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Goals inspire us to create lives we love. That is, if those goals are meaningful, healthy and well written. Unfortunately though, most people don’t know how to set effective goals so end up giving up before they really give themselves a good chance at success. Part of the reason people struggle with effective goal setting is that they don’t spend enough time planning. Yet the design process is of equal importance to the implementation.
In coaching and therapy, assessment is a crucial first step before goal setting for very good reason. Effective goals can only be established with knowledge of causes and maintaining factors of behaviour: what, when, where and with whom does the behaviour occur (or not occur). Take the desire to lose weight as an example. For greatest success, it is important NOT to just set the goal of losing five kilos. Rather one must explore factors such as when problem eating occurs, current and past exercise habits, and how the person deals with stress and emotion.
Throughout the process of evaluation it may become clear that rather than losing five kilos the goal of eating a more balanced diet or exercising five times a week would be more useful. The overall outcome may still be to lose weight, but the goal becomes centred on the person’s key challenges with losing weight rather than weight loss itself.
There are several key factors that can help improve the way you set goals, and in turn, your success at realising those goals. Below are several strategies to consider.
How to Succeed at Goal Setting
1. Gain self-awareness
Goal setting experts tell you to set SMART goals but you can only do this when you have enough information about what is causing and maintaining the problem in the first place. So always start your goal setting plans by self-monitoring what is actually going on. Spend a week or so observing when the behaviour happens or doesn’t happen, what triggers it, what you think at the time, and how you feel. This analysis will help identify what the goal should really be for lasting success.
2. Use the SMART goal process
Some people fail to set personal goals because they don’t know how to write “good” goals. Effective goal setting takes practice, so give yourself a chance to develop the skill over time rather than expect yourself to do it properly straight away. According to the SMART goal philosophy all goals should be:S: specific
(E.g. “exercise for twenty minutes three times a week” rather than “increase weekly exercise”)M: measurable
(E.g. “eat dessert only twice per week” as opposed to “eat less dessert”)A: attractive
(E.g. “so I can fit into my new black dress” rather than “so I feel less fat”)R: realistic
(E.g. “lose one kilo per week” as opposed to “20 kilos in the next three months”)T: time framed
(E.g. “by 30th August 2013” rather than no specified time line)
3. Shape your behaviour
Most of us expect unwavering success from ourselves immediately when starting a new health plan or trying a new self-development goal. This is not how behaviour change works in the long-term. Shaping is a term psychologists use to refer to rewarding small incremental changes first and then shifting to reward larger increments over time. Hence, reward yourself with your favourite movie after exercising just once a week to begin with. Then after a couple of weeks increase the target to two times a week in order to receive the reward, and choose another reinforcer like buying yourself a new top or piece of jewellery. Then after another couple of weeks move to reinforcing three exercise sessions per week. This is shaping.
4. Put contingencies in place
Face it… life gets in the way of our well intentioned plans. Just when you decide to start your exercise routine the rain sets in or just when you plan to start a new morning routine your kid falls ill. It’s inevitable that things will get in the way of your well intentioned plans, so make sure you set up contingencies to stop them stopping you. The best way to do this is to list all the factors that could stop you from taking action on your goal: kids getting sick, rain setting in, boss asking for some major project by tomorrow. Then brainstorm strategies to overcome those obstacles before they have the chance to occur.
5. Recruit support
Lastly, our current environment and support system can sabotage our efforts at changing habits and incorporating new lifestyle choices. We are more likely to succeed at making change if we actively recruit support to stay on track. Ask your best friend to help you cut your shopping budget by choosing other activities to do together or ask your boyfriend to help you reduce procrastination by not engaging with you until you finish your assignment. Create a support system that encourages the achievement of your goals and you’re much more likely to succeed.
LAST WEEK: Is marriage still relevant?
Author of De-stress Your Success: Get More of What You Want with Less Time, Stress and Effort, Sacha Crouch is a business, executive and life coach who helps people create the work and lives they love. For other free lifestyle resources visit www.activ8change.com.au.