As 2017 ends, you start setting your goals for 2018. Your goals are typically set as outcomes, such as “lose 50 pounds,” “make $ 100,000 in paid speeches,” “save $ 25,000,” and the like. And it makes sense because, after all, you care more about losing 50 pounds than about working out every day. You care more about making $ 100,000 in paid speeches than about the required marketing activities. You care more about saving $ 25,000 than about spending less. You care about the goals and the benefits from them, more than about the actions you must perform to reach them.
There are four reasons why focusing on the goals may prevent you from achieving them.
1. Your goals might be unrealistic
Can you really make the commitment required to lose 50 pounds? Is it even possible to generate $ 100,000 in paid speeches given that you have done zero marketing and generated less than $ 1,000 last year? Are there enough discretionary expenses you can cut that would allow you to save $ 25,000 next year? The goals could be stretch goals and not necessarily very easy to achieve, but not impossible ones. If the goals are impossible to achieve, chances are that you will not achieve them. Half way through the year (or even earlier) you would realize that and, most likely, abandon them altogether.
2. You have no plan how to achieve those goals
If there is no specific, realistic, and executable plan to achieve the goals, chances are that you would not achieve them. What do you need to do to lose 50 pounds? What marketing activities must you perform to generate $ 100,000 in paid speeches? What expenses must you cut to be able to save $ 25,000 next year?
3. Focus on the goals will not get them done
If you keep focusing on the goals instead of on the plans to achieve them, you will not be pursuing the right actions. You will instead just see those goals getting harder and harder to reach. You will try different things for a while, abandon them, try new things, and not meet your goals.
4. You are not motivated enough (or appropriately) to achieve them
If you are not motivate enough to achieve those goals, you might find that the actions required to achieve them are significant enough for you not to pursue them. Losing weight is a great example. I found that the intrinsic value of losing weight was not strong enough to motivate me to exercise and watch what I eat.
So what should you do?
1. Set stretch, yet realistic goals
You may want to lose 50 pounds in January, generate $ 100,000 from paid speeches (even though last year you only generated $ 1,000), and save $ 25,000 (even though there aren’t $ 25,000 in discretionary expenses you could cut), but those might be unrealistic. Look at your performance last year. Look at other people’s performance. Set achievable goals, albeit not necessarily such that are too easy to achieve.
2. Make specific plans
Your plans to achieve those goals must be specific, realistic, and executable. Be as detailed as possible. What exactly are the actions you must take, and when must you take them? Make sure that there is a reasonable expectation that if you executed those plans–you will achieve the desired goals. Don’t simply say “I’ll find a way to get there.” You won’t.
3. Focus on the actions, not on the goals
Throughout the year, execute your plans exactly as you planned them. Don’t deviate. Focus on taking the actions you defined in those plans, rather than looking at the goals and wondering if you will ever get there. If your plan was realistic–then executing it exactly as planned will get you to the desired goals.
4. Create the right motivation
You must have enough motivation to take the actions to achieve the goals. Sometimes, the intrinsic motivation for achieving the goals is not enough to take the actions required to achieve them. I found that the intrinsic motivation to lose weight (the value of being healthy and looking good) was not enough for me to work out and eat less as much as I needed to achieve my weight loss target. So I complimented it with extrinsic motivation (“carrot and stick”) and it worked! (You can read more about that in my book Worst Diet Ever).
5. Revisit your assumptions
Don’t change the goals because you aren’t willing to take the actions included in your plan. The only reason to change the goals or the plans is if you realize that the plan will not achieve the desired goal. If that happens, you will have the opportunity to either change the goal or change the plan. You may need to relax the goal, or tighten the plan. Keep asking yourself if there is any reason why the plan might not achieve the goal. If the plan is still valid, and so are the goals–stay the course.