Thursday, January 1, 2015

Set New Year Goals, Not Resolutions

Happy 2015!

As is my annual tradition, I will start the new year out with a reminder of my advice from an article I wrote in The Washington Post a couple of years back: Set Goals, Not Resolutions.  You can check out the article at this link.  And also see my full article on The Power of Goals at this link.

Here are some of the high points from the article.

If it’s time for you to set those once-a-year resolutions that you know will fade by March, then this article is not for you.

But if you are ready to make a long-term commitment to achieving higher levels of performance and having more satisfaction in life, then consider getting serious about goal-setting.

Effective goal-setting is a discipline based on well researched principles.  Ask yourself, do you want to use your time in ways that are more relevant – relevant to what you care about most in your life?  If so, then goal setting can put you on that path.

The first lesson is that you are probably not setting goals nearly enough.  You are probably barely scratching the surface.  To maximize performance you should consider setting long-term goals (e.g., five to 10 years) that you then break down into annual goals, quarterly goals, weekly goals, and even daily goals.  To truly maximize performance, you should do this for every important domain of your personal and work life.  This is based on one of the primary finding from the goal setting research.*

Goals direct attention and action toward relevant activities and away from non-relevant activities.

If you want to really start your new year off right, then follow these guidelines for effective goal setting:

*Set goals as outcomes – on what you really want, not the activities that may lead toward them.

*Make sure that all your goals are SMRT:  Specific, Measurable, Relevant, Time-Bound
*Use the right “A” in your SMART goal formula.  All goals need to be SMRT.  But to be SMART you need to pick the “A” that is right for your situation. Here are your options:
1.  Attainable Goals, which you have an 80+% chance of accomplishing, are good if failing will have many negative consequences.  Attainable goals are good to build some momentum with easy wins, or to learn more about new environments, or if you are concerned about getting discouraged.
2.  Aggressive Goals, which you have a 35% chance of accomplishing, will improve your performance.  Research shows that the more difficult the goal, the higher the level of performance.*  If you feel like you have a good system and you want to maximize performance of it, then this method will help you do it.
3.  Almost Impossible Stretch Goals, which you have a 1% chance of accomplishing, will require you to design innovative ways of going about accomplishing your goal.  “Working harder” on the same process won’t do it.  You have an opportunity for breakthrough performance with Almost Impossible Stretch Goals.
*Celebrate Noble Failure.  If you are inspired to pursue a goal and you go for it, but you don’t make it all the way, then appreciate the progress you have made and appreciate that you worked hard at something you really cared about.  This mind-set will bring you more long-term success than letting the fear of failure keep you from doing what truly inspires you.
I provide more extensive detail on goal in this article, The Power of Goals.  If you use these principles and apply them to your personal and work life then I promise you much higher levels of performance, fulfillment, and satisfaction.   But it only works if you take it on as a true, committed discipline – not a once a year fad.  Good luck with all of your goals!

*A Theory of Goal Setting & Task Performance, by Edwin Locke and Gary Latham

For more ideas on how you can lead breakthroughs in your organization, follow this blog and check out my web site at   You will find free resources you can download, including a Breakthrough Strategy Workbook that you can download at no cost.  You can also check out my book, Mission Impact:  Breakthrough Strategies for Nonprofits, and buy it if you are interested.  And you can follow Sheehan Nonprofit Consulting on Facebook.

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