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What Is Missing in Most People’s Goal-Setting Strategy

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If you ever want to make progress, you need to have a goal-setting strategy. But I find that a goal-setting strategy alone isn’t enough for us to achieve our goals, you need to be creating a goal-getting strategy as well. This is a hack designed to help you from merely setting goals to knowing fully what actions you need to take and getting them done. There are several elements to this strategy that I find people time and again forgetting about.

Below are the core elements and why having these parts of a goal-getting strategy is so important to your overall growth.

A SMARTER Goal

Having a goal in mind isn’t something that takes a lot of time. We all have various desires and dreams. However the challenge at times is finding the right motivation to get to that goal. What has helped me in the past was setting a SMARTER goal.

SMARTER goals are built on SMART goals. The idea is that goals should be:

  • Simple – Is direct and to the point.
  • Measurable – Something that you can note your progress on.
  • Achievable – Is something you can achieve right now.
  • Realistic – Be grounded on your own performance and pacing.
  • Timely – Can be achieved within the time you give yourself.

SMARTER goals build from that by adding two questions:

  • What is the ONE thing you want the most now?
  • Why do you want it?

To help you with answering those questions, I use the 5 Whys framework to dig into a deeper desire. When I first used this strategy it was around the time where I believed it was important to sacrifice one aspect of your life to dedicate time to another. I spent a lot of time working at my job and spent little time looking after myself, or spending time with my wife, and kids.

When my life hit a breaking point – severe back pain from poor posture – I knew I had to get my life back on track. And so amongst many goals, I wanted to work on regaining my strength and not suffer from back pain.

This is the framework I used:

  • What is my current goal? To exercise once per day.
  • Why do I want this? Because I want to be healthy.
  • Why… do I want to be healthy? Because it hurts to do physical activities that last longer than 15 minutes.
  • Why…? Because I don’t have time to exercise or I’m too tired at the end of the day.
  • Why is that a problem? Because my two sons are young and energetic and I don’t want to have issues keeping up with them.
  • Why is this important? Because I want to be there and be involved in their upbringing. It’ll hurt me more to be on the sidelines due to physical reasons.

The 5 Whys framework helped me in finding my true intentions behind the activity. As a result, I was able to make specific actions that would make achieving this goal easier. For example, I set new morning and night routines that focused on boosting my energy levels.

“A goal properly set is halfway reached.”– Zig Ziglar

Milestones

Another aspect that I find people are missing is milestones. Setting a goal is fine and having deep personal reasons to achieve them helps. However if you’re not setting markers – or milestones – then it’s hard to see if you’re making progress or not. Based on your SMARTER goal, you’ll want to be setting 12 milestones – one per month. Every single month your focus should be on completing that milestone.

When you’re thinking of a milestone, you of course want each milestone to bring you one step closer to your ultimate goal. You can also adjust the milestones if you realize it won’t take you a year to achieve that goal.

Regardless, a milestone should meet the following criteria:

  • It has to be challenging.
  • It can be completed within 3 to 4 weeks.
  • It has to be concrete.

If you’re unsure how to set necessary milestones, the following can help you:

  • Look for people who’ve done what you’re looking to do. Pay attention to people who have a track record of achieving those goals too. Ask for feedback from them. Most people are happy to give you pointers.
  • Find online communities like Quora, Facebook groups or Reddit. Asking feedback there can help you get more specific milestones.
  • Look for roadmaps that share some proximity of your own and modify it. There is no shame in copying or finding inspiration from others roadmaps.

An Action Strategy

While people know what they want and how to get there, sometimes the day to day activities can be tricky. Sure, people know what action to take, but what specific actions should you take? When I started exercising, I didn’t go to a gym to workout my back. Instead, I choose to do stretches at home. Why I went with that strategy over any other option was due to an action strategy.

It helps you to look at possible options and pick the one that’s most sensible to you. After all, your time is valuable and you want to make sure you are putting time in the actions that give you the results you’re looking for. For me, I’m not looking to tone my body or develop muscles. I wanted to be strong enough that I could keep up with my kids. How I reached this conclusion was by asking three questions:

  • What are my intentions? To be healthy and not feel drained from doing simple physical activity.
  • What actions can I take? Stretching in the morning and night, and playing with my kids.
  • Why take these actions? Because stretches don’t take up a lot of my time and provide enough for me to get the results I need.

Another way to look at this is having the actions fulfil three criteria:

  • It tells you why you’re doing it.
  • It shows you the benefits of the activity clearly.
  • It shows you what you need to give up or invest to achieve that benefit.

A Reward System

The final part people need to work on or lack is a reward system. Even though a goal is more about the journey than the conclusion, you still want to celebrate in some fashion. But how much is too much?

What I find helps is solid and lasting rewards fulfil two criterias:

  • You’re getting the same amount of positive reinforcement that you’re getting for each reward.
  • The overall size is in direct proportion with the effort you’ve used to complete the milestone.

Also remember that there is no shame in using the same reward over several milestones. If they’re spread out enough, they are just as rewarding.

With so many people focusing so much on goal setting and making sure everything is perfect, people forget about the other details to getting the goals completed. Between you and the completed goal, there is a long road ahead. But by applying these strategies, getting to your goals will be easier.

Having been listed as Business Week's #4 "Top 24 Young Asian Entrepreneurs," Leon Ho is the Founder and CEO of Lifehack - a productivity blog he started in 2005. He has grown Lifehack into one of the most read self-improvement websites in the world - with over 12 million monthly readers. Grab his latest book The Full Life Essential Guide here.

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