One of the issues that comes up frequently when running sales training seminars is the thorny issues of goals and goal setting. In my experience, few people seem to set any goals at all and even fewer stick to them! Ever since reading Anthony Robbins in my early twenties I have been a keen goal setter… and it has worked well for me. As a salesperson they helped to keep me on track, motivated and focused. As a manager they empowered me to take action to get results. As a motivational speaker in the sales training arena they have helped to give me the edge that I need to get the results that I want.
It’s common knowledge that most successful people set goals. Most successful people know what their goals are. Most successful people are aware of the power of goals and goal setting. I have written about how important setting goals is before so today I thought we would do something different…
I have interviewed my good friend Andy Smith of Coaching Leaders about the power of goals and goal setting across your whole life not just your sales and business goals. Andy is well qualified to answer these questions: he is an NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) trainer, EI (Emotional Intelligence) expert and executive coach who is a specialist in goal setting that really works. Andy is the author of the Dorling Kindersley book Achieve Your Goals: Strategies to Transform Your Life and has been featured in many publications talking about goal setting and other personal development subjects.
1. How will people benefit when they set goals?
Apart from being much more likely to achieve the goal itself, going for goals has an effect on our happiness levels. We are biologically hard-wired to feel happier if we have some sense of control and choice over our lives, which is what setting goals and taking action gives us. We change from feeling like victims of life’s circumstances, or at best passive consumers, into someone who knows they can make a difference. We are also learning along the way – even the mistakes we make, though they aren’t enjoyable at the time, will bring us valuable wisdom if we choose to learn from them.
2. Can you give us some specific examples of goals that people you know have set and achieved and how they have benefited?
Just some examples from my clients and students: some people have used these methods to hit and maintain their target weight and fitness levels for the first time for years, some have made their transition to a new career easier, or finally got around to living in a new country after dreaming about it for years. People have also used goal-setting to cope better with the curveballs life throws at us from time to time – divorces, redundancy, getting out of debt.
In my own life, I’d say the two biggest things so far becoming a published author (by Dorling Kindersley, a ‘proper’ publisher) and rather more significantly meeting my life partner Jules. I actually did set a goal of being happily married by the end of 2000, despite there being no remotely suitable candidates around at the time – and I’m happy to report that we did just squeak it in on December 29th of that year!
3. Given that, why is it do you think that most people don’t set goals?
I think there are two things going on here. One is that in today’s busy society, they never get round to it. There is always something “urgent” clamouring for our attention, with more tasks waiting in line when that one is dealt with. If people do try to think about their goals, they may be too tired from all the busywork to do them justice. So it requires a conscious effort to step off the hamster wheel and take some time to think about what’s important to you and where you want to get to. The best advice I’ve ever been given was “plan the time to plan” – set aside some protected time so that you can think about the future. This is equally important whether you’re working for yourself or in employment.
4. Is the old story that written goals are better than non-written goals true?
There’s a famous story about the “Yale Study” in which researchers asked Yale’s graduating class of 1953 how many of them had specific goals for their future in writing. Twenty years later, the 3% who had written goals had more personal wealth than the other 97% combined!
It’s a compelling story, it’s quoted by Tony Robbins, Brian Tracy and Zig Ziglar, plus legions of other motivational speakers and it sounds as if it ought to be true – but, alas, it never happened. You’ll never see an academic reference for it, Yale have no record of it, and when ‘Fast Company’ magazine investigated the origin of the story, Robbins’ people directed them to Brian Tracy, Tracy said he heard it from Zig Ziglar, and Ziglar’s people suggested the source might be Robbins!
It’s still a good idea to write your goals down though – it’s the best way to get clear about them and keep them in the forefront of your attention.
5. What sorts of goals should people set?
I would urge people to think big and set long-term goals that excite them, without worrying at first about how they are going to get there. It really is a shame when people limit their lives by telling themselves that what they really want isn’t realistic. The only way to find out what’s realistic is to go for it.
You also need short-term goals to aim at, to give you something that’s achievable and to give your unconscious mind some behavioural reinforcement when you achieve them. Psychologists have found (Ken Sheldon and Tim Kasser if you want to look them up) that people are happier when they achieve “vertical coherence” in their goal-setting – that is, when your higher-level and short-term goals are aligned so that achieving the immediate goal takes you closer to the big one.
6. How should people go about setting goals?
First, get yourself into a positive emotional state by reviewing what’s already working in your life, what you like doing, what you’ve achieved already and what you’re proud of. This will help you find your direction, get you thinking more strategically, and also help you to feel like you deserve success.
Then clarify your values – what’s important to you – in the area of your life in which you want to set goals. Typical areas might include work and career, relationships, finances, health and fitness, and personal development.
Only then, when you’re feeling good and you know what’s important to you, should you start thinking about specific goals that will satisfy your values. Get clear about what you want, get a clear sensory image of what it will look, sound and feel like, and set a specific date for it in your future.
7. What are your top 3 tips for successful goal setting?
Okay, the first one would have to be focus on what you want, not what you want to get away from. If you don’t know what you want, how will you know if you’re on the right track, or recognise when you’ve got there? It may sound a bit “cosmic ordering” to say that your unconscious mind attracts what you focus on, but it’s only another expression of that principle widely recognised in business that you are going to move in the direction of whatever targets you set. “Towards” motivation gives you a direction, it gets even stronger when you get close to achieving your goal, and you feel good when you have it. “Away from” motivation, by contrast, is undirected, it runs out when you get far enough from the thing you want to avoid, and it’s stressful.
Next, form a sensory image of your goal – what will you see, hear and feel when you have it? This is vital for motivation. Most people are familiar with the idea that goals should be SMART – specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timed – but you’ll notice there’s nothing in there about whether you care if you achieve them or not. Using your senses gives you that missing piece by providing something to engage your emotions.
Finally – put a date on your goal! Until you have put a date on your goal, it will keep getting pushed to the back of your queue of priorities. Even if you say “in a year’s time”, the goal will always remain a year ahead unless you turn that into a proper date.
Why? Your unconscious mind acts like a good and faithful servant, and it will do its best to give you whatever you ask it for. But it will always take the line of least resistance. If you don’t put a date on your goal, there will always be something more urgent to deal with. This is why important but non-urgent tasks tend to be neglected,
8. What pitfalls do people new to goal setting have to be careful of?
Three that I can think of straight away: firstly, not taking into account potentially unwanted knock-on effects of achieving the goal. If you don’t consider all the consequences of your goal – on your health, your family, your friendships, and the wider community – you may end up with something you don’t want. The smarter way to set goals is to take the consequences into account, allowing you to make changes to your goal and/or your route to achieving it. That way you stand a chance of getting the benefits of your goal while avoiding unwanted side effects.
Second, taking too much on and getting discouraged. It can be very easy to set a big, compelling goal – and then feel overwhelmed by the effort you think it will take to get there. The goal is so big, and so different from how things are now, that getting there by the deadline you have set will surely demand too much of you. And the more you think about the legwork it will take, the more discouraged you feel. The remedy is to break it down into smaller steps that feel more achievable, and recognise each step as an achievement. The key really is to get started – not necessarily to “take massive action”, but to take some action to get you going.
Finally – and this is the biggest pitfall of all – not knowing what you want. In the absence of some powerful external motivation, like getting yourself out of debt or meeting a deadline set by someone else, how do people motivate themselves to even think about what they want – as opposed to what they want to get away from? I’ve certainly had large periods of my life when I was more or less drifting. The way out of it is to think about what’s going well, what you are good at and what’s important to you – then it becomes easy to build a picture of where you want to go.
9. Tell us a little about your book on goal setting and how it can help people.
Well, Achieve Your Goals: Strategies to Transform Your Life (Dorling Kindersley 2006) is a step by step guide for how to determine what you want, how to set goals so they happen, and how to keep yourself motivated on the way there. It wasn’t easy to write it to fit in with the publisher’s very exacting design standards, but it’s actually come out as twice the book it would have been if I had just written it as a conventional textbook. I had to collaborate with the designers to find visual ways of getting the main points very concisely, and the result is a beautifully designed and illustrated book that is a lot easier to read for the busy person. It’s something you can work through from start to finish, or just dip into for a quick fix if you run into a specific obstacle. Judging by the number of five star reviews on Amazon (all the reviews are five star at the time of writing), it’s doing its job.
10. Is there anything else you would recommend people to do, read or look at?
It’s definitely worth taking a course like the four-day ‘Create The Life You Want’ workshop which is also the first part of the NLP Practitioner training – it’s one thing to read about goal-setting methods, but you really have to experience them in practice to get the best from them.
There’s a lot of interesting research on goals and motivation coming out of the Positive Psychology movement at the moment – you can keep up with it on my ‘Practical EQ’ blog.
And, if coming on one of our courses is not practicable for you at this time, why not get together with some of your friends and form an Achieve Your Goals book group so you can support each other as you work through the exercises? Social support is a key component of goal achievement that makes it much easier for most of us – you don’t have to do it all by yourself!
As you can see, goal setting can form a key element in keeping yourself on track and focused. If you want more from Andy we also conducted an audio interview which will be available from my shop in the next few weeks. In the meantime, why not take some time out to review and revise your goals? I look forward to hearing of your successes.