It’s coming up to that time of year when we set our sights on what we want to achieve in the coming year. You religiously sit down and start the process of goal setting – and usually set a string of goals, only to find you lose belief in them before the proverbial ink is dry. Alternatively, you set clearly defined goals and begin the year full of enthusiasm only to find that by mid-February, the spreadsheet or word document has somehow disappeared under a pile of electronic papers or, worse still, been forgotten.

The good news is you may be using the classic goal-setting approach, which doesn’t work for everyone. With a different strategy, you may find you can set sustainable goals that work for you. 

Which approach is right for you?

Classic goal setting adheres to the SMART principle. i.e., Specific Measurable Achievable Reasonable or relevant & Time specific.

While this approach is proven and works for many of us, it is outcome or completion based. Although successful coaches, for example, in the sporting arena, are judged by concrete results and trophies, their goal is very often to get individuals or the team to improve their performance each time they engage. They know if they consistently improve, trophies will inevitably follow.

As an example of a ‘process’ approach, a writer may have a goal of writing for a minimum time or specific length of time every day. They might reason, in this way, they will then complete the book or manuscript. 

We can argue that finishing the book or manuscript is the desired outcome, the goal, and writing for the minimum time is the means to that end, the finished work. The difference is perhaps one of perception, but the process goal can often help avoid overwhelm.

What is a big goal, anyway?

Some years ago, I facilitated groups of people in a London Clinic, who were in recovery from addiction to a variety of substances. I quickly learned what I perceived to be small steps were enormous steps to many of them. They achieved progress by taking small, connected steps, and enjoying small but steady growth.

Working with athletes is often about improving personal bests even if the ultimate goal is Olympic glory. The results inevitably follow. Not everyone wants to set huge goals, but we should not confuse this with a lack of ambition. I know because I spent several years feeling frustrated when I didn’t always meet my goals. When I reflect on that period, I was making slow progress, despite feeling like a failure because I missed some big targets. Had I measured success by assessing progress, I may have felt more satisfied with my endeavours.

Lastly, remember only you should be the judge of your own success, as only you can define what success or achievement means to you. Allowing others to define it for you is giving away your power and can lead to dissatisfaction. 

Don’t let me define what or how goals should look like to you. Everything I’ve said is only my opinion. You should be the judge of your own progress and happiness.

How do you set goals? I’d love to hear from you.