Who doesn’t want to improve and achieve their goals, or find ways to “take it to the next level”?
Sounds intriguing, but often feels like it’s just out of reach.
In this article, we take a closer look at the single biggest impediment which is keeping you sidelined in the short and long term. We will also provide four steps that can help you achieve your personal and professional goals.
So, let’s turn on that boss mode and supercharge your ability to make serious and deliberate advancements towards a more fulfilling life.
Following these steps will help you move in the direction of breakthroughs, instead of magically hoping for a better tomorrow, or wondering why you still haven’t achieved the progress you had hoped for.
The SMART Goals are just part of the picture
Did I just say that?
Yes, I did!
How I wish it was as simple as this. Sure, there is value in setting goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timed. In reality, there is so much more to it.
For example, are you finding it difficult to stick to your goals, in the first place, no matter how SMART they are?
Maybe you are “too busy getting things done”, whatever that means. And then what about if you want to be a “better leader”?
How do you measure that? How do you measure it, if you can’t put a number to it? Do you just unconsciously avoid that goal altogether, grinding away, day in and day out?
Don’t let Inertia be the boss of you, take action and build success!
I view inertia as the single biggest impediment to reaching our full potential. It’s equivalent to trying to win a game in which we aren’t even competing because we are either too complacent with how things are or just “too busy getting work done”, checking off those temporarily gratifying to-dos.
Inertia causes us to lose focus of our values, and future, and significantly reduces the likelihood of us reevaluating what’s most important. After all, our experiences and our needs change over time. It would be silly to suggest we could evaluate at age 20, exactly what we will want and need when we are 35.
So as the years pass, we have the opportunity to collect new, relevant data points to help decide what shifts we might need to make. Taking the time to reevaluate our goals, also in the short-term, allows us to take into account the data points we’ve collected since last setting our goals. Unfortunately, in today’s world, there usually has to be some drastic event (over which we have no control) that causes us to jump out of our hamster wheel.
Four Steps For Achieving Your Goals
Step 1. Get out of your hamster wheel and improve motivation
Yes, I know it’s “home” and it’s strangely comfortable. Unfortunately, that’s not where the magic happens. Take what’s been happening during the post-pandemic, for example.
More and more people have reevaluated what they feel is really important to them in their lives and careers. I’m not here to debate the value of their decisions, or if everyone had a good, solution-focused plan. Arguably, many only had a plan of “not this” (i.e. avoidance of a situation). I AM here to tell you those who made any decision in favor of a change, had to recognize, almost like an awakening, that they were in a hamster wheel and needed to get out. It’s so easy to be caught up in the day-to-day inertia of checking the boxes.
I have to get this done, I need to meet this deadline, etc… or just about anything that keeps them from really stepping back and reevaluating where they are even going. Imagine being on the dancefloor with your partner. Your instructor, on the balcony, is observing all kinds of things you were unable to see and, as a result, offers some great feedback, courtesy of a different perspective.
Well, what I am saying is that you need to make it a point to move from the dance floor to the balcony, now and then. This is the best way to achieve goals that have been evading your reach.
Don’t let circumstances outside of your control dictate when you do this.
Tip: Incorporate intentionally moving from the dance floor to the balcony into your routine, once a week. Tune in and become aware of what your hamster wheel is. Recognizing this is the first step to making a change to what isn’t working for you.
Step 2. Vision. Set Goals like a Boss (This is your “what”)
Whether we want to become a more effective leader, achieve workplace goals, obtain funding, reduce stress levels, take a company public, or improve the quality of our marriage, we can get stuck along the way. Achieving goals like these requires an action plan and goal setting steps along with deliberate action.
Since we’ve now recognized we’re in a hamster wheel, what do we do once we step out?
Simply put, we have to decide where we are going. In the spirit of SMART goals, when setting goals we must be able to answer the question “How, exactly, will I know when I get there?”.
Having a clear and concrete vision of your goal is your answer to “what?”. It’s the green light you need, signaling you can go exactly where you want to go/take it. The operative word, is “exactly.” You must have a precise vision of what success looks like. Without this clearly defined goal, how can you possibly “go?” Go where? You need to know where you are headed.
Consider the following example. Imagine a somewhat benign scenario/illustration where you ask your friend to join you for lunch.
You: “Wanna go to lunch?”
Friend: “I’m game!” … both of you hop in your car and you start driving…
You: “Where do you want to go?”
Friend: “I don’t know.”
You: “How ‘bout sushi?”
Friend: “I just had sushi last night.”
Friend: “Meh, pasta gives me gas.” … this goes on for another 10 minutes as you aimlessly drive around…
You: “how about we grab a burger at the diner?”
Friend: “Sounds perfect. Let’s do it!”
Something magical happened when you decided to go to the diner for a burger. From that moment, the abstract notion of going to lunch turned into a very concrete goal. It’s not until you had a clear understanding of success that you were able to take a very deliberate step (drive) toward where you are going; the diner for a juicy burger.
You immediately laid out a map in your head of how to get there. There isn’t a doubt in your mind as to where you are going. You’re about to be eating a burger and you know exactly where and what that’s going to be like. The satiating feeling when you take that first bite… you can almost taste it.
Tip: When You Have The Desired Future State Towards Which You Want To Work, Make Sure You Have A Vivid Picture In Your Mind Of What That Is.
Succinctly articulate (perhaps to a confidant) what that “future state” looks like.
Ask yourself how, exactly, you will know when you’ve achieved it.
What other indication might there be to let you, or anyone else, know you’ve arrived?
Now that you know your precise destination, the only thing that’s left to address is your desire to go for it. That desire requires stepping on the gas when the light turns green. It will be driven by how (relatively) important it is for you to reach that goal and how confident you are in your abilities to successfully do it (self-efficacy).
How can you ensure you advance toward your goal and find your purpose, once the light turns green?
Step 3. How Important is the Need to Achieve your Goal (This is your “why”)
This is your answer to “why?” You will need to understand the relative importance and full weight of what difference you will make, or experience if you achieve your goal. What benefits will you enjoy? What disasters will you avert?
Once you have clarity about your plan, you can leave your comfortable, less productive, status quo state and begin making progress towards the next level. Think of it as being in your car. When you know where you are going (driving), and you see the light turn green, you can confidently step on the gas.
What if you know where you are going, but you still aren’t motivated to move? For example, if you want to lose weight. You may know what losing 10 pounds would look like, what it would feel like, and how to get there. But you also enjoy food, and not always the healthy kind. Given a choice to work out or take a nap, you’ll choose the latter, thank you very much.
There are two methods I found very helpful to drive your motivation to go for it and, as a result, make “it” more important.
a) Change perspective
How can you change your perspective of this situation such that losing weight becomes more important to you? More important than eating unhealthy foods or skipping too many workouts.
This is why I used the term “relative importance”, above. In life and in our careers, we face daily choices between many competing ideas and activities. Say, you can perform A or B, but not both. If A is more important than B, you’re far more likely to make reach A, not B. How we spend our time reveals the importance we place on activities.
Often, the importance is not a conscious decision we make. We may choose to sleep and eat over working out. If we shift our perspective, we stand a much better chance of making it to the gym.
As an example of perspective, imagine I put a coke bottle between us. I ask you to describe the Coke bottle. You notice the Coca-Cola logo, the bottle is half full, the top is off, and the trademark by the logo. Now it’s my turn. I don’t see the logo from where I’m sitting. I notice the ingredients and the nutritional facts. Whose description of the coke bottle is correct?
Well, we both are, but the answers we gave were a function of our perspective. Ask yourself some powerful questions that (figuratively) cause you to walk around the coke bottle to see it (the situation) from a different light.
This is particularly helpful if you are caught in negative self-talk or reciting one hundred excuses why you are not doing it. The visualization technique best suited for you will depend largely on whether you are an “away from” (motivated by pain), or “toward” (motivated by pleasure) person.
In the workout example, if your motivation is “away from”, visualize how bad you will look if you don’t put down that cookie and work out. If you’re your motivation is “towards”, then visualize yourself working out and the benefits of that action.
Tip For Changing Perspective.
A great exercise I’ve used is to make three columns on a sheet of paper. First, briefly describe the situation. Second, write down your current perspective. Third, write down several alternate perspectives. Try one of those alternate perspectives out for a week.
What changes are you noticing when you look at your situation from this new perspective?
How does this perspective suit you?
Treat this as an experiment.
Step 4. Self-Efficacy. Do you believe you can achieve goals you set?
Self-efficacy is your belief you can figure out how to produce the desired or intended result (goal). You’ve heard the saying “whether you think you can or can’t, you’re right”. When you think you can do something, you gain confidence, and you are much more likely to mobilize and go for it.
And now that you are in a position to start with the end in mind from the perspective of your desired future state (established in #1), you are much more likely to make progress. Begin solidifying your plan and jump into action. Remind yourself every few errors are irreversible unless you are jumping out of a plane without a parachute.
But what if the goal is truly monumental, and you don’t even know where to start? All of a sudden, your confidence begins to wane, and along with that the likelihood of any advancement. In a case like this, recall a time when you achieved a similar goal: how did you get there? what steps did you have to take?
How can you apply what you did, or learned then to your current situation?
Any goal worth pursuing you will likely not reach in a single step. Also, break it down into smaller steps you can more easily tackle. Once you start moving in the general direction of “success”, your confidence will grow. Small steps lead to big changes, so what would be a good, first, small step in the direction of where you want to go?
Tip: If You Are Unclear As To How To Reach The Desired Future State:
Small steps – think “small steps, big changes”.
Recall past success – Look back at past successes in similar scenarios. What did you do back then, that you can apply here?
Learn from others – If you don’t have past successes (in that area), do some research, educate yourself, and ask for advice from experts.
Try an experiment – Remember, experiments are not meant to always succeed. They do, however, frequently lead to new awareness. After each experiment, ask “What did I learn? What has been validated or invalidated?”
Maintain a positive perspective – See failures as new learning, not as failures.
Note to leaders and your impact on everyone around you
If you are an aspiring transformational leader, consider how you can help coach your team to greater success using this approach, the moment you sense they may be stuck in their hamster wheel.
Best of all, you don’t need to be an expert or give advice. All you need is your authentic curiosity and allow the questions to follow.
Questions, not for the sake of your enlightenment, but for the benefit of making your team members critically think and creating new awareness, maybe even cognitive shifts. This invariably will lead to significant transformations for your team members.
Yea, but what about if you don’t know where you are going?
I always like to say, “Once we know exactly where we are going, we have a much better chance of getting there”. However, oftentimes, our goal might be in the very distant future, and nailing this goal down can be a journey in and of itself. We should let our passions and values drive our actions and if the goal is too far out, ask yourself what goal is in closer range, perhaps in support of that vague goal in the distance.
For example, if you don’t know what career change you want to make, it’s ok not to know now. The question is what data points do you need to collect to help you ultimately decide which direction you want to go?
So a short-term plan could be to talk to others who’ve made a similar move, etc. Then measure your success in shorter increments.
Selecting an executive coach to work with may also be a good way to help you find a path if you feel you are struggling to go it alone.
We all have aspirations and the degree to which you follow through on yours is a function of you:
Recognizing when inertia is in control, instead of you
Having the discipline to get out of “autopilot” mode
Knowing, vividly, what your desired future state looks like
Gaining a perspective that makes your desired future state important enough to pursue
Understanding what motivates you (away from or towards) and visualizing, accordingly
Having (creating) the confidence (self-efficacy) to achieve it. Small steps, big changes
What are you going to do to get off the sidelines and start achieving goals like a boss? Remember, if you aren’t moving forward, and appear to be stuck, use this simple four-step process to help achieve your life goals. It will minimally open your eyes to an alternate way of seeing the solution, instead of the problem
Written by: By Nick Tubach, MBA, PCC