Goal Setting: One Size Does Not Fit All
By Jeff Keller
If you've listened to motivational speakers or read any
self-help books, you've undoubtedly been told about the
importance of setting goals. In fact, many people will tell
you that goals are the key to success. Well, I've studied
goal setting for nearly 20 years and I have a confession to
make: I still don't have a handle on this intriguing
Here's the problem. Motivational speakers and writers frequently oversimplify goal setting. Those who advocate what I'll call the "traditional goal setting method" advise you to do the following to achieve your objective:
*Set a goal in other words, determine what you want to achieve
*Put the goal in writing
*Set a time deadline for the attainment of the goal
*Develop a plan and work the plan
*Visualize a successful result
*Maintain a positive attitude
*Measure your progress and make adjustments, where needed
*Persist until you reach your goal
All of this sounds great, except for one problem -- most people don't achieve their goals using this method! The vast majority fall way short of the mark. I've achieved many goals and also failed to achieve some goals with this system.
I'd also bet that virtually all of the people reading this article have failed to achieve many of their goals using this formula - despite the fact that they were positive and took considerable action.
Where did we go wrong? Why do we accomplish some goals using this formula, yet fail to achieve others? While I don't pretend to have all the answers, here are some of my observations on the subject of goal setting.
1. Many people succeed without having specific goals. Over the years, I've noticed that there are many high achievers who have succeeded without setting goals at all.
Actor Harrison Ford has said that he did not have a goal of becoming a movie star. Antonio Banderas said he never sets goals and finds goal setting very limiting. Cindy Crawford never set out to be a "supermodel." Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright said she never set a goal to become Secretary of State - or, for that matter, to be appointed as Ambassador to the United Nations. And, I'm guessing that Vincent Van Gogh did not have a goal reduced to writing that said: "I will paint three masterpieces in the next 90 days and earn one million dollars."
The bottom line: some people are hugely successful without using traditional goal setting methods.
2. Whether or not you set goals, you need clarity and passion to be successful. When I cite examples of those who succeeded without goals, I want to emphasize that these people still had a clear vision of what they wanted to do in their lives.
They were and are passionate about their work, they are constantly learning and growing in their field, they are willing to take risks, and they are committed to doing whatever it takes to keep moving forward. People who are vague and uncertain never attain long-term success.
3. The rules are different when it comes to business and sales. In business and in sales, I've found that to be successful, you DO need to be a goal setter (using many of the traditional methods). Here's why: in sales, you need to get results quickly.
Either you produce, or you're "out of the game." Businesses can't afford to take the view, "We'll work hard and whenever we succeed, that's okay." With that approach, the business probably would not meet its payroll and would not gain the confidence of investors. There are some companies that prosper without setting specific goals, but these organizations are very much the exception.
More and more, businesses are using personality assessments to test applicants for sales positions and to determine beforehand whether the applicants have the potential to succeed in sales. This is a positive approach and helps to identify those who are well suited to play under these "rules."
4. Some people are simply not suited to traditional goal setting models. Many people who advocate traditional goal setting methods claim it can work for anyone. I no longer believe that. If Harrison Ford worked as an insurance salesman, he probably would have failed miserably.
Some people simply don't respond well to setting specific goals and achieving them within certain time deadlines. That's not the way they perform at their maximum.
5. Failed goals usually reveal a lack of commitment. We have the ability to achieve most of the goals we set. However, we often lack a necessary ingredient: commitment. We think we're committed to achieving a goal, but in reality, we're not willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish the objective.
We get frustrated and eventually give up the goal. So, if you're not making much progress on a goal, there's a good chance that you're not really committed.
6. Failed goals serve a purpose. It's easy to look at failed goals as a disappointment or as a bad thing. I don't see it that way, however. In fact, "failed" goals serve a purpose - to re-direct us to a better path.
Often, we set goals based on what others tell us to do - or what seems like a good way to be successful or make money. When we don't achieve these goals, we give up on them and then have an opportunity to pursue a different path, which is often more in line with our abilities and our unique personalities.
7. There is an "X" factor when it comes to attaining goals. Sure, you need a positive attitude, enthusiasm and commitment to achieve a goal. But there's also an intangible factor working behind the scenes - I call this the "X" factor.
As we've all seen in sporting events, the championship game can be decided by a bounce of the ball, a fraction of an inch or a missed call by a referee. Granted, it's the prepared competitor that puts himself or herself in a position to win, but make no mistake about it, sometimes serendipity or fate seems to step in to help us achieve certain goals.
More than 40 years ago, Maxwell Maltz, M.D., wrote a classic book on goal setting entitled Psycho-Cybernetics. Dr. Maltz believed passionately that we need to have goals or targets. However, he thought it was counterproductive to try to figure out with the conscious mind how to attain the goal. He recommended focusing on the end result and allowing your automatic guidance system to determine the "means whereby" that goal is achieved.
My point is that goal setting is not a "one size fits all" concept. If I've confused a bunch of people here, that's okay. If you out and out disagree with me, that's fine, too. I want you to start thinking more about goal setting instead of simply following methods that don't work for you.
Traditional goal setting methods work for some people, and I would encourage those people to continue using them. But they don't work for everyone, and the statistics prove that very convincingly.
There is a path that will work for you. Keep challenging and fine-tuning the various approaches to goal setting and you'll find a system that will produce positive results for you!
-- Jeff Keller
(c) Attitude is Everything, Inc.
Jeff Keller is a motivational speaker and author of the best-selling book, Attitude is Everything.
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