Set 102% Goals

We all recognize that goals can be motivating. And if you look a little deeper, you will also realize that the wrong goals can be demotivating.

So the key to boosting your productivity and success is not just to set goals, but to set goals that motivate and draw out a new “personal best” performance.

Here are some thoughts on this:

Set Your Own Goals

Research and your own practical experience shows that “blanket” goals set for everyone on a team or in a group will nearly always motivate some people and demotivate others. Anyone who feels the goal is too difficult or too easy to achieve simply won’t strive for it.

It stands to reason, therefore, that effective and motivating goals must be precisely calibrated for each individual: demanding just enough additional performance to extract a person’s best efforts, but not so much extra as to be discouraging or frustratingly difficult.

There is an exception to this idea: Small, cohesive teams may, in certain cases, respond well to a single well-calibrated goal for the group to achieve. But there are no guarantees.

Set Goals at the Right Level

Whether you’re setting the goal for yourself or someone else, it’s crucial to establish a target that’s neither impossible nor easy; it should be achievable only with a strong effort.

I mention the 102% figure as a general guideline, not a hard and fast rule.

For example, in sports, a 2% improvement may be impossible. It’s more common to reasonably expect only a fractional improvement: perhaps a tenth of a second off your previous best time or one more centimeter added to your previous best distance. In sales, on the other hand, closing one additional customer or selling one more product may create a performance improvement much larger than 2%.

Whatever the activity and the means of measuring performance, the idea here is to set a goal that asks for noticeably – and motivationally – more than your previous best efforts.

Support Your Goals with Action Plans

This point is important regardless of how big or small a jump in performance the new goal asks for: You’ll achieve the new goal more easily when you have a plan to get there.

This plan could include:

  • Targeted practice to improve essential skills and abilities,
  • New technology or techniques to expand your performance potential,
  • Motivational techniques and rewards to increase your level of effort, and
  • Synchronizing your efforts with a peak in your naturally fluctuating abilities.

Keep Setting New Goals

Research shows that immediately after reaching a new goal that establishes a higher “personal best,” many people relax and allow their performance to drop back a bit.

There’s nothing wrong with this. It’s part of the “natural fluctuations” we nearly always find in human performance.

But in most circumstances, achieving a personal best is a sign that you’re “hitting on all cylinders,” and therefore presents a good opportunity to try for even more. That’s why some athletes who set a personal best may immediately try to better it, and why some sales people who sign a major deal may immediately try to sign another one.

If you’re feeling strong and successful, you may want to follow-up on your new-found level of performance by immediately setting another, slightly higher goal for the future.

As you probably recognize, goals are a great way to reach higher levels of productivity and success in your work and your life. But only if you set them in the “sweet spot” between “too hard” and “too easy” – a range that motivates strong, effective efforts to achieve them.

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