A few weeks ago I wrote an article about the importance of taking action when pursuing one’s goals. In this article I want to touch on the side of proper planning as well. Only 3% of the people in North America write down their goals in detail, and the next 10% have their goals thought out in there minds, that leaves 87% who have no goals at all. Since I believe in modeling those who have succeeded in something I want to succeed at, it only makes sense to write down personal goals.
Now the process of writing goals is where I differ from many people. I function best in simplicity, but I revel in sophistication. Sophistication gets me into trouble by forcing me to focus more on perfecting my plan rather than executing it. It’s the paralysis by analysis syndrome that dooms all who fail to take action.
My goal planning starts with an idea that I write down in my personal journal. I usually let that idea simmer for a little while, and I let my “inner” voice mull it over. When I have answered “why” I want to pursue a particular goal, and that answer motivates me, I will sit down to flesh out my goal.
- Write down specifically what your goal is: This is basically a title to a book you are writing. It should be short, to the point, and catchy. It should also be something you can easy remember and recite to yourself at anytime. ie, “I want to by mentally and physically prepared for my MMA debut.”
- Set a deadline: I put a hard deadline on when the goal will be completed. This helps to minimize procrastination as well as help you create a task time-line.
- Brainstorm any milestones: Milestones are significant achievement points within your time-line. Examples of milestones could be “eliminating junk food from my diet” or “gaining 5 pounds of lean muscle mass”. Milestones are basically smaller goals that when completed, support your overall goal.
- Brainstorm any pitfalls and create an action plan: I try to do a little forward thinking in anticipation of problems that could derail my progress. Once I acknowledge these, I write a cause-effect action plan beneath each one. If in the future I encounter a foreseen pitfall I have an action plan to fix the situation. This step minimizes any regrouping and gives a little sense of relief that their is a plan to handle the bad times.
- Think of the Bright Spots: Bright spots are tasks that have already been completed. These could be skills you already possess, or knowledge you have already obtained. Anything that pertains to achieving your goal and you have to do zero work to complete it is a bright spot. Its a good feeling when I can check off a few steps in my quest to achieving a goal before I have even begun to take action. This step is highly motivating.
- Creating habits and routines: Brainstorm possible habits and routines. Habits are what I call nature’s little “freebies”. This step of creating good habits is maybe the most important one because humans are cyclical. We have a natural cycle of highs and lows and whenever we start something new and exciting we are overflowing with motivation and we have no problem getting to the gym to workout. What happens when the new wears off and the excitement ebbs? Going to the gym starts to become “work”, and by work, I mean we have to think about it, ponder it, and force ourselves to take action. When you do things habitually your subconscious mind just does it. One extremely helpful way to create habits are to get into a daily routine. For example when you get up in the morning and get ready for work or school do you actually think and ponder over each step? No you just go through the routine and it takes almost zero mental energy to do it.
- Create a task list: Once all the brainstorming is done you should have a bunch of tasks that will need to be completed to move you forward. You will need to place these tasks in an order of priority and pre or post requisite. To look at this list may be overwhelming because of all the work that has to be done and that’s okay. Remember this is a plan, a step by step instruction manual to achieving your goal.
- Put the sorted task list on a timeline: This is the step that pulls it all together. Whenever you put a deadline or a time limit on an action, it forces you to take action. So determine which tasks need to be completed within the next few days, next few weeks, and the next few months and mark them on a calendar.
- Remember the 5-90-5 rule: I adopted this rule from the construction industry. The first 5% of the job, and the last 5% of the job are the hardest to complete and consume most of the manpower. The middle 90% are the easiest. I do not know why, but I know that is holds true to goal setting and taking action as well. Getting started will be the hardest step to take, and you will fight yourself tooth and nail. Once you get rolling it will become enjoyable. So my advice to you is pick 1 single task to get started and focus only on that task only. Once that task is complete, focus on the very next one only until you begin to build up steam, and then enjoy the ride.
The major issues I have experienced with goal setting and progression was three-fold and the following tools I use may help:
- Staying on top of my goals, and visiting them everyday.
- Maintaining a balance with the rest of my life’s tasks.
Staying on top of goals and maintaining a balance: I have been quite successful with writing down my goals, putting deadlines, getting an action list together, and even getting the ball rolling, but I have had issues with sticking to my written plan. I have realized that in order for me to succeed at my goal setting I needed to visit my goal plan every single day, but how? Then I had a revelation.
I am a list maker kind of person. I enjoy writing down lists of thoughts on my mind, to-do lists, grocery lists, etc. I decided the best way to see my goal everyday was to make a weekly “to-do” list based on my overall goal one day each week. Then each morning while drinking my coffee I create a daily “to-do” list based on my weekly goal sheet coupled with life’s little “to-do’s”. This little tool keeps my goals fresh in my mind, and it helps me balance my life because I am not focusing all my energy on one goal. Every aspect of my life gets blended together and I get to revel in something else: Getting stuff done!
Motivation: Motivation is created when the goal has meaning and purpose and is aligned with personal values, and the belief system supports it. There are a few simple tools that aid in motivating.
- Visualization board. A visualization board is nothing more that a big piece of cardboard with pictures, drawings, and words on it that remind you of your goal. You can cut pictures, words, etc. from magazines and newspapers. This little “visual” triggers the neural connections created in the subconscious mind while you were writing out your goal plan. The beautiful thing about this visualization board is that every single time you look at it you strengthen that neural connection, thus increasing your motivation.
- Goal tracker chart. A goal tracker chart is similar to the charts that charity’s use to track how much money they have raised. To create one count all your tasks on your time-line and divide that number by 1. That will give you the percentage for each individual task. For example, if you have 25 tasks to complete then take 1/25 and multiply by 100 = 4%. So each task would be worth 4% of the overall goal. I found the best medium for creating this goal chart is to use a dry erase board. Unforeseen tasks will be added, and others will be dropped, so by using a dry erase board you can easily modify the chart. This visual will motivate by showing steady progress. The simple act of wanting to move the chart forward will help push you to achieve more tasks toward your goal.
You have a written goal with some forward thinking and a next actions in place. The last piece of advice is to be flexible and change directions as needed. If a certain approach isn’t moving you forward, don’t be afraid to drop it and find another approach. Don’t worry about making mistakes, because mistakes educate us. When Thomas Edison failed on his 1000 attempt to successfully build a light bulb, he said, “Now I have figured out how not to build a light bulb 1000 times.” Focus on progress rather than perfection. You will have set backs and failures and negative thoughts, and thats okay as long as you revert back to your plan, learn from your mistakes, and don’t be too hard on yourself. Keep focusing on the very next action to take to progress closer to your goal and revel in the progress not the perfection.