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I recently came across a newsletter I wrote on the 24th of January 2008.  The opening paragraph read:

“So far 2008 has had an interesting start.  We’ve faced Eskom blackouts, turmoil in the financial markets, fear of world recession, floods in Mozambique, droughts in Lesotho and an ever increasing pressure on the general consumer.  Wow and its only January!  Isn’t life exciting?”

Amazing how as much as things change, they seem to stay exactly the same.  We’re all glad to have seen the back of 2020.  However, despite the many challenges we faced there were also amazing moments and so many important life lessons.  Guess what?  2021 will be no different and of that, I’m absolutely sure.  Many challenges will be faced, amazing moments had and so many important life lessons along the way.  May we at ActionCOACH South Africa take this opportunity to wish you a very Happy New Year and may 2021 be a rewarding and successful year for you.

I’m sure you’ve joined most of the world’s population in making some New Year’s Resolutions and I trust they’ve at least made it to today.  But what is a New Year’s Resolution?  Wikipedia defines it as follows:

“A New Year’s Resolution is a commitment that an individual makes to a project or a habit, often a lifestyle change that is generally interpreted as advantageous.”  And a Resolution is defined in the Oxford dictionary as a “firm decision”.

It’s strange then how most people don’t stick to their New Year’s Resolutions even though some of them are actually quite good—and often much needed—especially in the areas around health and personal relationships.  The key is to not just imagine a few areas of improvement and call them “New Year’s Resolutions” but to actually go through a detailed goal setting exercise.  The focused approach of setting good goals is vital as the first step towards making a difference in our lives.

“Goals provide the energy source that powers our lives. One of the best ways we can get the most from the energy we have is to focus it. That is what goals can do for us: concentrate our energy.”  Denis Waitley, Motivational Coach

Without the plan to know where we’re going, we often get taken by the current and side tracked and New Year’s Resolutions quickly become a distant memory.  Life just seems to happen and pass us by, we feel overwhelmed and disappointed in ourselves and our lack of control over life and that is only the start of the downward spiral.

Although there are countless goal setting approaches, there are but a few, basic yet critical areas to focus on. These basic, yet critical steps, include:

  1. Written goals
  2. Make sure they SMARTER goals
    1. Specific / Stretching / Significant
    2. Measurable / Motivational / Meaningful
    3. Attainable / Achievable / Action orientated / Acceptable
    4. Realistic / Relevant / Results orientated / Reasonable / Rewarding
    5. Timely / Track able / Time-bound / Tangible
    6. Enthusiasm / Extending / Exciting / Evaluate
    7. Rewarding / Recorded / Re-Do
  3. Tell other people
  4. Make sure they’re self-motivated and self-initiated and not through outside influence
  5. Have someone hold you accountable
  6. Review them often
  7. Make small adjustments as you go along
  8. Celebrate and reward yourself for activity, and small milestones, not just the end result
“You have to pretend you’re 100% sure. You have to take action; you can’t hesitate or hedge your bets. Anything less will codemn your efforts to failure.” Andrew Grove, Intel co-founder

 

1. Written Goals
The correct mindset and preparation are probably what most people would regard as the first step in committing to new goals.  These two areas are, however, a continuous process throughout life and by no means easy.  To kick-start the process of goal setting it is vital that you start with a blank sheet of paper and start writing.  When last did you have a ‘blank canvas’ and allow your creative juices to flow?  Writing your goals down is the first step in the process and vital if you are to have any measured success.

Whilst apparently a bogus Harvard Business School study, I still like, and experience, that less than 3% of the world’s population actually have written goals.  The supposed study goes on to say that this 3% controls the bulk, and even as high as 97%, of the wealth and success.  People who have clear and concise goals, regularly review these goals and go about implementing the actions required to achieve their goals, always outperform others that are lacking in this area.

A quick two minute To-Do list of things you want to achieve for the day, the week or the year will not qualify as written goals.  Scribbling down a few To-Do items in your diary, back of your hand or on the cigarette box might be good for chores around the house, or a shopping list, but will not mean much for your life and any change you wish to bring about.

“Your mind, while blessed with permanent memory, is cursed with lousy recall.” Gary Ryan Blair

Words are an integral part of how we think and how we process information. Words are able to bring emotions to mind, bring about certain feelings and allow us to picture what we’re actually after.  When we start writing down what we want to achieve, we’ll be amazed that while at first it’s hard to put down our thoughts and dreams in writing, it becomes easier as we persevere.  We soon end up writing frantically and can’t seem to stop.  The initial words might seem jumbled, with little form or structure, but as we progress and continue with the process we find that our mind starts to achieve the necessary clarity and our random thoughts become structured goals.

This leads into the next point whereby your first attempt is not your ‘first and only’.  Start with a few rough drafts and a random thought process, and then as you review your thinking and start to structure your thoughts you start to form a design for your life.  Don’t ever stop and keep refining your goals until you reach the perfect mix (let me know if and when you ever get there).  In real terms, you never will.  As you evolve and as you grow you set new horizons and it becomes a life-long ‘work in progress’.

Lastly, it’s not called Written Goals for nothing.  Even in today’s modern era it’s still called Written Goals and has not, and will not, evolve to read typed goals or mental goals or notes on my phone goals or dictated to my PA goals.  The process of putting the good old fashioned pen to paper is an intricate part of goal setting and cannot be bypassed if you’re to achieve the desired outcomes.

“Very strange is this quality of our human nature which decrees that unless we feel a future before us we do not live completely in the present.” Phillips Brooks


2. Make sure they SMARTER goals
S.M.A.R.T. goals ‘should’ need no introduction.  I’m sure you’ve come across this in some way or form before.  There are also a plethora of different words used for the letters in the acronym.  Irrespective of the words you choose as your focus, perhaps take the process just that little deeper to be S.M.A.R.T.E.R. Goals instead.  They’re all pretty self-explanatory but pick—and use—what’s most relevant for you.

    1. Specific / Stretching / Significant
    2. Measurable / Motivational / Meaningful
    3. Attainable / Achievable / Action orientated / Acceptable
    4. Realistic / Relevant / Results orientated / Reasonable / Rewarding
    5. Timely / Track able / Time-bound / Tangible
    6. Enthusiasm / Extending / Exciting / Evaluate
    7. Rewarding / Recorded / Re-Do

“The road to success is not always a road.” Mac Anderson

Occasionally the journey of life is filled with potholes, crosses a raging river and even disappears before us.  Our pre-determined direction is sometimes all we have to steer us through the difficult times.  The process of goal setting, despite maybe seeming frivolous at times or perhaps even a waste of time based on our past experience; remains the only way we truly achieve anything great.  You can’t change the past but you can set the direction for the future.

The person who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the person who is doing it.” Unknown

 

3. Tell other people
The response to this statement can be either positive or negative.  Positive in the sense that we can tell other people so that they can assist and support us, and negative in the sense that we don’t want other people telling us what to do, shouting us down or saying ‘I told you so’ when we fail.  If we ‘tell other people’ we might disappoint them?  EXACTLY!

The Tell other people is purely for selfish and psychological reasons.  By Tell other people we’re holding ourselves accountable.  As Brian Tracy says, “We’re all professional failures”.  Harsh but true.  From a young age we’ve failed in various areas of life.  Sometimes as part of our learning experiences and sometimes because we’ve just failed ourselves.  Failure in itself is not the problem.  Failure is not a new emotion or new experience but one we’ve actually got used to.  It has become second nature.  Who’s attempted to change a bad habit on a Monday but by Wednesday has already had the first chocolate, smoked the first cigarette, slept in and skipped gym or lost their temper in traffic on the way to work? I know I have.  When we’ve done this once or twice it becomes second nature and not ‘really’ a problem.  Life carried on and no real consequences were felt.  We didn’t receive the perceived benefits but the consequences were not immediate either.  We can thus try again later when our circumstances change OR when this current problem is sorted out OR when we get a new job … you get the picture.  As humans we only act when there is a perceived benefit or a perceived pain.  One or the other will move us into action.  If we don’t experience the pain then we’re okay, right?

In telling other people of our goals we’re preparing ourselves not to fail.  We’re preparing ourselves for action and success.  It’s easier to fail ourselves than it is to fail others.  I’m not saying walk through the shopping mall and tell everyone you see.  That might work but could also result in some additional dangers you were never aware of.  No, tell your loved ones and those people closest to you.  Most importantly tell your spouse, your children and your parents.  They’re very good at reminding you about what you said and often just the look on their faces will be enough to get you into action.  The process of telling other people will prepare you for the desired outcome and will ensure you have constant reminders around you to work through the difficult times, until you get to the highway of success and achievement.

4. Make sure they’re self-motivated and self-initiated
Although I’m sure this is self-explanatory we all fall into this trap.  We often end up spending vast amounts of time trying to please others.  We try and live up to the dreams and expectations others have for us.  We all know someone close to us that has spent large portions of their life … living the wrong life!  Some might still be doing it and for others it all came to an abrupt halt.  These abrupt realisations often end in unnecessary extremes like divorce, substance abuse or even suicide.  The internal fight of having to live someone else’s life is not sustainable and cannot lead you to success.  If you don’t want to do something, or do not truly believe in the potential benefits, you will not act accordingly.  You might be able to force yourself through the daily routine, and possibly even achieve the laid down outcome, but it will be a constant internal battle to motivate yourself to do so.  Your mental, emotional and physical state will be affected; and affected negatively.  I’m not saying that you don’t have to be there for others and make sacrifices along the way.  No, all I’m saying is that YOUR goals, dreams and aspirations need to be self-motivated and self-initiated to ensure YOUR ability to stick with them and ultimately enjoy the journey towards achieving them.

“Man*, alone, has the power to transform his thoughts into physical reality; man, alone, can dream and make his dreams come true.” Napolean Hill

* MAN in this sense obviously includes all men and women as we were not yet at the level of gender equality we are today when this statement was made – sorry ladies you’re not off the hook)

5. Have someone hold you accountable
Friends, family, enemies?  It doesn’t really matter who, but will matter how and why?  Choose these individuals carefully and be clear on what your expectations are.  Negative feedback through someone saying “it’ll never be done” and “you’ll never succeed” might be just what you need to challenge their thinking and prove them wrong.  The trick is to know that this individual will be the negative one and similarly that you love proving this individual wrong.  If not, it could have the opposite effect and squash your aspirations.

The, “I’ll show you no matter what” attitude is a very powerful tool in getting things done.  Remember to discuss with the chosen person the full extent of WHAT you’re wanting to achieve and WHY.  If they know your motivation and your passion they’ll easily tap into the purpose of your actions and desired goals and ‘buy’ into them a lot easier.  Schedule regular follow-up and feedback sessions and manage the process from YOUR side.  If you wait for them you might have to wait a long time.  You’re the one wanting to move forward and they’re there to assist, support and direct you.  Not the other way round.  Take the hard facts and reality checks on the chin.  You might need a wake-up call and might be missing some of the crucial elements in your own self-evaluation process.  Manage the feedback and always ensure that the feedback is constructive and absorbed in a way that will move you toward your ultimate destination.

Listen to the mustn’t s, child.
Listen to the don’t s.
Listen to the shouldn’t s, the impossibles, the won’t s.
Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me…
Anything can happen, child.
Anything can be.
Shel Silverstein

6. Review them often
As with anything in life, there needs to be a constant review mechanism.  It’s vital to keep revisiting your planned goals as well as their corresponding activities.  The benefit here is twofold.

Firstly, to ensure you’re on track and moving in the right direction.  It’s easy to keep moving but not necessarily always so easy to keep moving in your desired direction.  Think about rowing a boat.  Whether you’re facing backwards or forward is immaterial.  It’s easy to keep the activity going by working hard and rowing your heart out.  It’s also easy to row in the wrong direction.  You need to keep the target in your sights and constantly ensure you’re not being side tracked.  Here and there one will need to move off the desired path for periods of time.  As long as these diversions are temporary and by your own willing action, you’re still okay.  The problems occur when life sets your new direction without you even being aware of it.

Secondly, to ensure that where you thought you wanted to go is in fact still the place you now want to go.  As we grow, and as we proceed along the path, we might find a new more desired direction.  The journey might have highlighted an easier path, a more exciting direction or a realisation that the first path was one we should never have taken in the first place.  If you’re constantly reviewing the desired direction as well as the activities you’re undertaking to get there, you’ll have an early warning system built in.  Remember, I did say reviewing.  I did not say getting distracted constantly and always chasing the next bright shiny object.  There is a distinct difference so be careful.

“My days of whining and complaining about others have come to an end.  Nothing is easier than fault finding.  All it will do is discolour my personality so that none will want to associate with me.  That was my old life.  No more.” Og Mandino

7. Make small adjustments as you go along
No plan is ever 100% correct up front.  No matter how much effort and research you put into your initial plan it cannot, and will not, remain valid and relevant as you work through it.  The problem facing many individuals and organisations is that they’re not able to firstly see the need for a change or adjustment, secondly actually act on the need for such change or adjustment and thirdly do all this within a reasonable time before starting to pay penalties and suffer the consequences.

If you’re constantly reviewing your plan AND making the necessary adjustments, you’re able to have your direction, fit in with your desired outcome.  If not, it merely happens to you and you’ve lost control.  Being in control of your destiny is in the power to be flexible whilst still moving in your desired direction.  If you’re reviewing your plan often enough you’ll end up only having to make small adjustments and take small corrective steps in need.  The longer you wait to make the necessary adjustments, the bigger the impact, and the more difficult that may be to implement.  Throughout life practise the philosophy of ‘baby steps’.  ‘Baby steps’ allow you to test the waters and build confidence as you go along.  No baby just gets up one day, from crawling around, and off they go.  First, they stand up against the furniture, then proceed to walk aided by the comfort of the solid structure holding them up.  Even though they’re effectively walking, and are already moving towards the ultimate goal, they’re building confidence and becoming comfortable with this new dimension.  As they master this they proceed to stand unaided and then eventually build up the strength of mind to launch themselves from the couch to the coffee table.  And so on and so on… Take life in ‘baby steps’ everyday!

8. Celebrate and reward yourself for activity, and small milestones, not just the end result
There’s a saying that says: ‘No pain, no gain!’  In many facets of life this would be true and very valid.  Unfortunately when it comes to our human nature it’s almost a case of ‘No gain; no willingness to endure pain.’  The perceived drudgery and hard work that goes into achieving one’s ultimate dreams and goals cannot be sustainable if the reward is only ‘available’ at the end.  Some goals have no end, so what keeps you going forward, through the bumps and challenges, if there’s no pay-off.  Similarly, one is often so focussed on achieving one’s goals, that when one actually gets there, the end reward is a let-down.  The glory for some is in the process, the journey, the struggle towards the end result.

Now that they’re there, the hard work they’ve put in almost seems unsatisfying.  The focus quickly moves to the next goal and so they carry on.  Fulfilment is therefore something they chase but also something that eludes them throughout life.  I’m sure you can imagine what the internal struggle looks like in those situations.  So celebrate and reward activity.  When we set out to lose weight we refuse to buy any new clothes until we’ve lost ALL the excess weight.  The first few kilograms go quickly but then it becomes more difficult.  If we don’t see continued results we lose interest and often revert to old ways.

Celebrate the initial loss and spoil yourself if need be.  Make a concerted effort to enjoy the little wins, the milestones or sometimes just the activity.  Effort and achievement are sometimes like pumping water from a well.  In the beginning the effort is substantial and no results are seen.  If you keep working at it eventually the water will start flowing with little or only top-up effort.  If one becomes disillusioned with the fact that the initial work bears no fruits, it’s understandable that you might want to give up.  Find ways of rewarding even the activity if necessary, to keep you focussed and moving towards the end result.

“I’ve enjoyed every opportunity and live every moment.  And that is why I have no regrets.  It’s when you are not scared of losing that you win everything.” Shailendra Singh, Vice President, Sequoia capital

With your direction now set for 2021, put your head down and get to work.  Your future depends on you.  Our future depends on us.  Let’s do this: Lights, Camera… ACTION!

Harry Welby-Cooke, Country Partner for ActionCOACH Southern Africa