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Goal-Setting Lessons from a Cup of Coffee

Have you ever set a goal for yourself that just didn't work out? Maybe it was a weight loss plan, an exercise milestone, or a work goal?

Although I teach strategic planning and my business is all about goal-setting, there are always new lessons to be learned. And while research confirms that while most of us consider ourselves to be goal-setters, only a small percentage of people actually engage in goal-setting on a regular basis.

Here's a simple example of how easy it is to get off-track.

Yesterday, I decided to give up coffee.

After watching a wonderful PBS show given by a noted health expert, I decided to integrate this small change into my diet in support of my health and well being. I went out and bought some fresh ginger and green tea (which I love). Felt great about it!

Well – Monday was a personal disaster without coffee. I had decided to go "cold turkey" and my system baulked. I was tired all day and had a headache to boot. (You are not surprised? You saw it coming but I did not.) Tuesday I started the morning with my friend “Joe” and the day went much better but I felt like I had failed.

Simple Conclusion: Monday may not be the best day for me to go “cold turkey.” My goal did not meet all criteria for being a SMART goal. Specifically, I fell short on R - my goal was not realistic and, as a result, I had not set myself up for success.

​Lesson Learned: Sometimes goals don't work out as we planned - often we need to reassess the goal, forgive ourselves, reestablish a new goal and try again.


Here are the SMART Criteria that should be applied when thinking about your goals - at work or at home:

S - Specific (Is your goal specific enough - focusing on one area/topic at a time? Tip - if the word "and" is on your goal, it may be two goals. Focus on one goal at a time.)

M - Measurable (Is it measurable? How will you know when you get there?)

A - Action-Oriented (Does it start with a strong action verb that states what you plan to DO? Here's a free resource to use - my personal "Power Action Verb" list that I use every day.)

R - Realistic (Is your goal too ambitious? Have you set parameters that are doable for you? Set yourself up for success.)

T - Time-Driven (When will you begin/finish? When will you reassess? Set a time-driven milestone.)


If you have ever fallen short of reaching a goal (like me), here's a process for setting yourself up for greater success - using the criteria above.

Next Step: Using my goal as an example - the next step will always be to reassess and rewrite the original goal and try again.

My amended goals related to eliminating coffee include:

  1. Refine Goal: Cut coffee consumption in half on a daily basis - enjoy one cup of coffee in the morning and substitute another beverage in the afternoon (e.g., substitute green tea or ginger water in the afternoon).

  2. Prepare Mentally: Invite the possibility that I can be a high-functioning, contributing member of society without two cups of coffee/day.

  3. Take Action: Just do it.

  4. Assess Progress & Recommit: In one week, assess how it went last week. Recommit to and/or revise the goal for the next week. (In week two, I decided to add eliminating coffee on the weekends - substituting green tea - this inched me closer to my original goal.)

Now it's your turn - here are some questions and tips to guide you:

  1. Refine Goal: What's your amended goal? (Write it down using the SMART Criteria to assist you.)

  2. Prepare Mentally - How will you prepare mentally (i.e., set yourself up for success)?

  3. Take Action: What is it you plan to do? You've already taken the first step by reading this article. Commit to the next step. How/when will you put your goal in motion?

  4. Assess Progress & Recommit: When will you check back in on your goal - to ensure acknowledgement of progress and commit to next steps? Set a date - put it on your calendar. (Align goals with your calendar.)

By the way, I am inching forward toward improved health and I am confident that with realistic goal setting, I will be able to eliminate coffee from my daily routine. (Note the positive affirmation - build these in to support your own success too. Keep working it!).

I try to remember to do what I instruct my clients to do. Mark progress. Celebrate success. Every small step is a step forward.

One step at a time. One day at a time.

What goals would you like to set for yourself? It's time to check in and refresh your goals.

© Kathy Sturgis, Ph.D. Kathy is founder of Refreshment Zone and is an organizational and personal development specialist with a doctorate in communication. Contact for more information on motivational programs.

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