The first stage in setting effective goals is to start with the vision of where you want to go, or even better (for our self-centred brains) – who you want to be. Because our brains are naturally self-referential, goals tied to who we are are more motivating.
In addition to being self-focused we are motivated to move away from threats or towards rewards, so goals where we are moving to where we want to be are stronger than those that focus on what we want to do.
Next, goals need to be memorable, or ‘sticky’, so we don’t forget about them during our day to day. When I’m in the goal setting stage with my coaching clients we work on creating an inspiring mantra or catch phrase to describe each goal – something short they could imagine on a t-shirt or as a song title, for example. Say the goal is to increase staffing levels to free up more of your time, a memorable phrase might be, ‘Walking out the door at 5!’.
In addition, goals will be more effective if they are achievable, measurable and solution focused. Solution focused is important because focusing on something to be fixed reinforces the negative, whereas focusing on the solution incorporates the vision for the future and puts us in a toward state.
It’s important to focus on the ‘why’ of your goals before moving to the ‘how’, particularly with research suggesting our brain’s systems for thinking about ‘why’ and ‘how’ are mutually exclusive.
Once you’ve defined your goals then you can move onto how to achieve them. In coaching this is the point where we create a set of strategies (or milestones) to achieve each goal and then work on setting actions around the first strategy. When a milestone is reached, we set actions to get to the next one and so on.
Executing one strategy at a time and celebrating each milestone as it is realised, keeps the momentum and motivation going, and builds new habits along the way.