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Ten Best Practices for Missing your Goals by Leslie Dow

I’m a project manager at heart.

I love a GANTT chart and live and die by my To-Do list.

I organize my organizer.

I set goals, I set milestones and then…..I listen for that WOOOSHING noise they make as they go by.

Because even people like me who really love the setting, managing, and achieving goals miss them more often than they hit.

It’s because goals are hard to get right, things change in the middle, and we human animals get distracted and wander off (even those of us with GANTT charts tattooed on our butts *wink*). Then we tell ourselves that we are failures and toss out, or worse, ignore the rest of our goals. Sad but true.

I’m pretty sure I’ve missed as many goals as I’ve nailed, and over the years I’ve come up with what I like to call my:

Best Practices for Missing a Goal.

Any of these sound familiar?

1.    Don’t write them down. (The Mind Meld)
2.    Don’t have a plan to achieve them.   (The And then a Miracle Occurs…)
2.    Be vague. Add in some hand-waving. (Goal-ish)
3.    Make a bunch of goals and don’t give them any priorities or detail. (Kitchen Sink Goals)
4.    Make them REALLY BIG! Hey, everyone deserves a moonshot! (NYT Bestseller by April! BooYah! Fist-pump!)
5.    Make them dependent on someone else doing something for you. (Find True Love Goals)
6.    Make them dependent on luck. (Lottery Goals)
7.    Don’t tell anyone about them. (Stealth Goals)
8.    Don’t check in with them occasionally about your progress. (Imaginary Goals)
9.    Don’t be willing to change them as life smacks you around. (Written in Stone Goals)
10.  Don’t make them at all. (No goals)

This is tongue in cheek, of course. The reality is that most people want to set goals and meet them. In January the goal-setting fever bites and everyone has goals which are mostly forgotten by March.  There are ways to improve your chances for arriving next December with a list of goals you have achieved. There are the obvious ones that we all know. My favorite and the most often used by Human Resource Planners and Program Managers throughout corporate America… SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bounded) are likely the best. You can do a Google search and come up with all kinds of SMART goal help. I love SMART but it’s not enough to have good goal setting practices. So I have a few suggestions and some interesting research.

Keep your goals as flexible as your life.

You have a life, and that life changes over the year. Think about last year at this time. Are you doing now what you expected? Did crazy **** happen to you over the year? OK, that’s life!  Too often we kick ourselves for not following through and achieving goals we set in January simply because we did not give ourselves the permission to change. You control your goals, they are there to guide you and help you decide your day to day priorities. When those goals no longer reflect the reality of your life, the goals must change. It’s just that simple.  Give yourself the permission to change your goals any time they are no longer working for you. Really. It’s not cheating.

Monitor your progress in sync with the way you think.

We have a tendency to drift away from something when the ultimate reward is too far away. Oh, its all skittles and beer at first when the goals are shiny and new, and it gets thrilling again as the end approaches. It’s that long slog in the middle where the beginning is behind us and we cannot see the end. At that point we become prey for any pretty new thing that wanders by.

Andrea Bonezzi, Miguel Brendl and Matteo De Angelis did some great research on this at the Kellogg School of Business. Apparently,  our motivation to reach the end of any set of tasks depends on where we look. We do a lot better when we switch our attention based on our location in the process.

The graph below from Bonezzi article describes the attention in two groups of test subjects. The experimental design encouraged a “To Date” group to look back to measure progress while a “To-Go” group was encouraged to look toward the goal. They found the motivation of the backward-looking group drops as they move toward the goal while the forward-looking group rises.

From Mastering Motivation by Andrea Bonezzi, Miguel Brendl and Matteo De Angelis at the Kellog School of Business.

So what’s the take-home here?  When you start working toward any goal,  keep your eyes looking back, think about everything you have already accomplished. Don’t think about the end until you pass the middle, then think about what you will achieve relative to where you are now. Focus on the closing gap between your now and your goal.  Bonezzi et. al. suggest that we provide extra bonus rewards when we are in the middle.  Maybe that’s where you buy those new shoes? I’ve got my eye on a new pair of boots…

I love research like this. It helps me hit more goals than I miss.  And that’s what it’s all about. Reaching our goals and achieving our dreams.

One of the other takehomes from the research is fairly obvious, you have to monitor your progress toward any goal.  Sound simple but how many times have you set goals in January and then ‘remembered’ them in August. Oops. Right, so that’s where accountability comes in. It always helps to have others “help” you remember.

We like achieving goals, too.

We do a goal setting event every December. But every November we find that most of us simply do not make good progress toward those goals and one of the biggest reasons is a lack of accountability. So, this year we are fixing that. We’re adding a 2018 Accountability Team to our goal setting event. We’ll have a group check in each month. Nothing hard or cumbersome, just a quick couple of lines on how you’re doing toward your goal.

Don’t worry about forgetting, we’ll remind you.

Errr actually our email bot will remind all of us (because we forget, too!). And when we post we’ll all get encouragement, commiseration, and attaboys from our fellow-goal achievers!

When November 2018 rolls around you’ll have made excellent progress on all your goals! Join us for Plot your Success in 2018
Goals and Planning! from December 5-14 with a 2018 Accountability Team for the rest of 2018!. This event is free for all SavvyAuthor’s Premium Members.



[box type=bio]

Leslie DowLeslie is:

  1. The site director and owner of where she sits behind the curtain most days turning interweb knobs and twisting network dials.
  2. A complete and total slacker-writer who, if she does not get off her laurels and WRITE, is going to be flayed by the very talented writers who keep SavvyAuthors going.
  3. A rabid hiker who, when not on the trail, pours over the REI catalog, Sierra Trading Post website, and tries to justify buying more gear to shave another 1/2 ounce off her base pack weight.
  4. A medical device consultant who, when not hiking or thinking about hiking, occasionally works helping companies bring exceptionally cool and useful medical devices to market.
  5. A biology and chemistry Adjunct Professor at SouthMountain Community College. GO COUGARS!
  6. An enthusiastic grandmother of the two cutest babies on the planet!!!!

OK, I’m out..time to sort the latest crisis is to afflict SavvyAuthors  ;-).

Follow Leslie on Twitter @lesliedow, Facebook lesliedow, and LinkedIn lesliedow.



Leslie is: The site director and owner of where she sits behind the curtain most days turning interweb knobs and twisting network di...