Even talented leaders can struggle to understand why they win or lose at goal setting. Have you ever wondered why you have been so successful in reaching some of your goals but not all of them? If you aren’t sure, you are not alone in your confusion. The intuitive answer: that you are born with certain talents and lacking in others is just one small piece of the puzzle.
To understand the science-based insight, Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson, social psychologist, speaker, and author shares four tips that help successful leaders set goals and that you can adopt:
Tip 1: Get specific
Think about the specific actions that you will take to reach your goals. Just promising that you will get better at responding to email won’t make a difference. You need to be clear and precise when defining your goal. Here’s an example: I will acknowledge every email within 24 hours, leaves no room for doubt about what you are going to do and whether or not you have done it.
Tip 2: Decide where and when you’ll act on the goals
Given how busy most of us and how many goals we are juggling at once, it is not surprising that we routinely miss opportunities to act on a goal. “Did you really not have time to work out today?” “No chance, at any point to return that phone call?” Achieving your goal means grabbing hold of those opportunities before they slip through your fingers. Again, be as specific as possible. Also, make sure you block out time on your calendar to work on your goals. By doing this it can increase your chances of success by roughly 300 percent.
Tip 3: Shift your mindset
Work on shifting your mind set to a ‘get better’ mindset. Do this instead of holding yourself to impossible standards of perfection. An example of this can be working to develop a skill such negotiating and deciding to take a leadership course focused on the newest global practices.
Tip 4: Focus on what you will do, not what you won’t do
Research on thought suppression shows that trying to avoid a thought, makes it even more active in your mind. For instance, if I tell you not to think about white bears, then all you will end up thinking about is white bears.
The same holds true when it comes to behavior – by trying not to engage in a bad habit, our habits get strengthened instead of broken. For instance if you are attempting to overcome losing your temper at work, focus on what you will do instead. Another example could be that you are trying to gain control over your temper, you might make a plan that notes – if I am starting to feel angry, then I will take three deep breathes to calm down. By using deep breathing as a replacement for getting angry you can move past the anger to reach your goal. Reminder: you don’t need to become a different person to become a more successful one.
The following is a tip of my own that has been valuable.
Tip 5: Write out your goals, review them on a regular basis and make plans to accomplish them
Aside from my own achievements, decades of research show that successful people reach their goals not because of who they are, but often because of what they do.
Here is an example for the iconic Harvard study on goal setting.
In 1979, interviewers for Harvard’s MBA Program asked new graduates “Have you set clear, written goals for your future and made plans to accomplish them?”
84% had no specific goals at all
13% had goals but they were not committed to paper
3% had clear, written goals and plans to accomplish them
As a follow on to the study, in 1989, the interviewers again met with the graduates of that class.
The 13% of the class who had goals were earning, on average, twice as much as the 84% who had no goals at all.
Another important discovery: the 3% who had clear, written goals were earning, on average, ten times as much as the other 97% put together.
Further proof that thinking about and taking specific actions to reach your goals is a powerful secret worth adopting.