How goals are defined matters.
Ways defining goals limits success:
- Negative phrasing – negative words limit thinking and buy-in to goals which in turn limits success. For example, try, would like, might, need, eliminate, lose, get rid of, or other negative terms.
- Defined by what you don’t want – if you list the things you don’t want – stress, a long commute, a mean boss, etc. you reenforce what you don’t want which can keep you stuck. Sometimes this is subtle: for example, when you say “lose weight” you are focused on what you don’t want, the weight you don’t want, which reenforces it.
- Focused on the past – it is impossible to change the past. You can change the future. If your goal is defined as “no longer” your brain hears and focuses on the past problem. Instead, focus on what you want it to be moving forward.
- Based on things outside your control – if your goal is based on someone else doing something or something else happening, then you are in waiting mode instead of taking action.
- Externally motivated – avoiding a consequence or doing something for someone else has short-term value.
Ways defining goals support success:
- Positive language – use positive, confident language. Phrases that work include: will, commit to, planning, on track for, moving toward, doing, etc.
- Define what you do want – when you think about what you don’t want, ask yourself, if you don’t want that what do you want instead? For example, instead of stress you want to be calm, relaxed, or confident. Instead of a long commute you want a 10–15-minute commute. Instead of a mean boss you want a boss that values and respects. Instead of losing 50 pounds you want to weight 150 pounds. Be clear on what it is you are moving toward.
- Focus on the future – goals are desired future outcomes. Instead of “no longer eating dessert every night” you are “giving yourself permission to have dessert once a week.” Instead of “no longer sleeping late” you are choosing to “get up at 6:30 AM starting tomorrow.”
- Within your control – you control what you control so set your goals accordingly. Instead of setting a goal for what profession your child chooses, set a goal for how you want to support your child choosing a profession in which they will be happy. Instead of waiting for a promotion, set a goal to increase your likelihood of earning the promotion based on specific actions.
- Internally motivated – be clear on what achieving a goal means to you personally. Completing a project gives you satisfaction, visibility, opportunity, freedom, etc. Focus on the benefits you will experience with your success.
A smart move to support setting goals that work can be engaging with a coach. A coach is your partner and will ask you the questions to ensure you define goals effectively.