A Goal Setting Activity for Right Now

Jan 6, 2011
8 Min Read

Each year, many people make resolutions and each year, most of those resolutions are broken. Part of this may be because of the length of the year itself (doesn't 1/1/2012 seem so far away?) as well as the artificial timing (is January always the best time to think about your goals?). The result is that we set 'should' goals out of obligation instead of committing to something that is truly important to us.

I wrote about six different types of goals a few months ago. As a quick recap:

  • Behavior versus Outcome Goals: focusing on what you can solely control (your behavior) can prevent the frustration that occurs when, despite your best effort and intentions, events outside of your control serve as a roadblock.
  • Approach versus Avoidance Goals: using positive phrasing and focusing on what you do want can have dramatically different results than focusing on what you don't want.
  • Concrete versus Abstract Goals: stating your goals in very specific language and quantifying them can provide more structure and motivation than being vague about it.

It may seem that I am advocating behavioral, approach, and concrete goals. While they are better in most cases, outcome, avoidance, and abstract goals can have a place too -- especially in long-term goal setting such as New Year's Resolutions. Here's how.

Outcome goals can serve as the end-point marker. By setting outcome goals, you are essentially defining the flag that goes up when you have achieved what you set out to achieve. Often when we get wrapped up in pursuing our goals, we don't celebrate our accomplishments. As we progress, our standards get higher and higher and what seemed impossible when we started now looks like you've known how to do it along. This is especially true for high performers and so-called perfectionists. Outcome goals are also a crucial type of goal to set when you are setting goals for others. As a leader, you want to set the outcome goals and help your people define their own behaviors that will lead to the achievement of those goals.

Avoidance goals can serve as the initial momentum that keeps us going. Avoidance goals often stem from fear, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. Peter Bregman, blogger for Harvard Business Review, writes, "There's an ongoing argument in the world of behavior change about what works better: fear or incentive? Some argue you need both at the same time. My experience is that you need both, but not at the same time. If you want to change your behavior, start by creating a bit of fear, then experience the reward." Sometimes you need to bring that which you fear, and therefore want to avoid, to the forefront of your mind.

Abstract goals can help when procrastination or uncertainty gets in the way of defining goals. Thus, abstract goals can serve as temporary goals until you are able to create more concrete ones. For example, sometimes an image or a feeling or a seemingly unrelated desire can help you get closer to discovering what it is you truly want to achieve.

Goal Setting Activity

Let's give this a try. Think about the New Year's Resolution that you made, and transform it into timelined objectives using the bolded questions below. In the parentheses I include the types of goals that are most helpful for each stage.  If you didn't make a New Year's Resolution or define any goals for 2011, now is a good time to start thinking about it!

What is your 1 month goal? (Behavior, Approach, Concrete)

  • Example of Behavior: What will you do differently today, tomorrow, next week in support of this goal?

What is your 3 month goal? (Behavior, Approach, Concrete)

  • Example of Concrete: How many miles will you be running per week during the last week of March?

What is your 6 month goal? (Outcome, Approach, Concrete)

  • Example of Approach: What new achievements do you want to be able to add to your resume by mid-2011, that is, end of June?

What is your 1 year goal? (Outcome, Approach/Avoidance, Concrete)

  • Example of Outcome: How much do you want to weigh on January 1, 2012?

What is your 5 year goal? (Outcome, Approach/Avoidance, Abstract)

  • Example of Avoidance: What don't you want to be when you are 40 [or your age in 5 yrs]?

What is your 10 year goal? (Outcome, Approach/Avoidance, Abstract)

  • Example of Abstract: How do you want to feel about your life in 2021?

This is a lot of information to work with, but my tip is to take what is relevant to you now and leave the rest for later. Last year, I set the most basic goal - a one-year goal that was behavioral, approach, and concrete. I resolved to be consistent in my efforts to work out, exercise, and just move in general. My plan was that I would either get to the gym or take a walk around the neighborhood every day in 2010 (give or take 1-2 days a week - the point was to not skip out on physical activity for weeks or months at a time). It was that simple. As the year progressed that remained my #1 priority ("just start" / "just get out there" was my mantra) but what also happened was that I set sub-goals as my skill level increased. I finished up 2010 not only 100% achieving this goal, but also 15 pounds lighter, running 25 miles a week, and lifting 140+ pounds.

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