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The Secret to Successful Goal-Setting

What’s the first word that comes to mind when you think of “goal-setting?”

For many of us, the topic is one that tends to weigh us down and it is often met with a groan. For some reason, goal-setting is often something we drag our feet toward. In fact, goal-setting research has shown that while many people consider themselvesgoal-setters, only 3% of the population actually set clearly defined goals.

Whatever your experience of goal-setting has been in the past, it’s time to reinvigorate your practice. Reading this article may change your life – if you let it.

Goal-setting is a critical part of every program that I offer whether it’s strategic planning, personal coaching, leadership development, communication or some other topic. And yet, occasionally I must set a goal to set goals. And then I have to walk to my notepad and start writing down what’s in my head.

The secret to successful goal-setting: Simplification.

Simplify your process. Simplify your goals. Simplify your rewards.

Here’s the small catch. Sometimes we have to complicate things – just a little bit - to make them simpler. Imagine cleaning out a closet. You may have to do a little thinking, dusting and sorting to get to your streamlined, end result. With a little organization and planning upfront, you will be able to achieve beautiful results.

Here are some guidelines to support your success.

#1 - Write your goals down (big picture thinking, 5-10 minutes). The first way to simplify is to put your goals on paper. Getting it out of your head and on to paper represents a critical part of the process. It makes the goal more concrete, removes the stress of thinking about it andmakes it easier to measure your progress. You may want to include “writing it down” as an achievement for the week.

#2 – Make your goals specific (big picture thinking, 5-10 minutes). Isolate small, specific, realistic actions that you can take beginning today. Here are the basic questions that can make it easier for you to experience success (in small increments):

  1. What do you want to achieve?

  2. Can you make it more specific (how much, how many, by when, etc.)?

  3. What are the steps that you will need to take to make it happen?

  4. When will you set out to accomplish each step?

  5. How will you reward yourself for progress made?

#3 - Place your goals where you can see them (implementation, 1 minute). Having your goals on paper won’t do you any good if you never look at them. If your goal is to save money, write it on a post-it note and put it on your wallet. If your goal is to lose weight, put it on the refrigerator. If your goal is to be a better listen, put that in your pocket so that you are aware of it all day. In addition to the goal, I’d recommend that you include an encouraging note to yourself such as “you can do it,” or “you’re making progress,” or “one day at a time, one step at a time.”

#4 – Create a link between your goals and your weekly “to do list” (10 minutes each week). Translate your big picture thinking into weekly goals. One process relies on the other.

#5 - Check your progress – literally (1 minute each day). Check off each small step that you have accomplished so that you can see that you are moving forward.

#6 - Reward yourself (TBD). Build in meaningful and simple rewards (e.g., building in a trip to Acapulco may not be a doable reward but taking a picnic to the park and reading a book for 30 minutes may be something you can do for yourself this week).

  • Here’s an idea to try: Divide your “To Do List” into two columns: NEED TO DO and WANT TO DO. After accomplishing your NEED TO DO, reward yourself with something from the WANT TO DO side. This is a motivating practice – best done on a daily basis. Write down your reward for this week.

Let’s translate this process into daily practice.

  • Think through/write down the BIG goal. (10 minutes)

  • Check in on Monday morning and determine what needs to be done this week (write it down). What needs to happen today? (5 minutes)

  • Check in each morning and figure out if there is one step you need to take today – write down. (2-3 minutes)

  • Check in on Friday afternoon. Check off what you accomplished. Write down what needs to happen next week. (5 minutes)

The ongoing practice of goal-setting can easily become part of your weekly/daily routine and can be integrated in about 10-15 minutes a week. The results are likely to be increased sense of accomplishment, increased levels of personal satisfaction, and increased feelings of control over your destiny. In short, you are going to feel good as a result of doing this and, in the long run, it is likely that the process will save you some time and energy.

The secret to goal-setting is simplification. Simplify your process. Simplify your goals. Simplify your rewards.

Getting it on paper is the first step.

The best way to begin – is to begin.

© 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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