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Last Updated on January 24, 2021

How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

Stretch goals are a lot like physical fitness. When you adopt a physical sport such as running, continual practice leads to increased stamina, growth, and progress.

While commitment to the sport improves performance, true growth happens when you are working harder and getting stretched beyond your comfort zone. I know this from personal experience.

For years, I was an avid runner. I ran with a variety of running groups in the Washington, D.C. area and in Columbus, Ohio, where I lived prior to moving to the nation’s capital.

While I was initially fearful about slacking off on my exercise habit when I moved to D.C., running enthusiasts in the area provided continual motivation, inspiring me to lace up my shoes day after day.

I was never a particularly fast runner, but I enjoyed the afterglow of the sport: being completely drained but feeling a sense of accomplishment; setting and reaching goals; buying and wearing out new tennis shoes. The sound of throngs of feet pounding the pavement in semi-unison is still enough to bring tears to my eyes.

Of all the groups I ran with, the Pacers Store group that met on Monday nights boasted the fastest runners. I met up with the group week after week only to be the slowest runner. It was difficult to muster the courage to get up every week and meet the group knowing what was waiting for me: sweating and watching the backs of fellow runners.

Each time I joined the group, I was stretching myself without even realizing it. Instead of feeling like I was transitioning into a better running, for a long time I felt I was torturing myself.

Then, something remarkable happened. I went for a run with a different set of runners and noticed my time had improved. I was running at a faster pace and doing so with ease, giving me a new competitive advantage.

The reason I was becoming a better runner was because I was taking myself out of my comfort zone and challenging myself physically and mentally. This example illustrates the process of growth.

Fortunately, we can create situations that stretch us in our personal and professional lives.

What Is a Stretch Goal?

A stretch goal is something that is extremely difficult and novel. It is something that not everyone does, and it’s sometimes considered impossible[1].

In general, you establish stretch goals by doing things that are difficult or temporarily challenging.

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For instance, when I was first promoted to a senior communications management role, I knew I needed to beef up my relationships with media personalities. I set a goal to once a month book a day of media interviews in New York City – which is home to many media outlets, including SiriusXM radio, CNN, NBC News, HuffPost, and VIBE.

This was a huge goal because it meant not only identifying the right people to meet with but convincing them to meet with me and my team. While I didn’t end up meeting the goal of doing a full day of media interviews in New York City, I met more people than I would have met had I not established the goal and instead stayed in the comfort of my D.C. office.

It is important to note that just because you establish a stretch goal doesn’t mean you’ll achieve the goal each time. However, the process of trying is guaranteed to provide some level of growth.

The Importance of Setting Stretch Goals

The beginning of the year is a perfect time to assess where you are excelling and where there is room for you to grow. I typically start the year by creating a yearlong strategic plan for myself.

I think about the things that are necessary to do and things that would be cool to do. I assess the people I should know and think through how to meet them. Then, I ask myself if the goals are realistic and what would need to happen for me to achieve them.

Over time, I have learned that there are five things you can do to set stretch goals:

1. Get Out of Your Head

If you exist within the confines of your imagination, you imperil your own growth and creativity.

If you examine your accomplishments and celebrate them in isolation of others’ accomplishments, your vantage point is limited without the big picture.

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You want to be comfortable with what you accomplish, but you also want to be motivated by watching others. In some respects, stretching is about expanding your network of friends, associates, and mentors. These are the people who will propel or slow your growth and development.

Since two are better than one, always value being able to share your progress with others, seeking feedback, and then mapping a plan for success.

2. Focus on a Couple Areas at a Time

When setting stretch goals, it is important to focus on a couple of areas at a time. Most of us are only able to focus on a few things at a time, and if you feel you are unable to tackle all that is before you, you may simply disengage.

I see this in so many areas of life:

When people get in debt, if they believe the debt is insurmountable, they refuse to look at incoming bills for fear of facing down the debt. Unfortunately, many businesses go awry when setting stretch goals.

In “The Stretch Goal Paradox,” the authors note:

“Our research suggests that though the use of stretch goals is quite common, successful use is not. And many executives set far too many stretch goals. In the past five years, for example, Tesla failed to meet more than 20 of founder Elon Musk’s ambitious projections and missed half of them by nearly a year, according to the Wall Street Journal.”

Goal-setting is like a marathon, not a sprint. It doesn’t all need to happen at the same time, and pacing is extremely important if you want to get to the finish line. It is better to focus on a couple of goals at a time, master them, and then move on to the next thing.

3. Set Aside Time Each Year to Focus on Goal-Setting

When I was a managing director for communications for the Advancement Project, I spent the first part of every year facilitating a communications planning meeting.

The planning meeting began with the team members assessing the goals the team had established in the preceding year, and whether those goals were realistic or not. If we failed to meet certain goals, we broke down why that happened. From there, we brainstormed about possibilities for the current year.

For instance, one year we set a goal of pitching and getting 24 opinion essays published. This was audacious because no one on the eight-person team had the luxury of focusing exclusively on editing and pitching opinion essays to publications around the world. We would need to focus on pitching in between the rest of our work.

We hit this goal within the first eight months of the year. Remarkably, in total, we ended up getting 40 opinion essays published that year, which was an indication that our original goal was too low. We upped the goal to 41 the next year, and amazingly, we hit 42 published opinion essays or guest columns.

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From this experience, we not only learned what was feasible; we also learned the power of focus.

When we focused as a team on getting the commentary on our issues out in the public domain, we were successful. The key in all of this is that there was a ton of discussion around which goal we’d pursue and why.

Equally important, as a manager, is that I didn’t set the goals alone; the team members and I established the goals collaboratively. This ensured buy-in from each individual.

4. Use the S.M.A.R.T. Goal Model to Set Realistic Goals

S.M.A.R.T.

is a synonym for specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound[2]. For the sake of this article, the realistic portion of the acronym is most important when talking about stretch goals.

Want to Crush Your Goals? Get SMART | Inspiration | MyFitnessPal

    While you want to set audacious goals, you want to ensure that they are realistic as well. No one is served by setting a goal that is impossible to accomplish.

    Failing to meet goals can be demoralizing for teams, so it’s important to be sober-eyed about what is possible. Additionally, the purpose of setting goals is to advance and grow, not depress morale.

    For instance, my team would have been discouraged had I begun the year asking it to pitch and place 40 opinion essays if we didn’t already have a track record of placing close to two dozen essays.

    By using the S.M.A.R.T. formula, we were able to achieve all that we set out to do.

    5. Break the Goal up Into Small, Digestible Parts

    I am a recovering perfectionist. As a writer, being a perfectionist can be counterproductive because I can fail to start if I don’t see a clear pathway to victory.

    The same is true with goal-setting, especially when it comes to stretch goals. That’s why it is critically important to break goals into bite-sized chunks.

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    When I had a goal of doing daylong media meetings in New York City, I had to think through all the barriers to achieving that goal and all the steps required to meet the goal.

    One step was identifying which reporters, producers, and hosts to engage. Another step was writing a pitch or meeting invitation that would capture their attention. Another step was thinking through the program areas I wanted to highlight and the new angles I could offer to different reporters.

    Since reporters want to cover stories that no one else has written, I needed to come up with fresh angles for each of the reporters I was engaging. An additional step was thinking through who from my team I’d take with me to the various meetings.

    I was clear that, as a talking head, as public relations reps are sometimes called, I needed the right spokesperson in order to land repeated meetings with different outlets.

    A final step was thinking through what I needed to bring to each meeting and which reports, videos and testimonials would buttress our claims and be of interest to media figures.

    As I walked through what was needed to bring my goal of doing daylong meetings to reality, I realized that not only was the idea within reach, but I was excited to tackle the challenge.

    From that point until now, I have learned to break down goals into smaller parts and tackle the smaller parts on the path to knocking the goal out of the park.

    The Bottom Line

    These are my recommendations for setting stretch goals, and there are a ton of other resources to support you in the workplace and in your community.

    By stretching your limits and pushing just a little further each time, you can experience more personal and business success than you ever imagined.

    Featured photo credit: Isaac Smith via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Harvard Business Review: The Stretch Goal Paradox
    [2] My Fitness Pal: Want to Crush Your Goals? Get SMART

    More by this author

    Jennifer R. Farmer

    An author and trainer specializes in helping socially-conscious entrepreneurs, celebrities and activists

    How to Influence People and Make Them Feel Good How to Be a Good Leader and Lead Effectively in Any Situation How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated 5 Types of Leadership Styles (And Which Is Best for You) 16 Good Habits of Happy and Successful People

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    Last Updated on April 14, 2021

    What Are SMART Goals (and How to Use Them to Be Successful)

    What Are SMART Goals (and How to Use Them to Be Successful)

    As a track and field runner in school, every year I would sit down with my coach and set a series of goals for the season. Once we had set my goals for the year, we would create a training plan so I could achieve those targets. This helped me answer the main question here: “What are SMART goals?”

    Before I got a coach, I used to run aimlessly with no plan, no target races. More often than not, I would end up injured and find my season ending after achieving very little.

    Once I got a coach, though, I started winning races that mattered and began enjoying my sport. This annual process taught me from a very early age that goals are important if I want to achieve the things that are important to me.

    So what exactly are SMART goals? This article will talk about why goals matter, how to use SMART goals effectively with your time and resources, and how these goals give you a clear, specific plan that works time and time again.

    Why Do People Fail to Reach Their Goals?

    Setting SMART goals and achieving them

    is not easy, and many people fail. A study by Scranton University found that only 8% of those who set New Year goals actually achieve them, meaning 92% who set new year goals fail[1].

    The problem is that many people see goals, such as New Year resolutions, as hopes and wishes. They hope they will lose some weight, they wish to start their own business, or they hope to get a better job. The problem with “hoping” and “wishing” for something is that there is no plan, no purpose, and no time frame set for achieving the goals.

    Once these hopes and wishes come face-to-face with the realities of daily life, they soon dissolve into lost hopes and wishful thinking.

    Therefore, in order to really achieve something, you need a concrete goal: a SMART goal.

    What Are SMART Goals?

    The foundation of all successfully accomplished goals is the SMART goal.

    Originally conceived by George T. Doran in a 1981 paper[2], this formula has been used in various forms ever since.

    SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based. It has been used by corporations and individuals to achieve their goals and objectives and is a formula that, on the whole, works well.

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    Use SMART goals to help you achieve more.

      The strength of SMART goals is that they set a clear path to achieving goals, and they have a clear time frame in which to achieve them. Let’s look at the SMART criteria in a little more detail:

      Specific

      For a goal to be achievable, it needs to have a very clear outcome. What you are asking is, “What exactly do I want to achieve?” The clearer the goal, the more likely it is you will achieve it.

      For example, if you just say “I want to lose weight,” then technically you could achieve your goal just by not eating dinner for one day—you would lose weight that way, even if it were temporary.

      You need to have a more specific goal: “I want to lose twenty-pounds by the end of July this year.”

      Measurable

      To achieve anything, it’s important to have measurable goals. T

      ake the example above: “I want to lose twenty-pounds by the end of July this year.”

      It’s measurable, as all you need do is weigh yourself on 1 January, then deduct twenty-pounds from that and set that weight as the target for 31 July. Then, each week you weigh yourself to measure progress.

      Attainable

      Being attainable means that SMART goals are realistic and that you have what you need in order to achieve them.

      In our example of losing weight, 20 pounds in six months is certainly doable. Your resources could include a gym membership, some at-home weights, or simply motivation to get outside and run everyday.

      If motivation is an area where you struggle, you can check out Lifehack’s Ultimate Worksheet for Instant Motivation Boost.

      Relevant

      For any goal to be achieved, you need to set relevant goals for your unique life.

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      If losing weight is doable with the lifestyle you have, and if you believe it will lead to a happier, healthier life, then it is certainly relevant to you. It’s even more relevant if your doctor has pointed out that you need to lose weight to prevent health issues.

      Time-based

      Finally, you need a timeline. All your goals need to have an end date because it creates a sense of urgency and gives you a deadline.

      In our example of losing twenty-pounds, a timeline of six months would be specific, measurable, relevant, and would have a timeline. Furthermore, as you have what you need to achieve that goal, it is attainable—all elements of the formula for SMART goals are included.

      How to Reach a SMART Goal

      The problem I have always found with the SMART goal formula is it does not take into account the human factor. We need motivation and a reason for achieving these goals.

      If you decide to lose twenty-pounds, for example, you are going to spend many months feeling hungry, and unless you possess superhuman mental strength, you are going to give in to the food temptations.

      All SMART goals can be distilled down to three words:

      • What do you want to achieve?
      • Why do you want to achieve it?
      • How are you going to achieve it?

      When you simplify your goal in this way, achieving it becomes much easier.

      1. Visualize What You Want

      One way to make your goals achievable is to visualize the end result. When you write out your mission statement, you should be imagining what it will be like once you have achieved the goal.

      In our weight loss example, you would close your eyes and imagine walking down from your hotel room in Ibiza in July with your towel, sunscreen, sunglasses, and swimwear on. You would imagine walking past all the other sunbathers and the feeling you have, the pride in the way you look and feel.

      Try to invoke as many of the five senses as you possibly can[3].

      2. Identify Your “Why”

      If you take losing twenty-pounds as an example, once you have made the decision that you want to do this, the next question to ask yourself is, “Why?” The more personal your why, the better.

      Your why could be, “Because I want to look and feel fantastic by the pool in Ibiza this summer.” That is a strong why.

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      If your why is, “Because my doctor told me to lose some weight,” that is not a good why because it’s your doctor’s, not yours.

      One way to identify your “why” is to write your mission statement.

      To help with setting achievable SMART goals, when working with my clients, I always ask them to complete the following mission statement:

      I will [STATE GOAL CLEARLY] by [DATE YOU WANT TO COMPLETE THE GOAL] because [YOUR WHY].

      If you want to write a SMART goal for the weight loss example, your mission statement would be written: “I will lose twenty-pounds by the end of July this year because I want to look and feel fantastic by the pool in Ibiza.”

      Never write a mission statement that is full of vague words. The words you use should be simple, direct, and clear.

      3. Figure out Your “How”

      Before you can begin achieving your goal, you need to create a list of steps you can take to make it happen.

      Write down everything you can think of that will help achieve your goal. It doesn’t matter what order you write these tasks down; what matters is that you write down as many action steps you can think of.

      I always aim for around one hundred small steps. This makes it much easier to assign tasks for each day that not only moves you forward on your goal, but also keeps you focused every day on achieving it.

      Once you have your list, you can create a to-do list for the goal and allocate the steps to different days so you create momentum towards a successful outcome.

      You can learn more about how to use SMART goals to achieve success and lasting change in this video:

      Bonus: Make a PACT

      There is one more part needed to really make sure you achieve the SMART goals you set for yourself, and that is something I call PACT. PACT is another acronym meaning Patience, Action, Consistency, and Time. You need all four of these to achieve goals.

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      Patience

      Without patience, you will give up. To achieve anything worthwhile requires patience. Success does not happen overnight. Be patient and enjoy the process of stepping a little closer towards achieving your goal each day.

      Action

      If you do not take action on any goal, then even SMART goals won’t be achieved. You need to make sure you remind yourself of your goal and why you want to achieve it each day. Read your mission statement, make an action plan, and then take the necessary action to make sure you move a step closer each day.

      Consistency

      The action you take each day towards achieving your goal needs to be consistent. You can’t follow your diet program for a week and then have three weeks off. Jim Rohn said it perfectly when he said:

      “Success is a few simple disciplines practised every day.”

      Time

      Of course, you need to allow enough time between where you are today and where you want to be in the future. Be realistic about time, and don’t get disheartened if you miss your deadline. Readjust your timeline if necessary.

      The Bottom Line

      The key to success is to put everything together. When you connect all of these elements, you create an environment where achieving SMART goals becomes much more attainable.

      Whether it’s personal or business goals, when you have a strong personal “why” for your goal, your motivation to keep going stays strong.

      Start with your “why,” and then get started on the action steps that will take you all the way to the end.

      More Tips on Reaching Your Goals

      Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

      Reference

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