Get More from Goal Setting

There’s a lot written about goal setting, and about exhorting you to set more of them. But there’s not enough said about evaluating how much benefit you’re getting from the goals you actually do set.

That’s a problem, because setting goals – and even achieving those goals – may or may not pay off in your work and your life. The benefits depend on how far – and how directly – the goals you set take you toward where you want to go.

To get the most from the goals you set, you can learn to set goals that generate favorable answers to the following questions:

How Much Do You Care?

There are many reasons we set a goal, including:

  • It helps establish an agenda to keep us occupied.
  • Others will be impressed by our goal.
  • Someone started us on a journey toward the goal.
  • The goal is a holdover from our past.
  • We want to be working toward something “important.”

Although these are common reasons to strive for a goal, they frequently lead to setting goals that deliver very little benefit, even when we achieve them.

You’ll nearly always get more benefit from setting goals that you feel are meaningful and important.

How Often Do You Finish?

New Year’s Resolutions are the poster children for goals we rarely or never achieve. That’s why, no matter how uplifting they may seem, we get so little benefit from resolutions to lose weight, spend more time with certain people, or learn French.

If you are habitually setting goals you rarely or never achieve, it’s fair to question how much benefit those goals are bringing you. It’s also wise to consider looking around for different goals that you feel more highly motivated to achieve.

How Many People Know Your Goals?

Often, we like to tell coworkers, friends, and family about the goals we really care about and expect to achieve. Sure, you broadcast your New Year’s Resolutions far and wide, but they don’t count: nobody gives those goals any credence.

It’s your other goals you need to examine.

If you tend not to share with others what you’re trying to achieve, your silence may be a tacit acknowledgement that you plan not to put in the work required to accomplish those goals. Pretending to set such goals is a waste of time, and masks the simple fact that you are not setting other goals that you would really care about.  

How Closely Do You Monitor Progress Toward Your Goals?

Again, New Year’s Resolutions are examples of goals you “set and forget.” These tend to be goals you don’t care about. In fact, you probably can’t remember most of the NYRs you have set in your lifetime, or even last January.

Goals that will likely benefit you, on the other hand, tend to occupy time on your calendar. You not only make direct efforts to achieve them, you also spent time checking your progress and anticipating the benefits those accomplishments will bring.

How Much Growth Do Your Goals Produce?

If your goals tend to center around skills, knowledge, and abilities you already possess, they likely bring you less benefit than more challenging goals that demand a measure of growth.

This is not to suggest you cannot benefit from exercising your current level of skills, knowledge, and abilities. You can and you should, to whatever extent you wish.

However, goals that stretch these skills, knowledge, and abilities – and perhaps even entail the opportunity to develop new ones – tend to produce more satisfaction. They also open the door to new sets of goals that would be more than you can handle at present.

What Rewards Do Your Goals Bring You?

While we’re on the subject of goals that exercise your skills, knowledge, and abilities, consider the rewards goals of this type tend to bring you.

For example, if you’re an emergency room physician, you probably pull down a decent salary and get treated with a lot of respect, not to mention the satisfaction you derive from helping the people in bad shape who come to your ER for treatment.

But could you set yourself a goal that brings you more benefits? It’s worth considering the possibilities.

Whatever your situation, recognize that it’s easy to fall into a groove yielding a certain level of rewards. That’s a big reason so many people stay in the same groove a long time.

Now that we’re talking about getting more from your goals, however, it’s fair to cast about and see if you can climb out of your current groove by augmenting your current situation – or even replacing it – with activities and goals you’ll find even more rewarding.

It doesn’t hurt to ask.

In fact, by asking each and every one these questions about some recent goals you’ve set, whether or not you’ve achieved them, you open the door to new possibilities and perspectives that will enable you to replace mildly rewarding goals with extraordinarily satisfying ones.

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