Setting a goal sounds easy but it is actually more complicated than you might think. There is a lot of psychology behind setting a goal and there are some choices that you need to make. I hope to help you choose wisely so that you can get the results that you want.
Why do you even want to set a goal? Why are you bothering? Why will this thing be worth your time and effort?
If you do not have a super strong why you will not be motivated to get off your comfy couch and do something different. Whatever the reason it really needs to mean something to you. It will be completely personal to you and might only be important to you.
Typically your why can be something that pulls you towards a desired outcome. It will be something that you want so badly that you find yourself often thinking, reading or talking about it.
Goal = write my own novel Why = so I can go on a book tour and meet fans Goal = own my business Why = so I can travel the world Goal = pass my exams Why = so I can prove to my tutor I can do it Goal = learn the guitar Why = so I can hear my song on the radio Goal = lose weight Why = so I can buy a size 10 wedding dress and feel gorgeous on my big day
Your why can also be something that pulls you away from an undesired outcome. This may be something that you feel embarrassed or uncomfortable about.
Goal = Get six pack abs Why = so I don’t feel self-conscious when I swim Goal = Touch my toes Why = so I am not the only person in class who cannot do it Goal = Qualify as an X Why = so I never have to wait tables again Goal = Buy a new BMW Why = so I don’t feel embarrassed when I turn up to client meetings in my hunk-a-junk car
You can choose a “towards” or an “away” why or even combine the two as they tend to be opposites of each other. You just need to think about what is the most motivating image for you. The bit that you keep coming back to over and over again in your daydreams — that is your why!
So now you have your “why” in mind, it is time to move onto the “what”. What is your goal?
It turns out, how you phrase your goal is really important. The outcome that you want can be worded in different ways, and some ways are better than others.
For example, if your goal is to lose want to lose weight you could write it as:
Option 1. I will be X kg or Option 2. I will lose X kg or Option 3. I will go to the gym 5x per week
All of the options relate to your goal of losing weight, but which is the most effective way to phrase it?
Don’t just read on you eager beaver! Take a second to really think about it.
And the answer is… Option 1!
In Option 1 you focus on the win. When you set a goal, you should define the ultimate outcome that you want to achieve, and NOT what you are going to do to achieve it!
You also want to frame it in a positive way, in terms of what you want. This suggestion isn't that much of a biggie, but if you think about it, Option 2 has the word "lose" in it, which is emotionally negative and gets you to focus on feelings of deprivation which is not that helpful.
If you want to lose weight, then your win is reaching a target goal weight. Option 3, going to the gym, is a method to lose weight. It is a proxy for losing weight. You could still go to the gym five times a week and NOT lose weight, therefore going to the gym is not the ultimate outcome that you want!
By the way, this doesn’t mean that the method isn’t important (we will come onto this later on in the series), just that it is not how you should word your goal.
There are a few good reasons to start with the end in your mind. Firstly your goal should be something that you can only measure once. We haven’t talked about timings yet, but there will be a time frame on your goal. When your allocated time is up, you will be able to check and see if you have actually achieved what you set out to achieve. When you have a “do something per week/month” goal, then it just goes on and on indefinitely. One week you might achieve your goal, one week you might not….so what? It’s not meaningful.
Secondly, a “what” goal penalises you for not hitting your standard exactly. You may go to the gym 4x a week which would be seen as a failure, (although anyone who goes to the gym 4x a week is 100% winning in my book). And it doesn’t recognise that you might have done other things to contribute to your goal, like fasting for a day or meal prepping for the week ahead.
Thirdly you may go to the gym 5x a week but do a crappy workout where you lift easy weights, or only go on the treadmill for 3 minutes. According to the “what” goal, this would still be an achievement, but it wouldn’t move you any closer to your why.
A win goal gets you to focus on the results that you want and recognises that you can be flexible in how you will achieve them.
Goals vary on a continuum between “easy peasy”, “I can do this with a bit of work”, “this will be a big push” and “it’s sh*t your pants time!”
Ideally, you will only have one goal in one area at any one time (e.g. just one health/wellbeing goal, one career/money goal etc…). This is so that you can remain focused and not get distracted by too many competing priorities.
You will want to set your goal at the “I can do this with a bit of work” level. This will mean that it is not too far ahead in the future, or too near in the present. This is because when you set a very distant goal, it is really easy to become overwhelmed with the enormity of the task. It can make you feel anxious and you start to doubt yourself. Similarly, you may think that because you have lots of time you don’t need to do anything today, therefore you procrastinate and actually delay starting.
On the other hand, when you set a goal that can be achieved almost immediately, it is too easy and therefore doesn’t feel that rewarding.
A goal that takes between 90–100 days to achieve is the optimum level for balancing motivation and reward.
> The different levels of goal setting. It’s like Goldilock’s porridge, not too easy and not too difficult — it should be just right <
So although your ultimate goal may take longer than this to achieve (e.g. writing a novel), your whattamug! goal asks you to commit to what you can do in the next three or so months (e.g. how many pages could you write?).
You probably know what SMART goals are, they are a favourite in business speak among management-y types. Nevertheless, for all their groan-worthy buzzwordiness, they are a useful checklist to ensure that you have worded your goal effectively. You have already covered a lot in the previous sections, so I will keep it brief and the jargon to a minimum.
Specific — this is not the time to make airy-fairy, woolly nonsense talk like you might do in a job interview… Precision is the key. What exact outcome are you going to achieve? Don't forget to frame it positively.
Measurable — you need to be able to measure your success at the end of the goal period. How else will you know if you have actually achieved what you said you are going to achieve?
Achievable — you will have to be able to physically achieve your goal. A can do goal can be worded in terms of what you can influence (e.g. I will apply for X jobs) as opposed to something that may be due to more luck or circumstance (e.g. I will receive an invitation to one interview). Which method works best for you?
Relevant — is this something that fits with your current situation? Is this the right time for you? Are there any conflicts in other areas of your life that might prevent you from working toward this goal, e.g. do you really want a promotion if you are thinking of starting a family?
Time-based — Something that can be done “someday” is something that is never done. What can you do in the next 90–100 days?
Please note that the following examples are to give you ideas. They are all relative because everyone starts at a different point, therefore they will be at a different point in 90 days time. These are just to give you an idea of how an effective goal can be worded.
I will get to Xkg by X time (3 months from now). Note healthy weight loss is around 0.4–0.9kg, or 1–2lb a week
I will have 1,000 Instagram followers by X time (3 months from now)
I will have invested £2,000 by X time (3 months from now)
I will have passed my grade 5 guitar exam by X time (3 months from now)
I will be able to touch my toes by X time (3 months from now)
Congratulations, you are now a goal setting pro! You have learnt the why’s and the what’s, when's and how's of goal setting. Now all that is left is to achieve your goal, easy!