Laura Burke - Coach
Second half success
Updated: Oct 22, 2022
There is no time like the present
You may think of goal setting as something best done at the start of a new year, but the truth is: there is no wrong time to put pen to paper and start the important unfolding that can happen as a result of setting goals. And midyear is actually a perfect time to set (or reset) goals!
In full disclosure, just setting goals isn’t some magical seed – do that one little exercise and “Poof!” everything changes. You must actually commit to doing the work towards achieving the goals, and track your progress along the way. The entire goals process has two very tangible benefits:
Accomplishment: results typically speak for themselves. Launching your own business, running your first marathon, taking that dream vacation – the result itself can be tremendously rewarding.
Personal growth: who you become along the journey. Goals stretch us to do things we haven’t done before, to become better than we used to be. Often, even when a goal itself is not actually achieved the process itself has been rewarding.
Let’s unpack ‘personal growth’ a bit. Obvious ways to grow are in the skills you need relative to your actual goal. If that goal to run a first marathon is yours, chances are you become a better runner in pursuit of it. Perhaps not as obvious are the skills you need to simply set your goals, track your progress, and keep moving towards that outcome: self-reflection, clarity on your values and priorities, considering the value you can bring to others; the ability to focus and overcome procrastination; increased productivity and self-confidence.
OK, so what’s the best way to go about setting goals? Well, it depends. I rarely find one thing that is universally right for everyone. Everyone is unique in how they think and act, with their unique set of circumstances. There are, however, some basic principles that are helpful so I’ll share those and some options for you to consider.
Before you actually start drafting goals, it’s useful to take a bit of a step back. Your thoroughness will depend on how much time you want to spend here, as well as your affinity towards forward- and/or inward-looking activities. Considering where you want to be in 5 years, 10 years, even 20 years is one way to take a step back. Writing your epitaph is another way – that is, when you’re gone, what will your friends and family say about you? I have to admit, this one is a little morbid for my taste! But some people find it very enlightening. A simple place to start is using a Life Wheel, which is a tool to help you evaluate how you feel about various aspects of your life and where you might want to focus. Here’s a little more about my Life Wheel – check it out! It can also be helpful to reflect on the year that is closing out (if you are doing this exercise at the end of the year); or reflect on a 6-18 month period (if doing this at another time of year).
Now you are ready to start! First, decide on a time horizon. I find goals most useful when the target completion is 1 year or less. But, when you are doing this exercise is important to consider, as well as whether you care about the calendar year. For example, if you are setting goals mid-year, and like working on a calendar year, perhaps you start with goals that are achievable in ~6 months or less. Or, perhaps you are setting goals for the first time and goals that are achievable in ~3 months or less give you much greater confidence. If you have bigger, longer term goals, you can create sub-goals on shorter time horizons to make them more manageable.
Next: brainstorm! If you completed a Life Wheel exercise, that can give you a framework in which to draft at least 3-5 goals in each ‘category’ (i.e. area of your life). If you prefer, you can just simply start writing whatever comes to mind, but do strive for at least 25 goals and do strive to cover all the areas of your life. Typically people consider goals focused on business, career and finances, on health and fitness; also think about relationships (e.g. family, friends), lifestyle (e.g. hobbies, travel), and your internal focus (e.g. mindfulness, faith).
Goal competition says that one of the greatest barriers to achieving your goals is the other goals you have
One thing many people struggle with is narrowing the list down, but this is critical. Only you can decide what the right number of goals is. It can be just 1 if you are laser focused! I like 3 goals. Three is, in fact, the magic number according to both School House Rock and De La Soul. Not experts on goals, per se, but still… If you’ve created a few goals in each of the Life Wheel categories, you can start by selecting the top goal in each category, then narrow down to your target number. You can cut your list down incrementally – perhaps from 25 to 12, and then to your final number. Or, rather than narrowing down, you can ‘select up’ – think: if you could only pick one goal, what would it be? Repeat this process until you’ve selected your target number of goals.
To craft your goals, start with the SMART goals structure – goals that are Specific, Measurable, (Attainable), Relevant, and Time-bound. The specificity is important both in helping you visualize (that’s another topic for another day!) and being able to go after it, clear on when you have achieved it. You’ve no doubt heard the expression “you can’t improve what you can’t measure.” “Losing weight” is measurable – but how do you know when you have achieved the goal? On the other hand, you’ll know when you have achieved a goal of “Fitting into my wedding dress” – a goal you set as you are preparing to renew your wedding vows on your 50th anniversary. Time-bound is pretty clear – by when do you want to achieve the goal?
I skipped the “A” above. The A in SMART goals typically stands for Attainable, meaning realistic, something you can reasonably achieve. Sometimes, especially if you are new to the whole ‘goal thing,’ setting smaller goals that you can achieve easily will help you develop the skills and confidence necessary to take bigger steps later. On the other hand, a lot of people recommend setting a BHAG – which stands for Big Hairy Audacious Goal. (So, perhaps replace the “Attainable” in SMART with “Audacious”!) I’ve never liked this term. Maybe it’s because it is pronounced “Bee-Hag” so it just sounds like hag. According to dictionary.com “Historically, a hag is an old, ugly woman with evil powers.” Hag is also an abbreviation for hagfish – which has “a slimy eel-like body, a mouth surrounded by barbels, and a rasping tongue used for feeding on dead or dying fish.” As gross looking as it sounds. I had never heard of a hagfish before looking for the exact definition of hag… thanks Google. Maybe it’s because while audacious can mean “showing a willingness to take surprisingly bold risks,” it can also mean “showing an impudent lack of respect.” But I digress… The term BHAG aside, setting bold, aggressive goals can be powerful and motivating and allow you to push well past what you thought was possible. The point is: determine how ambitious you want your goals to be. You’ll find as many sources advising you to set a BHAG (i.e. audacious goal) as you will sources advising you to set SMART (i.e. achievable) goals. What’s right for you? Only you can decide.
I also skipped over the “R” above: Relevant. Regardless of how you get to your goals, how many you have, and how ambitious they are, it is critical to ensure that your goals are truly meaningful to you. Make sure you know why you want to achieve that goal. Don’t sell yourself short, or select goals because you think you should, to please someone else, or because they simply sound good. Pressure test your reason for selecting each goal and allow yourself to feel the emotion. If you want more on this topic, check out Simon Sinek’s book “Start with Why” or his TEDTalk.
If you are an abundance thinker, perhaps the idea of restricting your goals to a specific target with a specific date makes you uncomfortable – like you’re limiting yourself to only achieve that much – but no more, and prohibiting yourself from achieving it sooner. I struggled with this myself. One way to get past this is by using phrases such as “at least,” “or more” and “or sooner” with your targets. For example, "Pay off my car by September 2020 or sooner" or "Travel in Italy for at least 3 weeks in 2021."
Setting goals is a very powerful first step, and we’ve covered a lot here! There’s more to the successful implementation of your goals, and I’ll share resources on my Facebook page, or perhaps future blogs, on how to pursue and track goals and other tips. If you’ve never set a goal in your life – there’s no time like the present! If you already have goals, take a little time to make sure they’re set in a way that serves you best.