting requires effective conversations

Suppose you would like to answer the above questions but are unable to. In that case, this means that your existing conversations are not making the difference you are after because they are missing important qualities and characteristics. Ineffective goal-setting emerges from ineffective conversations! Consequently, effective goal setting requires us to find the qualities and characteristics missing from our existing conversations to make the difference we are after.

The right goal, but the wrong strategy

Many people find it easy to identify the right goal, such as losing weight or changing jobs 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 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

The most anxiety-provoking scenario for our future brain is that we have neither future nor present goals. 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. When it is satisfied, we know we have a goal-setting strategy that aligns present goals with future ones. When our future brain is unhappy, it means that our future and present goals are misaligned. Effective goal setting is a way to keep our future brain happy and reassured, rather than unhappy and worried.

The role of challenge

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 of Challenge suggests that:

  • not enough challenge means we remain at Point A
  • too much challenge means we stay at Point A
  • and, yes, you guessed it, the right amount of challenge sets us on our way to Point B.

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 complex to complete immediately. For this truth to be motivating rather than disheartening, we must break down the overall goal into smaller ones. One way to discover our first goal – 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 our first instinct is to procrastinate by avoiding starting on the goal, this might be evidence that our starting goal is too big or too complicated.

Difficult emotions and problematic behaviours are instrumental pieces of feedback. They do not mean our goal is wrong; instead, they indicate that it needs breaking down and simplifying. See our other blog, A Helpful Model of Positive Change, for a more detailed look at this.

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 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 find it consciously. 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 has shed light on some flaws in your goal setting strategy, then why not get in touch? My IMPACT Model and IMPACT Programmes have all been designed to support you in getting your personal and professional goals back on track.

To book an initial consultation, visit my Make a Booking page. You will have the opportunity to tell me about what you are going through and find out how I can support you. Even if you choose not to work with me, I promise your consultation will give you more ideas, knowledge and insight than you had before.