Why goals are important
In your personal live or in your job: goals are a natural source of motivation. If done right, they pull us forward and propel us to new heights. Goals give us a direction in life and help us manage our time, actions and structure the decisions we make.
Working towards goals gives us a sense of purpose and when we get there a sense of accomplishment.
Ready, set, go?
It might not be that easy. After all, how many goals have you set in your lifetime which you didn’t achieve? I know that all too well, especially when it comes to exercising on a regular basis.
But, let’s say at work, you may have achieved your goal but in hindsight thought you could have done even better.
Let’s unpack what a good goal needs to create that pull effect and to drive performance.
Tiny but mighty goal hacks
Let’s look at a few small hacks you can make to any goal you set. These tweaks are also important checkpoints.
There are five things you can look out for.
1. Where to
In technical terms we call a “where to goal” an approach goal. It’s the opposite of an avoidance goal and the difference is in the language.
Let’s stick with my exercise example. Instead of saying “I want to stop being such a lazy couch potato” I should say “I want to exercise on a regular basis”.
This way of positive formulation is an important hack you can make. After all, our brain looks into the direction we tell it to. And when we tell it not to think about that pink elephant with purple dots all over, guess what it does?
2. Want to
This is all about motivation. You can think about it like this: we’re always motivated. Either to do one thing (pursuing our goal to exercise) or to do something else (binging a series).
There are various types of motivation, you may have heard of extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic motivation comes from extrinsic rewards and recognition or sometimes punishment. But intrinsic motivation comes when we do things for the sake of it. Just because. It’s fun.
So when setting a goal, check if it is a “want to goal”, not a “have to” or “should to goal”.
Now, at work you might not be able to choose your goals. At least not all the time. So how ca you hack the goals that have been set for you? The answer is finding meaning in this goal.
3. Avoid conflict
Goals often are connected to our values. And like the underlying values might be in conflict, the goals are too.
How can you solve that? Unfortunately not by thinking about it. You have to take action! Start experimenting to gain more clarity.
This is not a new thing for you, I’m sure. The more specific you make a challenging goal, the better your performance will be.
Venturing out promising to try your best usually doesn’t get you very far. You have no reference point and no idea if you achieved your goal or whether you’re on the right track.
Back to my exercise example. “Exercise on a regular basis” is far from being specific. What does “on a regular basis” mean? Once a month? Once a year, as long as I do it every year? I’d have no idea if I’m living up to my goal! So let’s try this instead: “Exercise twice a week for each 30 minutes.”
One small caveat to this though. The farther off your goal, say in one year or five years’ time, the less specific you can be. A year is a long time, many things might change until then. So if you have a goal that’s this far in the future, think of step goals you need to achieve on your way there. Now these can be very specific.
5. Aim higher
Feeling a bit anxious increasing the challenge? Don’t worry, it’s completely normal. And can be actually very healthy to get the jitters a bit, especially when the goal is important to us.
Don’t set yourself up for failure though (see next section). If the surroundings aren’t right and the goal is too massive, you might end up very frustrated.
You can use trick of splitting your huge goal into more achievable step goals. But I’d still encourage you to challenge yourself.