5 Steps to Choosing the Right Goals

Goal setting is a hard one for a lot of people.  They either don’t know what goals to set or they choose goals they don’t really care about.  If this sounds familiar, you might like to try my favourite goal setting exercise when you pause to think about the year ahead.

Your present circumstances don’t determine where you can go; they merely determine where you start.
— Nido Qubein

The trick to goal setting is to choose goals we are naturally motivated to achieve, rather than those we think we should have.  For example, many people set goals to be fitter, wealthier, more successful, more loving. But if these things aren’t actually bugging you, if you have no motivation to work on them, then they’ll become just another empty New Year’s resolution.

Unfortunately it can be hard to tap into our true motivations.  They often exist at a subconscious level and as such, we’re not really aware of what we want.  The answer though lies in the power of critique – something that we’re all a little too good at.  Here are 5 steps to help you identify, set and pursue the right goals in the New Year.

Step 1:  Vent!

Get out a piece of paper and start with phrase:  “I wish the following were different…” and then unload!  Don’t pause, don’t analyse, don’t edit or judge.  Just write. 

Keep the list broad too.  Don’t try to keep the topic to work or family.  Let your mind roam free and write down everything, in every aspect of your life that’s bugging you.

The list will be long but you’ll start to see some common threads...even a few surprises.

Step 2: Flip the List

Once you’ve run out of things to write, go back to the top of the list and flip each statement from a complaint into a goal.  For example I might start with:

“I wish I didn’t wake up feeling sluggish every day” becomes the goal “Improve my health so I wake up with energy & vitality every day”

“I wish I didn’t spend my day putting out fires all of the time” could become the goal “Enjoy my work by spending more time on creative projects.”

Step 3: Cluster and Strategise

You’ll find that once you do this, there are a number of goals that automatically relate to one another.  Group these together and start to think of actions you could take to address the grouped goal.

For example the last time I did this, I had a number of health related goals such as waking up with more energy, having better posture and more muscle tone.  I grouped these together into an overall goal of improving my physical health by eating more vegetables, drinking less alcohol at night and exercising more.

Step 4. Make it actionable and realistic

By this stage, you know what you really want and broadly how you could get it.  Nothing happens without implementation though so you need to take the ‘how’ and make it actionable. 

For example, it’s wasn’t enough for me to say “exercise more”.  I had to commit to finding an exercise buddy and setting an alarm to wake up at 5am, 3 times a week.

Where a lot of people come unstuck is when they set an action that isn’t really going to happen.  Something that just isn’t realistic for them.  You need to be honest with yourself and ask “is this really going to happen?”.  If not, come up with a different action.

Step 5.  Hold yourself accountable

Of everyone who’s ever done this, the single biggest point of failure lies in a lack of accountability.  They set the goal and then forget it.

I like to review my goals every 2 weeks and ask myself “how am I going?”  It’s often surprising how quickly you’re able to tick items off.

Other ways you can drive accountability include putting your goals on the fridge or my favourite, sharing them with others.  There’s nothing like public shame to get you motivated!

Goals for Couples, Teams and Families

The above 5 steps are great at an individual level, but it you want to take things a step further, I’ve seen remarkable outcomes by getting people to share their list after step 2 and then completing the process together.

Last year on our family vacation, my wife and I did this exercise and found that (surprisingly!), we shared a number of concerns, aspirations and goals. It was a great exercise that set our family up for success for the following year.

Likewise, I’ve done this with partnerships and leadership teams – groups that sometimes are at odds with one another on a day to day basis.  They find the process a great communication tool and the following planning and action steps bring people together in terms of buy-in and commitment to the solution.

For some reason we’re much better at critiquing than we are at creating.  This exercise allows us to tap into what our hearts most desire, those things that we are truly motivated to achieve.  So these holidays, forget the New Year’s resolutions and instead, tap into the things that matter to you most.