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  • Susan Snedaker

2017: One Goal At a Time

I read a great article from Harvard Business Review this morning about goal-setting for 2017. In the article ("Stop Setting Goals You Don’t Actually Care About" by Elizabeth Grace Saunders), the author posits that by setting goals we "should" care about, we drown out the goals we actually do care about. She provides numerous examples from her own work.

This is the time of year most people feel a surge of renewed energy to start over, start in earnest, or just start. It's smart to use the collective focus on renewal to energize your own goals, if you are so inclined. However, here are some tips - both from the article and from experience - that may help you success this year.

Set Just One Goal

If you set more than one goal, you'll likely end up getting distracted from achieving your goal. If you have one goal that you use to anchor your efforts, you're more likely to be successful in achieving that goal. If you set three or four goals for yourself, you're likely to get lost along the way. If you are setting small goals (see next), you can set several but don't fall into the trap of trying to move the dial on several major fronts at once. The goal is to reach your goal, then you can move on to the next one.

Mark Your Progress in "Laughably Small" Increments

We all know that human beings are resistant to change by nature. We wear little grooves in our behavior patterns and they become comfortable. Change is usually uncomfortable, so we often tolerate 'less-than' in order to avoid change. One piece of sage advice I heard dispensed once (at Canyon Ranch) was "commit to a laughably small change." What does that mean? It means that if you told someone what you were committing to as part of your change process, they might laugh (and so might you). Want to lose weigh? Commit to drinking 2 more glasses of water per day than you do today. Laughably small. Nothing about drinking 24 ounces of water daily that feels threatening, right? But that becomes habit and you can tackle the next small change.

In Lean and in martial arts, this process is known as kaizen, which means good change. It's typically interpreted to mean small, continuous change. If you want to improve something, you improve it in very small increments, monitor and repeat. The same holds true with achieving goals. Setting small increments of accomplishment and making sure those are locked in before moving on.

Want to get better at public speaking? Improve your team communication skills? Revise your time management approach? Build up your business acumen? These are all worthwhile goals to focus on for the upcoming year and all can be accomplished in small steps.

Monitor, measure, re-calibrate

Of course, once you set a goal (a tiny goal), you have to commit to achieving it consistently. There are many methods available to help you from an automated calendar reminder to online groups to sticky-notes on your computer monitor and more. Find a way to monitor and measure your progress against this tiny goal. If you're not achieving it, step back and look at why.

To circle back to the Harvard Business Review article, Saunders argues that if you're not achieving your goal, it might not be energizing enough for you. If you find that you really don't care about that goal or that you are spending more time doing something else, assess whether or not it's time to ditch that goal and focus on something you really care about. If you could accomplish just one notable thing this year, what would it be?

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