I love December, but not for the reasons you’d think.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the holidays and spending time with friends and family. I look forward to time out of the office to rest and recharge. But my favorite thing is reflecting on the year that has been and looking forward to what’s to come, both personally and professionally.
I am a goal setter, but I haven’t always been. Early in my career, I had operational goals that were largely assigned to me by my organization and I had little emotional attachment to them. As I moved into mid-level management, I had some say in the creation of my goals and had better perspective of how my goals relate to an overall organizational plan, but they were still something that I tracked for primarily performance evaluation purposes. It wasn’t until last year, when I took a broad view of my future and what I hoped to achieve—in life, not just in work—that I realized what a powerful exercise goal setting can be. Now I live my whole life in 90-day increments.
As 2017 draws to a close, it’s the perfect time to start developing your goals for 2018. Here are five steps you can take to reap the full benefit of setting goals.
Step One: Look back
A good way to know where you’re headed is to figure out where you’ve been. Take time to review progress on the goals you set for yourself last year and see if you can spot patterns. Are you crushing your professional goals? Awesome, but make sure you aren’t setting the bar too low. Struggling with personal goals such as rest, fitness, nutrition, and family time? Figure out what some of the obstacles have been and decide if you can anticipate them popping up again in the upcoming year. If so, figure out how you can address them.
Step Two: Setting goals
There are hundreds of goal setting techniques to choose from. Whether your goals are SMART, HARD, reverse, or agile, if they’re getting you to where you want to go then they’re the right ones for you. Each technique has pros and cons. Personally, I use SMART goals. The SMART technique (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, time-based) aligns nicely with my 90-day approach, and the framework makes the goal crystal clear.
Step Three: Integrate your goals
In an earlier post on TheGenXManager, I wrote about the myth of work/life balance. Our work life and home/personal lives are so intertwined that keeping them separate is nearly impossible. Here is an area where you can make that work for you. Seek opportunities for your work goals to feed into some larger aspirations you may have for yourself. Or, conversely, examine if some of your personal goals can drive your professional goals. Not only do you get more payoff for the effort, but having a goal that meets a dual purpose is another way to embrace healthy work/life integration.
Step Four: Don’t tell anybody
You read that right. Scientific research has determined that the positive feedback you get from sharing your intention to achieve a goal creates a “social reality” that mimics the feeling of having actually achieved the goal. In other words, you get the credit for the achievement without doing the work, which can make it harder to do the work.
An exception to this rule: sharing a goal for accountability purposes. Being held accountable by someone, or even receiving help from that person, increases the likelihood of achieving your goal.
Step Five: Enjoy the boost
The wave of good feeling that you experience by achieving a goal is an actual biological response. That surge of “happiness hormones” can feel like its own reward, but there is an added benefit. One of those hormones, dopamine, fuels motivation. The more you make progress toward your goal, the more you want to make progress toward your goal. That’s one of the reasons why experts recommend breaking large goals down into smaller ones.
Goals, constructed correctly, can be as powerful as they are practical. They can keep you focused and on track, guiding your actions and helping you make quick decisions. Most of all, they mark forward progress on aspirations that may have, at one point in time, seemed impossible.
Readers, what goal-setting techniques have worked for you? Post your tips in the comments below.