It is the time of year when most of us start thinking about all the things we wish we could do differently. We might even have regrets about what we didn’t get done or have goals for what we want to achieve in the coming year. The problem is, most of what you’ve been taught about goals is wrong… Or, at least, incomplete. Most of the conversation about goals is focused on the setting of the goal. The truth is, most of us need help achieving the goals. Here are four simple steps that will help you get better at achieving your goals, not just setting them.
1. Set an Attainable Short-Term Goal
Start with a one-day goal: a goal you can achieve in one day, by the end of the day. If you find yourself with doubts about the attainability of your goals, uncertainty about how to achieve them, or are facing any sort of goal setting crisis, focus on something that you can be successful in achieving in the near future. Start with a simple question, like, “What is the most important thing I can do today?” The answer to this question can be the basis for a daily goal.
2. Focus on Frequency: Flex Your Goal Muscles
Set another short term goal tomorrow. The ability to set and achieve goals is a skill not unlike hitting a golf ball or making a free throw in basketball. If you are going to become good at it, you have to practice and use the skill frequently. Muscle memory, also known as motor learning, is a form of procedural memory that involves consolidating a specific motor task into memory through repetition. When a movement is repeated over time, a long-term muscle memory is created for that task, eventually allowing it to be performed without conscious effort. This process decreases the need for attention and creates maximum efficiency within the motor and memory systems. Examples of muscle memory are found in many everyday activities that become automatic and improve with practice, such as riding a bicycle or typing on a keyboard.
While goal setting is a mental exercise and does not involve a motor task, like riding a bicycle, it is a skill that can be honed in much the same way through repetition and practice. And it can deliver invaluable benefits by helping you travel from point A to point B, taking you from planning to achievement and success.
3. Measure for Mastery
Measurement is critically important, and it matters especially if you take your effort seriously. If you want to get very good at something, you must do it repeatedly, but if you want to become the best at something, you must do it repeatedly and measure your results. In the case of goal planning, I suggest writing your goal down as a way of measuring it. Remember, your deadline for achieving this goal should be pretty short-term.
In most situations, success in even the most ambitious goals comes down to executing the simple things, or a mastery of the basics. Measuring those simple steps and keeping score is essential to tracking your progress toward mastery. It should simply be used as a way to measure whether the goal that was set was attainable and was accomplished. The results gathered in the measurement step should have a positive bias toward the affirmative. Stated another way, if you are successfully getting better at achieving goals, you should have a higher percentage of goals achieved vs. not achieved.
4. Review Your Course: Evaluate New Possibilities
As you pursue your goals, it is critical to review your prior performance. When you review your previously achieved goals, as well as your missed targets, you can gain valuable insight to help you revise your goals or define your next objective. This step can help you become more self-aware of both your abilities and limitations. At this point, you should also look to previous successes for new opportunities that may have presented themselves and for insights on how to pursue them. Review any missed targets to learn why these goals were not attained and where you may have deviated from your intended course.
An important part of course correction is to see how you can benefit from the experience of prior goal setting and pursuit. As you review your prior performance, you may discover that your perspective has changed and that a new direction may be in order. If you find yourself getting closer to your stated goal but further away from what “feels” like the right objective or path, you should dig deeper into those feelings and look for potential insights and course changes. The purpose of goal setting should be to accelerate your achievement toward your strategic objectives. This step in the process is designed to make sure that is happening and you are not following your goals blindly in a course that will take you off-track.