It’s that time of year again when our focus turns to starting anew. The New Year – the perfect opportunity to set new goals and dream new dreams. But how often have you set yourself goals in the past and failed to follow through? Wouldn’t it be nice to confidently achieve your goals this time?
On average around half of Americans set new year resolutions, yet less than 10% of them will stick with them beyond the first couple of months. Researchers at the University of Scranton say that of those that set themselves goals for the new year, only 30% make it past the first two weeks. Less than 8% will still be working towards them six months later.
While the start of the new year seems like the natural time to set ourselves new goals, in reality we are free to do this at any time of the year. We can always take time to reflect on ourselves and our current situation and determine where we want to go next.
Setting goals should be a natural part of life as failure to choose a path and set goals can result in literally going nowhere, leading to a life of unfulfilled potential, missed opportunities, and regret. For many of use, setting goals isn’t the problem; it’s how to achieve your goals that causes issues.
“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”Benjamin Franklin
Achieve Your Goals
Unfortunately, simply setting goals for yourself doesn’t guarantee you’ll achieve them. Even if you know what you want to achieve, without a proper process to ensure you set and follow through on your goals in the most effective way you are likely to struggle to achieve them.
As a coach, I work with clients struggling to achieve their goals for a number of reasons. Sometimes it is because they haven’t clearly identified what they want (or don’t really know what they want!) and other times it is because there are underlying barriers in their thinking that they haven’t identified and dealt with that are causing them to fail.
In pretty much all cases, my clients lack confidence in their ability to achieve their goals for one reason of another. My job is to help them dig deeper into their goals and underlying thought processes to root out the issues and help them find that confidence and motivation to achieve.
The Four Step Process
I use a simple four-step model designed to help my clients come away from each session feeling confident and ready to take real action towards their goals. It may not be the same action they thought they would be taking (and in some cases it’s not even the same goal!) but in all cases, my clients have a better understanding of their unique strengths, motivations, and needs, and how to leverage them to get what they want.
Setting the goal itself is only step one in the process. You then need to explore deeper for barriers, challenges, and the stories you tell yourself, followed by generating options to address these, and an action plan that utilizes your unique personality and skills to not only work towards the goal itself but to navigate successfully around the challenges that will present themselves.
The process is summed up nicely as the ‘GROW’ model:
G = setting your goal
R = exploring your reality
O = creating options
W = defining the way forward
G: Setting an Effective Goal
The first step in the process is to set the goal you wish to achieve. You will have most likely heard of SMART goal setting before, or have had some experience in setting goals or targets for yourself. However, there are several things to consider when setting your goal that most people do not do:
- What do you really want? Remember to focus your goal on want you want, not what you don’t want.
- Focus on what you gain, not what you lose. For example, ‘giving up sweets’ focuses on losing something, which our minds do not instinctively like. ‘Give myself healthy food’ focuses on something you gain/get to have, and is easier for your mind to see as a positive.
- Make sure there is a timeframe attached. A goal without a timeframe is just a dream.
- How will you know when you’ve achieved it? Be specific and set a measurable goal. For example, ‘lose weight’ isn’t specific enough as you could lose a few ounces and technically have achieved it. ‘Lose 10lb’ is much more specific, measurable, and impactful.
- Make sure you are motivated! Check if your goal is a means or end goal. If it is a means goal, make sure you can identify the end goal it will help you achieve so that you can access the motivation to achieve it
Once you’ve got your goal set, it’s time to explore your current reality.
R: Exploring your Reality
The second step in the GROW model is reality. Specifically, this means taking a long, hard look at your current situation relative to your goal. Your aim is to determine two major things: Your starting point and your story.
Your starting point
Where are you currently at in relation to your goal? Have you already started working on it in some way or is this a fresh start? Take a moment to think about where you are starting from. Consider what skills and abilities you have that currently have that could be useful, and what resources you have available to you (monetary, information, other people etc.). Think about things you’ve tried before, or similar experiences you’ve had that could provide useful information to you.
Essentially, you are taking an inventory of your current situation and the tools you have at your disposal. This is where you can focus in on your unique skills set, personality, and experiences to determine what might work for you.
Here, you want to think very carefully about the stories you tell yourself related to this goal. Let’s say your goal is to get a promotion. Ask yourself why you don’t have it already and see what thoughts come up. Do you tell yourself it is because you are not smart enough/assertive enough/skilled enough? Do you tell yourself it is the fault of other people holding you back or getting promoted ahead of you? Or is it a more positive sounding story that you have been promoted in the past and that you are progressing in the right direction and ready to step up to the next challenge?
The story you tell yourself reveals your underlying thoughts and limiting beliefs. These are the unconscious thoughts and barriers your mind constructs that if not dealt with, will sabotage your efforts to achieve your goal.
Taking some time to uncover your limiting beliefs and unhelpful habits of thought will be important in the next step, where you will start coming up with ways to navigate around (or straight though!) them.
O: Creating Options
The third step is to create options. This is the most creative and fun of all the steps, and invites you to think as wildly and creatively as you can!
Your aim in this step is to get down on paper as many ideas a possible of action steps you could take to move you closer towards your goal. Don’t just list out the obvious steps – try to think of as many possible ways as you can. Sometimes, the best ideas come from the craziest places!
Once you’ve written down all of your ideas, as yourself these questions to generate a few more that you wouldn’t have ever thought about
- What could you do if you knew you wouldn’t fail?
- What if money or time were no object?
- What if you had a magic wand?
- What would (friend/partner/famous person) do?
- What will you definitely NOT do?
Ok, now you have a list of possible action steps it’s time to tackle the things you uncovered in ‘reality’. In step two, you identified the limiting beliefs and mental barriers that could prevent you from achieving your goals. Go through your action steps and see where you might need to add, modify, or eliminate possibilities based on your limitations. If you know that you have a fear of speaking to large groups and one of your actions involves presentations, then think how this could be modified to suit you better. Perhaps you could practice first to build confidence, take a public speaking course, or find an alternative way to deliver your presentation. The key is to honor your unique self and adapt the action steps to be achievable for you.
Next, go through the strengths, skills, resources, and experiences you identified in step two. How can you use these to help? What new options do these open up for you? How can you use them to overcome your challenges?
W: The Way Forward
The final step in the process is to determine the Way Forward. This means to create your action plan! Using the action step options you listed before, along with your unique reality, define for yourself exactly what you will do.
The key here is not to overwhelm yourself with huge, unrealistic action plans. Just create a plan that will get you one step closer. Then, come back to it and add more actions that will get you another step closer when you are ready.
Imagine a scale from 1 to 10. 1 is the very beginning, in which you have achieved literally nothing towards your goal. 10 at the other end is fully achieved. Let’s say your goal is to lose 50 pounds in weight, so point 1 would be your starting weight and point 10 on the scale would be 50 pounds lost. For arguments sake, let’s also say you’ve already lost 5 pounds towards your goal (yay!) so you aren’t starting from 1, you are starting from 2 on our scale (you can approximate this for any goal – it doesn’t need to be exact, just a rough estimation of where you are between 1 and 10).
When deciding on your action plan, focus on those tasks that will move you one step closer from a ‘2’ to a ‘3’. Don’t think ‘what do I need to do to lose another 45 pounds’ as this is too much of a jump. Create a plan to move you one step closer – i.e. ‘what do I need to do to lose another 5 pounds”. This is much MUCH more achievable and likely to work.
Once you’ve moved one step closer, come back to your actions list and create a new plan to move you another step closer until you get to your goal! Move up from a ‘3’ to a ‘4’, then ‘4’ to a ‘5’ and so on until you hit 10.
Putting it all together
In essence, confident goal setting isn’t just about deciding what you want and setting a random goal to achieve it. It is about digging deeper into the core of who you are, your unique set of skills, experiences, personality, and challenges, then creating an action plan that accounts for each of these elements and helps you move step by step towards your goal.
Too often we set goals followed by a surface-level plan to achieve them based on conventional wisdom. But what works for others won’t always work for us, and just because the usual steps to achieve a goal seem obvious doesn’t mean they will work for you.
Take the time to go through the GROW process with your goals. The insight gained will give you a much greater chance of success.