At least a few thousand people from across the world start their new year with this ambitious goal:
This year, I will finally write that book.
But, within weeks, it begins its trip to a faraway moon, with promises to come back next year.
Whatever else we may consistently suck at, but we do great at setting goals. But the problem is, even before we have completed setting one, we start moving away from it. What goes wrong that makes us fail?
Straightaway, those goals themselves never have the right elements to make them successful.
So, we bring you the three most tested goal-setting techniques to help you set goals that drive you to achieve them.
3 Goal-Setting Techniques For Success In Business & Life
Here are the three highly effective, approved ways to set goals:
- The SMART Technique – good for beginners
- The HARD Technique – good for personal goals
- The WOOP Technique – good for both personal and business goals
1. The SMART Technique
It is a popular and efficient method of goal-setting, especially for beginners.
This method takes a cue from a 1981 paper in Management Review to identify how we could find out if our goals are worthwhile and purposeful [Doran, G. T. (1981). There’s a S.M.A.R.T. Way to Write Management’s Goals and Objectives. Management Review, 70, 35-36].
What George Doran prescribed in that original document has almost become a gold standard today. It said for a goal to be effective, it should fulfill the following five criteria:
S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Achievable/Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound).
- Specific – you know exactly what your goal is
- Measurable – you can measure and track your goal
- Attainable – your goal is realistic, and you can achieve it
- Relevant – your goal is exciting and meaningful to you
- Time-bound – you have a clear deadline for your goal
It became famous when one of the most successful CEOs on this planet, Jack Welch, inducted this model in General Electric in the early 1980s.
However, there was a change Welch introduced into the SMART setup — he declared the goals should be Stretch goals instead of attainable goals. Welch felt the attainable goals make one work from inside their comfort zone. While the Stretch goals lie at the outer limit of a person’s capacity, making them step outside their comfort zones.
Let us now talk about the Specific and Measurable parts of SMART.
- Specificity is the who, what, when, where, why, and how of the expectations from the goal.
- Measurability is the numerical dimensions of a goal so it can provide progress feedback and inform when the goal gets achieved.
Think of some common goals people make at the start of the year: lose weight, eat healthier, spend less, save more, exercise more, learn new things, spend more on charitable activities, make more real-world friends, sleep more.
What is wrong with those goals is that they are vague and hazy.
To make them worthwhile of your efforts, you must make them Specific and Measurable. Like aiming to lose 20 pounds by March, following through an intermittent fasting diet plan, saving 10 percent of what comes to me, giving away 5 percent to charity, exercising 20 minutes every day, going to sleep by 11 pm.
- A stands for Assignable (instead of Attainable), as the present ideas go.
It means a goal must be Assignable to an individual or a group. When a goal is not assignable, we can hold no one responsible for achieving it, and thus the goal may never reach completion.
- R stands for Relevance and/or Realistic.
Many of the goal-setters spend a good few years of their life pursuing a goal that, when achieved, does not give them any pleasure. As they sit with their “trophy” at the end of their grueling race, they wonder where did it all go wrong.
It was this that went wrong: their goal was irrelevant or unrealistic or both.
When starting, they might have set that goal based on what others expected of them. It lay outside the boundary of their personal values. Often, such goals are irrelevant targets to aim at for personal growth.
Instead, they should have fixed a goal that was Relevant to their overall idea of success in life and Realistic to their resources.While setting a self-worthy goal, never buy into other people's realities and aspirations. Aim for what you value and want. Click To Tweet
- T is for Time-bound.
A goal that is not Time-bound and lacks a definite end does not allow for feedback — as there is no definite date to work toward.
The SMART technique was later modified to include E. (Evaluate) and R. (Reassess) to make the model even more useful and productive. So, the SMART technique became a SMARTER one.
2. The HARD Technique
This is an easy and effective way to follow when you want to set personal goals.
Research for Murphy’s book revealed people who set HARD goals were up to 75 percent more fulfilled than those who set easy goals.
Murphy explains how success comes from knowing how to set HARD goals:
- Heartfelt – have an emotional attachment, and they “scratch an existential itch.”
- Animated – driven by a vision of future success and achievement.
- Required – imbued with such a sense of immediacy and urgency.
- Difficult – outstanding achievements come from tough challenges, but they also leave you feeling stronger, smarter, and happier.
3. The WOOP Technique
The third goal setting technique is the newest one. Gabriele Oettingen, author of Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation, and Peter Gollwitzer, psychologists at New York University, created WOOP as a result of their 20+ years of scientific research. It has proven to be effective across ages and life domains.
Dr. Oettingen is against the Think Positive and Thoughts Become Things movement. While optimism can help us soften the immediate suffering and stand strong in challenging times, merely dreaming about a bright future makes people more frustrated and unhappy. They become lazy and less likely to achieve their goals.Starry-eyed dreamers are not often the hard-ground doers. Click To Tweet
WOOP has been shown to improve effort, attendance, and even GPA among students by significant margins. WOOP reduced insecurity-based behaviors (e.g., looking through the partner’s phone log) and increased commitments in romantic relationships.
WOOP doubled regular physical exercise over four months and increased fruit and vegetable intake by 30% over two years.
It is based on a visualization technique known as Mental Contrasting with Implementation Intentions (MCII) in the scientific literature. WOOP stands for:
One Game To Play With Your Mind: Write Your Goal.
Goal-setting can be an incredible game we play with our minds. Once you set a goal, the simple act that you have set a goal makes you more inclined to hold on to it. That is human nature.
Psychologists say when we set a goal, we put out a part of ourselves into that future goal. You don’t just set a goal; you own it as a part of yourself.
It is called the “endowment effect“ – a phrase coined by Richard Thaler in 1980. It says when you own something—a gift or a dream or a goal—you cling to it and don’t want to give it up. And you do so because once it is a part of your identity, you price it at a much higher value than anyone else around you would.
A second related feature is that if you were to write it down instead of just telling it to yourself, your desire to hug your goals even tighter becomes stronger.
In 1992, a study inside two busy orthopedic hospitals in Scotland gave us the proof that writing goals can achieve spectacular results. They found in just 13 weeks, the patients recovering from either hip or knee surgeries, who had written their plans (“This week I’m going to…”) started walking almost twice as fast as the ones who had not.
In another study, psychology professor Gail Matthews of Dominican University, California, carried out a goal-setting experiment with 270 participants. He found one was 42 percent more likely to achieve their goals if they wrote them down.
Now, a third related phenomenon needs a mention here: theconfirmation bias.
The “confirmation bias” is a condition when your mind tries to find or interpret things in a way that confirms your preconceived ideas. So, if you set a goal, your mind tries to find ways to make it real, as if through a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Two Signals To Watch Out For: Set Your Own Goals; Keep Them Secret.
There are two caveats to keep in mind while you set your goals, however:
- If others are setting a goal for you, and you find the goal a stretch, then you may end up using unethical ways to achieve it, or lie about having achieved it. However, if it is you who is setting them, then you are more committed to those goals. So do not let others set your goals.
- If you are broadcasting your goals to anyone who would listen to praise you, you will end up sabotaging yourself. Because receiving compliments for being a guy having a lofty goal might fool your mind into feeling as if it has already achieved the goal. This will take away your motivation to make efforts for realizing your goals. So don’t tell your goals to anyone.
Set your goals yourself; don’t let others do it for you. And once you set your goals, keep them to yourself; do not tell others.Psychology says those who write down their goals and keep them secret, accomplish much more than those who don't. Click To Tweet
The Science of Goal-Setting Theory
Now, a brief history of the science of goal-setting.
Since it was first laid down, the goal-setting theory has been the most researched, used, and established theory of work motivation in industrial and organizational psychology.
Edwin A. Locke, Dean’s Professor of Leadership and Motivation (Emeritus) at the R.H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, College Park, is a pioneer in the Goal Setting Theory, which he first presented in his 1990 book, A Theory of Goal Setting and Task Performance.
Locke based his theory on studies involving about 40,000 people from eight different countries over 25 years. A thought-provoking conclusion he pulled from all those studies was this: In 90% of the cases, specific and challenging goals led to higher performance than easy goals, “do your best” goals or no goals.
Goal setting involves the conscious process of establishing levels of performance in order to obtain desirable outcomes. This goal setting theory simply states that the source of motivation is the desire and intention to reach a goal.— Brian Francis Redmond and Nathan Janicek
Locke defines a goal as “the object or aim of an action.” A goal has two main features:
- Content, and
The content of a goal is the desired result while the intensity is the needed effort.
The Goal Commitment Scale
How do we set rich and rewarding goals that we won’t abandon? Moreover, how do we find out if we are committed to our goals so we get the best shot at realizing them?
For that, we need to find out our goal commitment, which is the degree of determination we use to achieve an accepted goal.
Klein, Wesson, Hollenbeck, Wright, and DeShon (2001), developed the following five-item scale for assessing goal commitment. They provide the responses to the questions on the scale on a five-point Likert scale using “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree” end-points.
Here are the 5 questions of Goal Commitment Scale:
- It’s hard to take this goal seriously.
- Quite frankly, I don’t care if I achieve this goal or not.
- I am strongly committed to pursuing this goal.
- It wouldn’t take much to make me abandon this goal.
- I think this is a good goal to shoot for.
Why Is It Important To Set Goals
Aristotle, philosopher and tutor to Alexander the Great, said some 2300 years ago:
Man is a goal seeking animal. His life only has meaning if he is reaching out and striving for his goals.
Goal-setting is the first step towards success. Without goals, successes remain undefined wishes.
A book by Edwin Locke and Gary Latham based on more than 1,000 studies into business goals suggests:
There is strong evidence that the increase in job performance produced by goal-setting have important economic and practical value.
A meta-analysis by Tubbs (1986) supported that specific, difficult goals are positively correlated to improved performance.
But with the setting of goals, our wishes and aspirations take concrete shape. A well-set goal inspires us into action and gives us a definite direction to move.
- At its heart, the act of goal setting is a deed of motivation. The primary purpose of setting goals is to increase your motivation levels.
- When you start setting goals, instead of letting others pick choices for you, you take control and make decisions about what you want for yourself. With the goals you set, you take control of your life.
- When you set goals, you have a clear mission to work for. As they say, you create everything twice: first in mind, and then in the real world. Goals are that first creation in your mind.
- Goal-setting makes sure you are looking and pushing yourself in the right direction. It makes it likely to get your desired results within a set time-limit. You no more wait for things to happen to you. You decide what you would do with your life.
- When you set goals, you see, plan, and think ahead. And even when they do not work out exactly as you planned them, they make you self-confident that you will succeed. Goals put you in a position so you can adjust your actions while on your way to success.
- Goals show you the best point to focus upon for success. Your goals give you a laser focus on exactly what to spend your time and energy on.
- Having goals makes you feel responsible and accountable. You can then hold yourself to answers for doing things that do not align with your goals.
Remember the following words of Benjamin Mays, the minister who laid the intellectual foundations of the American civil rights movement:The tragedy in life doesn’t lie in not reaching your goal. The tragedy lies in having no goal to reach. — Benjamin Mays Click To Tweet
How To Set Goals To Achieve Them
How do you go about the business of setting goals so that you achieve them? Here is a brief answer to how to set goals one is highly committed to:
For the maximum probability of staying committed to and achieving one’s goals, the goals being set must have two primary factors: importance and self-efficacy. (Locke and Latham, 2002).
Goals determine the direction of your success. Goals are also yardsticks to check whether you are lagging or pushing ahead on your path to success.
We all set our goals, in some way or another. Even not setting goals is a way to set goals. Think of this: “I won’t do the smallest bit of work the whole of tomorrow.” Now, isn’t that a goal?
So, it is quite apparent we all have goals in life, but we do not always set them the right way. What we often do instead is let them settle as some fuzzy, faraway targets in the back of our minds.
By knowing the proper goal-setting techniques and setting purposeful goals, you become clear about where do you need to focus your attention and efforts to reach success in life.
- Importance refers to the factors making attaining a goal important, including the expected outcomes (Locke & Latham, 2002).
- Self-efficacy is the belief that one can attain their goal (Locke & Latham, 2002).
Importance and self-efficacy enhance the goal commitment by the individual.— Locke & Latham, 2006
Goal-setting is a highly practical process that helps you choose where you want to take yourself in life. The right goals prod you to take charge of your life. But with no goals, you get no direction, attention, or motivation for success.
The question, therefore, is of setting productive and valuable goals — ones that are the best real-world images of our hopes, aspirations, and dreams.
5 Golden Rules of Goal-Setting
According to Mind Tools, the 5 golden rules of setting goals are:
- Set goals that motivate
- Set SMART goals
- Write down the goals
- Make an action plan
- Stick to the plan
When you set effective goals, you feel better about them immediately after. That in itself sets the dice rolling. And remember that happiness for most of us, most of the time, is not a thing that just happens; it comes from planning and setting goals for things that are important to us.
Let that be your goal today.
[This article was featured on Mint’s blog: How To Set Goals And Achieve Them.]
By the way, did you ever find out your personal definition of success?
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Author Bio: Sandip Roy is a psychology writer, happiness researcher, and medical doctor. Founder of Happiness India Project, and chief editor of its blog. He writes popular-science articles on positive psychology and related topics.
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