Goal setting can be about as boring of a concept as one can imagine. So why bother writing an article on a topic that I think is rather played out and boring? In fact, the reason I wanted to write about it is because I think that there is almost no value to setting a goal.
Let me share a couple of stories to illustrate the point. Two years ago at the typical goal setting time of year, I vowed I was going to lose the extra pounds I had gained that year. How’d it go? I gained an extra 10!
Last year, I set a goal to lose 25 pounds. How’d it go?
The result was that I lost even more than I hoped, faster than I hoped, and the change has been sustainable.
What was different was that I employed a modified method. After I applied this approach I started noticing it being used by leaders to make big changes with dramatic results in a variety of settings. Yeah, it was that think where you buy the grey Honda Odyssey and you see a grey Honda Odyssey everywhere. (that might be because they are actually everywhere)
Over the years, I have seen (and participated in) strategy sessions where many very smart and well intentioned leaders spend 75% of their strategic time setting goals. What happens with that time is discussions of where to focus resources, what markets to enter or leave, debating what should be most important, and thinking about what levels they should or could set their targets. These are all important discussions to be had. In fact, I don’t know if they should spend much less time on any of these topics.
Unfortunately, I think we get so fatigued by this work that once we’ve accomplished the task of actually picking a goal, we’re ready to move on. Unfortunately, this is where I believe the real power of the goal lies. The power emerges when we build plans and systems to help us execute on the goal even when times get tough. Unfortunately, we spend far too little of our time figuring out how we’ll actually achieve our goals.
But what if we flipped how we spent this time? We could spend 25% (or less!) of our time thinking about our where to set the target, and 75% thinking about what we need to do to pull it off. After all, would it have mattered had I wanted to lose 20 pounds or 25? No! I just needed to get on the path to getting there!
Interestingly, there is real science we can apply to increase our chances of successfully accomplishing our goals. Let’s explore a few things I see effective leaders do that takes what the science says about goal setting that transforms it into real change. It is called the WOOP method. (Many thanks to the amazing people at woopmylife.org for their hard work developing this method - I am incorporating their thoughts in this approach)
First, we do need to spend a little time dreaming about our goals. This is the 25% of where we should spend our time. We must ask ourselves “What is our WISH?” We should spend focused time thinking about our wishes. One practice I have noticed effective leaders doing is journalling about their wishes. The result of “wishing” exercise might be something simple, like “Lose 5 pounds” or “Improve my team’s output by 5%” or “Fix my relationship with Steve.” Or it might be a biggie: “Start my own business” or “Increase sales by 25%.” Whatever it is, we need to write it down and ask ourselves:
Is this wish dear to me? (i.e. do you really care?)
Is it feasible?
Is it challenging?
Did I summarize it in 3-6 words?
Next, ask ourselves “What is the best possible OUTCOME?” If we achieve our wish, where are we? What happened and how will it have affected me? How would I feel? This might sound something like “I would be more comfortable” or “I’d sleep better” or “We’d fulfill all our orders.” It is important to articulate what our best outcome is and how it will make us feel. Once we do that, we must ask ourselves:
Is it a truly fulfilling outcome?
Did I summarize it in 3-6 words?
Did I take enough time to imagine this best outcome?
If not: close your eyes and imagine the best outcome. Imagine it fully.
Next, ask ourselves “What is my main inner OBSTACLE?” There are two things we need to think about as we reflect on this question. First, focus on the word “inner." We need to explore what is holding us back because this is our controllable. We can’t control the market. We can’t control the weather. Focus instead on what we can control. Second, we must think about the obstacles themselves. I’ve found it helpful to write them down. This might be something like “I can’t say no to sweets.” or “I don’t want to ask people step up.” or “I am afraid of challenging the team.” These obstacles are real, and they are “inner” in that they are about us. When done, ask ourselves:
Is our obstacle an inner obstacle?
Is it a true inner obstacle or just an excuse? Think about it more deeply!
Did you summarize it in 3-6 words?
Did you take enough time to imagine your main obstacle?
If not: close your eyes and imagine your main obstacle. Imagine it fully.
Finally, we must ask ourselves “What is my PLAN?” Let’s take time to develop our plan for overcoming these obstacles. This might be “Remind myself that I am fair” or “Don’t walk past the snack machine.” You might also try doing a little exercise called “if-then” for each of your obstacles. For example, “If Lauryn offers me sweets, I am going to say ‘I’m sorry but I don’t eat sweets during the workday now.’”
Did I find an effective action or thought to overcome my obstacle?
Did I summarize it in 3-6 words? (for each obstacle)
Check if the plan has the following structure:
“If [obstacle], then I will [action to overcome obstacle]”
If not: Do the if-then plan again.
Of course, these are concepts. Take them and put them to work for you. Take your 2019 resolution (WISH!) and turn it into reality.
Eric Zakovich, founder and principal consultant of Long Run Leadership Consulting has been working with leaders, teams, and organizations since 1999. Want to learn more, contact Eric at firstname.lastname@example.org