Goals — A Process of Expediting Growth and Achievement
Learn from the past, set vivid, detailed goals for the future, and live in the only moment of time over which you have any control: now. — Denis Waitley
Having a process and practice of setting goals is a two-edged sword. The positive side is that it accelerates the process of achievement. The negative side is that it causes discouragement and distortion of how you are actually doing, because your focus is primarily on something you haven’t attained, or a level you haven’t yet reached.
A healthy process of goal setting then includes appropriate reflection, gratitude, and the ability to see your growth, while you continue to work at attaining higher levels. (See this article by Benjamin Hardy on living in the gap versus the gain).
Here are some principles that have helped me accelerate my growth over the past four years:
- Limit the number of goals to no more than three at a time.
- Thoughtfully reflect and evaluate your life as you select your goals
- Make a plan to achieve your goals
- Have a tracking system
- Get an accountability partner
1. Limit the Number of Your Goals
Jim Collins, the author of Good to Great is quoted as saying, “If you have more than three priorities, you don’t have any.” Limiting the number of your goals is a way to stay focused. Otherwise we revert to whatever we want to work on that will give us the false, but satisfying feeling that we have accomplished something, even if it is as meaningless as cleaning our our email in box. The industry consensus seems to be no more than three.
There is an account of Warren Buffet giving goal setting advice to his pilot, Mike Flint. He told him to generate a list of his top 25 goals. After having thoughtfully completed that, Mr. Buffet had him circle his top 5. It took more reflection but he completed that task, identifying the top 5 of his original list of 25. He reportedly stated that he would work those top 5 right away, but the remaining 20 were still important, and that he would work on those as time allowed.
To this, Warren replied, “No. You’ve got it wrong, Mike. Everything you didn’t circle just became your Avoid-At-All-Cost list. No matter what, these things get no attention from you until you’ve succeeded with your top 5.”
Most often, the things that distract people driven for accomplishment are not whimsical video games or other time wasters, but rather those things that feel good to get done, but that are not the top priority things that would pay an even larger dividend.
When setting goals, limit them to no more than three at a time.
2. Thoughtful Reflection and Evaluation
Because we limit the number of our goals to no more than three (Warren Buffet’s five notwithstanding), it becomes even more important to choose the goals that would provide the most long-term benefit to you to accomplish.
Choosing the top three areas of your focus for a twelve-month period should not be done on-the-fly. Rather, block out some time to review where you’re at, how you got there, where you want to go, and what it will take to get there. We’re not talking about a bathroom-book-visit reflection session here, but rather a few hours up to a day or two to make those decisions.
I have been setting formal personal goals for just over four years now. Part of that process is to take 1–2 days away for that annual reflection and goal setting process.
This year, I went by myself to a canyon campground (no wifi or cell service) and reviewed my journals and notes from the past year. (If you don’t keep a daily journal, I highly recommend it for a number of reasons, not the least of which is to use it for this very review process). Even if you don’t achieve all of your specific goals, this is a great way to see the progress you have made over the past year.
As you narrow down and select what you will focus on don’t just think from your head. Let your heart weigh in on those decisions as well. What may seem like a logical wise decision intellectually, we may benefit from giving our feelings a vote. I believe this is part of what Napoleon Hill referred to as our “Sixth Sense.” (See this previous article about the 13th principle in Think and Grow Rich).
3. Make a Plan
Once you have defined your top three goals for the year, take time to map out how you expect to achieve them. Here are some thought starters to help:
- Write the goal as specific as you can.
- Identify major milestones toward the ultimate accomplishment of the goal
- Identify behaviors or regular activities that are required to get your goal, or that would accelerate you toward your goal.
- Determine how and when you will fit the recurring efforts into your daily and weekly routines
Most New Years resolutions don’t make it to February largely because they don’t get planned. Writing a goal is a great first step, but making a thoughtful plan on how to accomplish the goal breathes life into the goal.
Perhaps the most important aspect of your plan needs to include components of who you need to become in order to achieve your goal. Goal achievement is more about becoming than doing. As part of your plan, make certain that you include components of personal development beyond the specific actions that will move you toward your goal.
4. Have a Tracking System
Having a tracking system to keep you moving toward your goal is essential for success. It is a way to employ personal accountability. Remember that accountability is simply the ability to count. If your goal is an income or monetary goal, those are very easy to count. Did you get it or not? Goals related to relationships or spiritual growth are harder to measure, but you should still have a tracking system.
There are numerous tracking systems available. I have used Darren Hardy’s “Living Your Best Year Ever” for the past four years. My accountability partner uses the 12-week year, provided through his work. You could simply have a large desk calendar and mark off progress on each goal every day.
Whatever system you use, make sure you have a system, and that you use it consistently.
5. Get an Accountability Partner
This last step can double your results. It’s one thing to have to look yourself in the mirror and report your results. Its another level to have to report your results every week to someone else.
Implementing this practice is not difficult, but it takes a level of commitment for you and your accountability partner. Some details about the process include:
- Accountability sessions should be about 30 minutes long, but not longer. (They can be shorter, but you have to make sure it doesn’t turn into a social event, or an excuse session).
- Your partner should be someone who will expect the best from you, and help you push yourself beyond your current levels of performance, but will still encourage you when you have a less-than-stellar week.
- You don’t have to be face to face. Phone calls work fine. (You don’t even have to be in the same time zone). I have recently started using video conferencing on my computer as my accountability partner lives 50 miles away.
The above five steps have proven to be beneficial and powerful in the process of selecting, setting and achieving goals. If you’re not using all of them, put them to work and see what you can accomplish.