On New Year’s Eve, in the middle of a wonderful dinner and conversation, I pulled out my iPhone and started writing down my goals for 2013. (yes, this is the joy of taking me out to dinner). As the conversation progressed, I realized that there are some important qualities of a great goal; “great” meaning less about the goal itself and more about the approach to the goal and how to achieve it.
I don’t really like the idea of New Year’s Resolutions. Resolutions tend to be vague and immeasurable, and therefore can lead to disappointment and a return to old behaviors. I like the idea of a “goal” because it speaks more to something that is measurable and achievable.
Having said that, at the start of a New Year, it’s natural to want to change many things in your life. These may be around career, family, health, personal behaviors or habits as well as attitudes and perspectives towards life. Some things lend themselves more to qualities of a goal than others; for instance, losing weight is more of a measurable “goal” versus “ to bring a more positive attitude to my work.” However, the challenge for anyone is to work to make goals measurable and achievable.
Here are FIVE qualities of a great goal:
It reflects something you want to do, not something you feel forced to do.
As a yoga teacher, sometimes I get new students in class but it’s obvious that they are primarily there because of someone else’s influence. It’s hard enough to get moving on a goal when you own it yourself but when you are taking on someone else’s idea of what you should be doing, you’re bound to fail. If you’re not sure what goals you’d like to work towards this year, sit in stillness and see what comes to mind. Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths and start thinking about your life. Another way to approach it, as morbid as it might seem, is to think about the limited amount of time you have on earth. If you knew you only had a few years left on the earth, what would you like to do, change, be?
It can be broken down into steps.
A great goal can be broken down into measurable steps. There’s clearly a beginning, a mid-point and an end. These three points are important so you can take a moment to stop and reward yourself for a job well done. It also means that you have thought at the starting point about how you’ll get to the end. For instance, saying, “I want to lose 15 pounds” is a goal but how will you get there? What exercise will you do? If you don’t exercise, what program will you begin? What will you eat? How will your eating habits change? Map out a plan for your goal so you are clear on how to get it done.
It can be measured throughout the process and you’ll know when its completed.
Along with the roadmap for your goal, you also need metrics to quantify how you’re doing. Goals around losing weight, saving money and sales goals are easy to do this with (i.e. “ I’d like to save $10,000 in one year”) but goals around changing behavior are harder (i.e. “I’d like to have less stress in my life”). Once you set your goal and map out the steps to achieve it, make the steps measurable and quantifiable, as much as you can so you’ll know that you’re making progress or, more importantly, will be alerted when you’re falling short and can make necessary adjustments.
It will result in a positive change in your life.
This seems obvious but it’s worth mentioning. Be sure that the goal will result in a positive change for you. This can mean being honest about what you’re really trying to get at; in other words, if you are trying to lose weight but the underlying thought is that your significant other will be more attracted to you if you do, think about what is happening in your relationship that you doubt this attraction. Maybe you’d be better off setting a goal to improve communication with your partner.
It requires you stretch yourself outside your comfort zone in order to achieve it.
Goals, by their nature, should require growth, physically, mentally, spiritually or in many aspects of your life. If it’s something that you can pretty much wrap up in a week, it’s more of a task than a goal. Goals should be bigger than a breadbox, so to speak, but not so far outside your comfort zone that you’re highly doubtful that you can achieve it. This is tricky also, because sometimes it’s hard to know if you’re being easy on yourself. You’ll start to know more about the nature of your goal once you start to identify the steps to get there. Remember, every great goal has a quality of faith and courage to it and usually is accompanied by great doubt. If you’re having these feelings, you’ll know you are working towards a great goal!