What is holding you back?
It’s almost the new year, and in the spirit of self-reflection it’s time for new personal and professional goals! And, if you’re like most of us, those goals will be something we’re fully invested in, for a brief while anyway, and yet, we won’t reach them. Research has indicated that of those surveyed, only 8% of us fully complete our goals, although half of us do make some progress towards reaching them. So, what holds us back?
How are you approaching your goals?
Making change is never easy, and for some of us, our goals are ones that we’re not personally invested in, but they’re the ones in which we think we “ought” to be pursuing. Personal investment in change is a crucial component to our success in creating new patterns of behavior or working through to achieve accomplishments. If we really don’t care, even though we think that others feel we should, change isn’t going to last for long. For other goals though, it’s not because we don’t care passionately about them, but that they’re so lofty that knowing exactly how close we are to completing them becomes overwhelming and we get lost along the way. Our passion isn’t in question, but our approach is.
Trent Hamm, writing at The Simple Dollar, identified a way of achieving goals that worked for him in his approach to personal finance, and which can work for all of us in any area.
“I like to envision giant goals like this as squares on a piece of graph paper…I’d take a piece of graph paper…and I’d simply mark out one of those squares every time I did something that saved $10 and I put that $10 aside in an account somewhere,” Hamm wrote. “Whenever that account earned $10 in interest or dividends or growth, I’d add another square… Maybe your goal is even bigger…that’s okay. It’s still just made up of little steps and little squares.”
Little steps and little squares
When focusing on your goals, identify the steps that have to occur in order for that goal to be accomplished.
Start at the beginning in your thinking, and resist the temptation to label any step as too small.
For example, let’s say your goal is to go to graduate school to pursue an additional degree or certificate to expand your knowledge base. It may seem oversimplified, but an initial step might be as easy as talking to your significant partner or your family about your decision, or perhaps you need to start by making a phone call or sending an email to the registrar’s office to begin the application.
Just keep swimming
For some of us, in our minds, we’ve already moved past these initial steps, thinking about financial aid, the scheduling of courses, or the work-school-life balance changes that may be coming soon. We’d be right to think about these considerations, as they do play a part in us reaching our goal, but by focusing on the smallest of initial concrete steps, and doing them in a timely fashion, we get the sense of motion necessary to begin to feel accomplished.
By making a visualization of these small steps, we see our progress towards reaching the ultimate goal, and can find comfort when things don’t seem to be going well. We’ve been successful in the past, and although we might be having difficulty at the moment, we can expect to be successful again in the future; the important thing is not to stop trying to accomplish the goal.
An example of this is the work being done in goal setting with students in K-12 public and charter schools around the nation. Work is being done with students to help them understand the importance of goal setting for themselves, whether the goal is academic, behavioral, or social. Students identify goals that are important to them and which are aligned with them being successful in school, as they define success. Goals are broken down through the use of the SMART format; goals are specific and framed by times for completion of the overall goal (as well as individual action steps), and progress towards goals can be measured. Additionally, goals are both achievable and realistic.
Achievable and realistic
Some struggle with this last concept that goals must be achievable and realistic. Think of it this way: for a non-runner to say that they were going to set a goal to place in the top three in the Boston Marathon, there’d be a lot that would stand in their way as they moved towards that goal. It doesn’t mean that a penultimate goal might not be to run in the Boston Marathon and to place in the top three, but it means that a better goal would be set for a more immediate reward along the way and would help them transition from a non-runner to a marathon winner.
Students track their progress towards their goals visually and have regular goal-setting meetings with their teacher or counselor to review performance, identify barriers to progress and brainstorm solutions, and to celebrate wins as they happen. We can’t assume that students grow up knowing how to do this, just like we can’t assume that, as adults, we’re any more talented at it.
As we are all works in progress, let’s follow in the words of Whitman by celebrating ourselves and singing ourselves. Identify the goals that are important to you, down to their most discrete steps. Clearly provide yourself a timeline for completing them, and place a visual reminder of your success in that step in front of you to keep your progress going.