Formulating goals – 4 cases of wrong vs right way to do it

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We have managed to identify three major challenges people face when working on their objectives. The one that tops the list is a poor or inadequate definition of what we want. This can not only make it hard for us to succeed but it can also bring an outright failure. Today we would like to show how to deal with it by going over a few examples.

The downward spiral

The following are these most common issues. They can manifest themselves in varying degrees but in general, they always go hand in hand with each other.

  1. The first is a bad wording and poor understanding of the goal. That’s exactly how we get on the wrong track from the very beginning. And it will make it practically impossible to figure out what exactly we are aiming at;
  2. The second is procrastination. It is the state of mind when we do nothing more than daydreaming about what great things lie ahead of us in the future;
  3. The last one is when we don’t apply ourselves with the needed amount of perseverance to keep soldiering on.

That’s what we likely to call a “downward spiral”.  It starts with the fuzzily defined goal that fails to motivate us and then makes it so easy to keep delaying and postponing any action.

No wonder that so many people quickly give up when everyday life takes over any other priorities. So, what could be done then?

No need to get discouraged!

Goal setting is just like any other skill. The old saying “Practice makes perfect” fully applies to it.

No doubt it can also get us in the upward direction. You will have a clear-cut idea of what you want. Your objectives will be well defined and, therefore, you can pursue them with confidence.

Where and how do we start?

The correct way to define your goals

In the book “The 4 Keys to Achieving Goals” we outline how success can be unlocked with the following four keys:

  • The long-term vision for the most important things in your life;
  • The 90-day goals that take you closer and closer to your dreams;
  • The weekly steps. These are the constant small acts that build up over time and bring us closer and closer to the finish line;
  • And the Goal Buddy – providing support and objectivity.

On the pages of our book, we offer a number of strategies and tactics while illustrating them with stories from our life experience.

Let’s start with this very popular objective of ours to get in shape.

Wrong # 1: “I want to lose weight!”

Perhaps the mistake here is obvious. The objective is a bit too general, right? Plus, there is no process, no deadline or any time-frame. In short, it’s no more than wishful thinking.

Let’s see what happens if we try a bit harder here.

“I want to lose 5 pounds in 3 months” – Wrong again!

Now it is a bit more specific. The target is specific as well as the time it would take to get there. It is a typical “SMART” goal. It might look perfectly Okay to many of us but there is one thing that’s not been addressed. Namely, it is the reality that not everything will be under your control.

One of the most consequential rules in the “GoalBuddy” system is that we can take charge of only our actions, not the result.

The truth is that getting rid of several pounds isn’t something that depends solely on how much time and energy you put into it. One might do all the exercises and diets and still not be able to move the scale’s needle much.

The two keys to formulating any 90-day goal

The first is to focus on your actions. The choice of words should fully reflect what you are committing to do. When you do that you are taking control back.

The second one is the desired result. It will play the role of a guiding light and not the end in itself.

A good and working definition has to put seamlessly together both the action and the intended output.

The correct definition:

It may vary a little bit for different people, but in broader strokes, it is as follows:

Action: Go to the gym 3 times a week for 3 months.

Desired end result: In doing so I may lose up to 5 pounds.

At the end of the quarter, you must first see if you did stick 100% to the Action part. If you did and lost some weight then you are on the right track. But if you didn’t then changes are needed. You may have to revise your strategy and perhaps increase the levels of exercise and be more careful with how you eat.

The best part here is that the objective is framed in such a way that failure becomes impossible. You concentrate on what you have done so far even if it didn’t quite work out. Next time you’ll do better and that’s called progress.

Confidence, not despair

Very often, it’s the disappointment of the “poor” results that makes it so hard. That’s the moment when the limiting beliefs start coming to the forefront.

But when we pay attention to what we do, an interesting thing happens.

We regularly gain a little bit more belief in ourselves with every 90 days completed. It accumulates over time until the moment when we suddenly become aware of this new realization – we are successful. Eventually, this sensation becomes an integral part of us.

We are now someone who can lose weight if our mind is set on it. And thoughts like that will push us to go after our bigger dreams. This is the upward spiral of growth and achievement.

Let’s turn to yet another typical situation.

Wrong # 2: “Read 3 books in 3 months!”

There is once again the pre-determined result, i.e. the number of books to be finished.

This time around the action is quite unambiguous – you should read. However, there is nothing about when, how, or by how much. The other issue is that sometimes you can go from cover to cover in just a few days. But there are some other times when it becomes real torture that can last for weeks. The reality is that it isn’t completely up to us whether we can finish exactly 3 books for the given period of time.

And how about if we change things a little bit…

“I will read one hour every day” – Wrong again!

A friend of ours did phrase his intention as above. The good part is the emphasis on the action. But it’s a failure in waiting just because the definition is so restrictive.

Regular reading is a habit-building goal. Fortunately, there are many “tricks” that could make things easier for us.

“Tricks” to the rescue…

First, it’s a good idea to always give yourself a little bit of breathing space. You shouldn’t be too harsh in judgment if you didn’t manage to work on your objectives every single day of your life.

Second, it helps a lot to attach the new habit to an already established one. Let’s say you regularly go for a run in the park in the evening. How about you make reading a part of the rest you take after the run.

The last piece of advice is always to aim at the minimum, not the maximum. In other words, you commit to less time or effort, and then it is much easier gradually increase the load. The idea is to just keep turning the wheel.

The correct definition:

Action: To read for something like half an hour, 5 days a week.

Desired end result: I have read three books.

As you determine the minimum you can do then it is always easier to find a way and the time to do more. You can read on the subway, during lunch break or before going to bed. That could make all the difference in forming the new habit.

Our next example will be a tricky one.

Wrong # 3: “Buy a new house!”

Here the result is presented as action.

The goal is defined exclusively through the target of our efforts, i.e. buying a property. Without outlining what we have to do there won’t be any clear idea how to even start working on it.

Here is another and much more explicit alternative:

“To survey the property market and find out if it can meet my requirements and budget” – Wrong again!

Even this much more detailed plan with an emphasis on your work is not what you need.

The problem is how you measure your performance. For example, you can review the real estate listings regularly, and you can go check out a few properties every week. These are the details you want to specify and be able to assess.

That’s why we would rather suggest something else:

The correct definition:

Action: Set aside something like a couple of hours every week for research.

Desired end result: To get a clear understanding of where exactly my criteria and budget intersect with the real estate market.

There is no guarantee that your efforts will lead to buying a property. But when you act according to your plan you are making progress as well as educating yourself about the whole process. In short, you are doing it the right way.

Wrong # 4 “Once a week I and my sister go swimming.”

Doesn’t that one look almost perfect? You got everything – the action, the time-frame. It is crystal clear.

The problem is that you don’t actually have a sister. What we mean here is that you can’t make your fortunes for success be a consequence of somebody else’s behavior.

We should make sure that our goals always depend entirely on our actions and not those of other people.

The correct definition:

Action: Go to the swimming pool once a week and ask my sister if she wants to join me.

Desired end result: to start swimming and then get my sister to join me.

And in the case that you are already a regular at the swimming pool:

Action: Call my sister and ask her if she wants to join.

Desired end result: My sister and I go swimming once a week.

So, you focus only on what is up to you – to exercise regularly and to find someone to be your company.

In “The 4 Keys to Achieving Goals” you will find many more ideas and practical advice for overcoming numerous obstacles.

About the meaning of a good definition

After all, many people believe that they are ill-equipped to fulfill their dreams or that they are not good at achieving anything. But this is hardly the case. The truth is that they set their goals in the wrong manner. When you don’t have a good understanding of the matter you are dealing with you are pretty much doomed from the very beginning of your journey.

The good news is that with practice anyone can become better at anything they do. It’s a matter of time before you start seeing beyond the obvious and define your objectives in the best possible way. Step by step you will be able to build up confidence and hone the skill. With enough time and perseverance, all the pieces will fall into their rightful places.


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