Goals, Personal Motivation, And Getting It Right
“The best way to predict the future is to create it.”
Goals are desired results that you commit to achieving. These can be personal, family, career, organizational, or a combination. Goal setting involves establishing specific objectives along with completion times. You can have both short and long term goals, sub goals, and milestones. There is an entire field devoted to goal setting for personal and business growth — one of the best works on setting business objectives is Built to Last by Collins, I high recommend this book. I would like to speak towards SMART goals.
The SMART criteria are commonly attributed to Peter Drucker’s management by objectives concept. SMART is a mnemonic device for a useful goals setting methodology. The letters S and M mean specific and measurable. For example a goal of “improve my health” is difficult to define and measure. This method would recommend that I set my goal to lower my weight to X pounds and lower my blood pressure to 130/80. The second version is better because I can directly measure and define the desired end state. The A stands for achievable, perhaps I could set my weight target at my ideal weight, so says my doctor, at 165 pounds, but it might not ever be achievable for me to hit this target — why set a goal I can never reach. I would rather set a goal I can actually meet that is a balance between challenge, risk, and the probability of success. The R is for relevant — if the goal doesn’t matter why is it a goal, why am I motivated to go after this? If my blood pressure and weight are good why focus on these? Lastly, the T is for time bound — your goal should have a specific time frame and target. Sometimes we have multiple goals and milestones that lead up to a bigger goal, but they all have a timeframe for completion. The main advantage of SMART objectives is that they are easier to understand, to track, and see when they are completed.
“Of course motivation is not permanent. But then, neither is bathing; but it is something you should do on a regular basis.”
Motivation: the desire or willingness to do something, drive, ambition, the desire to do things. It’s the driving force at work behind setting and attaining goals. Motivation is the emergent energy that pushes you towards a goal. Motivation is not an innate trait like height — it is a learned skill. Just like there is a method, techniques, and training that can make you a better golfer there are practices, exercises, and behaviors that can boost your personal motivation. Maybe it’s a catch 22? You have to “want to do it.”
Ask yourself one question- why? Is my motivation because I have to; do I need to pay my rent, put my child through college, or be a provider? These all fall under “because I have to”. Another answer might be to do something for personal satisfaction, interest, fun, or challenge. Maybe climbing a mountain, writing a book, or becoming a volunteer for an organization — these reasons would fall into the because “I want to.” Lastly, you may be driven to certain tasks because you are obligated to do so. Examples might be supporting a family member who is needs a helping hand, supporting a charity, or some civic obligation. There is clearly a field of motivating factors; want to, have to, obligate to, and understanding where you stand can improve your chances of achieving satisfaction. We all do better work in the endeavors which we love.
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Understand the basis of your motivation — why do you want to accomplish the goal? Will completing it get you the desired result? Will it give you the desired “feeling”? Confirm what you really want, and how you think it will make you feel. Writing it all down in detail can help you confirm this. Changing your mind early in the game is not too costly — changing your mind a decade later can consume a lot of your time. Maybe you will change your mind — today you still have the time to go a different path? High motivation is key in the completion of long complex tasks that maybe difficult and long, often with limited feedback along the way. Using some of these steps and the tips that follow can increase your own level of motivation and help you build up some momentum towards your goals.
“Poor planning on your part does not necessitate an emergency on mine.”
Cost of Misguided Goals and Motivations
Consider the cost to individuals, families, and companies when we pursue goals without clearly understanding our personal motivation. Perhaps if we considered our motivation in greater depth we would have better outcomes. We might have happier careers, lower job turnover, lower divorce rates, and maybe more satisfying life choices. Consider the following storylines that are not terribly unusual.
The college student who starts school studying a particular course of study because he feel she is obligated to follow in the footsteps of an older sibling or parent. Only later, after spending years of time and tuition, do they realize another field is much more rewarding for them — and they are better at it! In the US 80% of college students will change their major during their first year and 50% will make three changes before graduating!
Consider the young adult who follows a family business or profession when they actually have no interest there — and may actually have little affinity or talent.
Consider the hard work and time a young professional puts in their career in hopes of becoming a manager or leader only to learn they actually have little interest in those roles or that the “reward” they hoped for actually lies in other professional areas. Considering your goals and motivation and adjusting them could lessen the frequency of these scenarios.
“When defeat comes, accept it as a signal that your plans are not sound, rebuild those plans, and set sail once more toward your coveted goal.”
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Tips for Goal Setting and Motivation
- Define your goals are and why you are motivated to complete them. Be as specific and descriptive as possible plan — it’s not a plan until your write it down.
- Use the SMART method when you can.
- Always be willing to change your mind, throw out the plan, and maybe change what you are after. Work your plan — don’t let your plan work you!
- Ask yourself why do you want this? Is it a have to, want to, or obligated to? How do you think it will make you feel?
- Utilize milestones. Aim for the stars but include steps along the way that achievable and realistic. We can all use some rewards along the way and some mid trajectory points to celebrate.
- Give yourself some rewards along the way.
- Track your progress based on “process” and not on “results”. If I want to control my cholesterol by exercising I can track my results of quarterly blood tests, or I could track the “process” of how many mornings a week I exercise. I will have 120 times more frequent feedback if I track the process of applying the exercise daily rather than waiting for the lagging result from the quarterly blood work.
“The merit rating nourishes short-term performance, annihilates long-term planning, builds fear, demolishes teamwork, [and] nourishes rivalry and politics. It leaves people bitter, crushed, bruised, battered, desolate, despondent, dejected, feeling inferior, some even depressed, unfit for work for weeks after receipt of rating, unable to comprehend why they are inferior. It is unfair, as it ascribes to the people in a group differences that may be caused totally by the system that they work in.”
- Developing mental toughness. You will have set backs along the way, in order to deal with these a level of mental resolve is helpful to stay on track and get back on the horse when we fall off.
- Become a lifelong learner. The more you know the deeper your tool chest will become and the better you will be able to cope with new problems.
- Adopt a mindset of “improvement” rather than “achievement”. Life isn’t pass or fail so do not set your goals in that manner — aim for better than yesterday.
- Mentor others. If you can take the time out to help another person along in their journey of self-motivation often you will find answers to your own struggles.
- Connect yourself with a circle of supportive friends, coworkers, and like-minded individuals. Nobody makes it alone — everybody needs a supportive web. Having a fostering and encouraging atmosphere and circle of support will help.
- Adjust the plan and continually evaluate against plan — adjust plan based on feedback.
- Laugh at the setbacks.
“I should estimate that in my experience most troubles and most possibilities for improvement add up to the proportions something like this: 94% belongs to the system (responsibility of management) 6% special”
- Edwards Deming
We are motivated by money — basically not true. We are all motivated by the absence of what we need and often this is caused by a shortfall of cash. Take a good look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. However, most often as people excel in their careers and reach a comfortable life style (at least financially) income itself begins to not be such a relevant factor. The strongest motivation I have seen is the drive to find purpose — often this is not realized until the basic life needs have been satisfied.
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I just lack motivation — not true. Skill and hard work are also part of the solution. You will not “motivate” yourself into defying gravity, it is a powerful tool but of course it has limits. Be honest with yourself, your goals, and what is realistic for you. We all need to have a dream and we should all strive to reach it — but it takes more than just motivation to get there.
Follow your dreams later — right now you need to so this. Not true. There is no time like right now. If you have a dream and have the passion today never ever put it off. You might not have that tomorrow.
I need that motivation book or and seminar. Not really, they can help you speed up, there are a lot of good tools to improve — but the spark has to come from you. There will surely be things that help but there is not cookbook approach that “unlocks your true potential” — that’s hogwash. Everyone is different so a tool or method that works for Ted might not work for Fred. Basically it’s a little inspiration and a lot of perspiration. But you need to take the step for yourself.
6 Goal Setting Errors
- Thinking too big and setting unreachable targets. When you are considering goals, you should use your imagination, ambition, and aim high. However, once you picked a goal make sure that it is realistic. Can it be done in the time available and with the resources that you control? Use the SMART method to check out your goals when you can.
- Thinking Pass or Fail during goal setting, life is not a pass or fail proposition and our goals should not be either. This mindset develops the backdrop of “I am not good now” when it should be always “I want to become better”. Make the approach of our SMART goals such that they aim at establishing the trajectory of growth and “bettering” rather than a pass fail target that is aimed at solely completing a single task. Utilizing this approach we can have happy learning outcomes rather than great accomplishments leading to a “failure”.
- Thinking too narrow in our goals and focusing in on an area too small; try to include more areas of your life, career, or work in order to become wider and better rather than narrower and better. You should aim to learn one completely new skill a year. Many people focus solely on their career when they set goals. When you set your goals, make sure that you strike the right balance between different areas of your life, balance is different for everyone.
- Thinking too broad and having too wide of a focus, when you outline your goals, you may see too many areas to focus upon. It is a natural tendency to set goals in all of the areas. However, you have a limited amount of resources, time, energy, and money. Your focus needs to be wide enough to stay above par and add solid value to the enterprise but narrow enough to ensure that you have applied the needed depth and rigor within each goal.
- Not Considering Time Correctly. Underestimating time demand to achieve your goals can cause you to fall short. Pad your timelines a little and consider cutting out other activities if they are not actually part of or supportive to your goals. If you do not estimate duration and completion times accurately it can be discouraging. Projects that take longer to complete can earn you a bad reputation even if the work is excellent and a later target would have been acceptable had it been put into the plan that way. I like to factor the time I need up by 4–5 fold. Yes, I said 500%.
- Missing System thinking in your goal setting. Track process and not results. Think in terms of “operating a system” rather than “hitting a target”. Track the growth and daily activity of the new system. So if your goal is writing a book a good “SMART” goal might be to write 5,000 words every day instead of tracking the number of books completed per year. This is a superior method for a number of reasons; it forces you towards leading indicators, it makes your “metric” closer to where the work actually is (gemba), it provides feedback in the workflow rather than at the end, it allows near real-time adjustment of your work plan. Think process and not results — results will come.
“By working faithfully eight hours a day you may eventually get to be boss and work twelve hours a day.”
Professional level athletes, successful business people, and all top achievers in nearly every field set detailed goals and often use professional coaches to stay motivated and focused. Setting goals can provide a clear long term vision of the future and at the same time bolster your near term motivation. It can focus your growth and development, balance your life between work and home, and help organize your time and resources. So stretch out of your comfort zones, consider what you want to achieve, make your plans, and enjoy!
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