The mystery of achieving goals
Goals provide a purpose for our actions, be they personal or career related goals. I have always been intrigued by people who write goals, and not at all surprised by the number that fail.
Why? Because most people think that goal achievement is just about writing a set of actions and targets, whereas it is about taking actions around building character to achieve your desired goal.
The real question is why do so many people fail to achieve their goals? I believe it primarily to a lack of understanding of how to structure your thoughts and actions on the process towards your goals.
The other area to consider very deeply is there are many people who espouse the benefits of visualisation as an important ingredient or process for achievement of goals.
If you examine the benefits of visualisation it tends to apply only when you are clear on your goals but trying to visualise a goal that is not clear in your head generally leads to frustration. It’s a very important distinction to understand and the process of visualisation is very specific.
Goals can broadly be categorised into Outcome Goals, Performance Goals and Process Goals. This process has attributes of left and right brained processes.
- Outcome goals are macro view goals; the big picture, focussing on the final desired outcome. Often there is little control over these Outcome Goals because achieving these depends on how your contemporaries are doing. For example, I want to be the highest GSI (Gross Commissionable Income) salesperson in XYZ company.
- Performance goals are more specific - I want to sell a portfolio of products/services worth $xx in the first quarter or out of 50 calls I want to improve or how I overcome resistant clients in the first 2 minutes of a call or as a tennis player 60% of first serves throughout the match.
- Process goals, as the name suggests, are small processes which help achieve the performance goals. For example, I will make xx number of calls a week and get xx number of meetings this week or your use of mental skills under pressure.
People are different in their motivations, some focussing on the big picture, whilst others are more performance or process driven. The challenge is to understand what works for you because each type of goal brings with it a unique pressure point. This means successful goal achievement also depends on how well you handle pressure – internal and external.
Let us consider those who prefer outcome goals rather than process goals or performance goals. Unfortunately, many salespeople who operate this way don’t handle failure well, especially within their work environment, because they fixate on the big goal and feel that they are not progressing quickly, which creates anxiety.
Often people talk about focusing on the process when in fact they fall in the trap of focusing on the outcome only and are unaware of the progress they are making every day as they are only focusing on the result. Therefore, their progress is never fast enough for them. This salesperson judges his/herself, and is often judged by others, based on outcomes (results) only. This is common in the IT sector as quarterly targets are the norm.
On the other hand, the salesperson who focuses more on process, tends to be internally motivated and can often handle pressure better because the outcome they are looking for is easier to achieve in the short term and they can see their progress, which fuels their motivation.
The major benefit of having process goals is that it removes the anxiety around goals, focus is achieved faster, therefore results are also achieved faster. Often, when you follow the correct process, the natural progression is the desired outcome. The benefit for focusing on the process is of course being able to improve the process. This is where the continuous improvement movement was born. The step-by-step focus on improving the manufacturing process as taught by Edward Deming, which revolutionised the Japanese manufacturing industry.
Successful sports teams tend to be strictly focused on process rather than just the outcome. This may sound simple but requires a significant amount of internal mental work to change from an outcome focus to a process focus.
This is important in those moments of intense pressure being able to run your routines, being in the moment without reacting to the pressure of needing to win. In fact, it is one of the keys to success to many high performing sports stars like Roger Federer to the All Blacks. Strategic behavioural change leads to process change, which in turn gives the outcome you desire. This is the reason I say that goal setting is about taking the right action to build character.
Another factor to be aware of is the need for immediate gratification. Freud spoke about the importance of the pleasure principle. Human beings are driven by an intense desire for immediate gratification. Nearly all goals require you to manage your desire and develop self-discipline to focus on the process. Therefore, the best form of goal setting in this industry is Skinnerian behaviour conditioning with small rewards along the way, which is why process goals are important.
Goal setting is all about developing yourself as a person, your capabilities, becoming better than you are. This is often called the Growth Mindset. What most people don’t realise is the growth mindset embraces change, especially moving out of your comfort zones.
The growth mindset is all about development, learning and acquiring knowledge, understanding there is a price to pay. Going after goals - financial, personal, relationship, learning, or health, all require embracing discomfort or pressure to a certain extent. The challenge is your brain does not like discomfort or change and it will give you instructions to avoid that as much as possible. At this time, you need the awareness to embrace this pain, deal with it and think about what you are wanting to achieve.
Professional sports people are always looking for new and better ways to improve themselves. No team, no player ever stays still.
To attain your goals, you must value learning as this will help you to make the right choices in business and life.
In summary, the successful people set goals for three main reasons:
- Provide focus and direction- which allows the person to keep their focus on the areas important to them if they are going to be successful. It can be to learn a new skill or to follow their plan.
- Provide focus for the effort to be made by the person. -key for persistence and effort
- Provide the purpose to build confidence and competence-linked to the purpose of the goal, to continue to work hard especially when going after challenging goals and attaining them build confidence.
The successful person needs to understand strategy, psychology and have the ability to execute the skill to a high level consistently. Ultimately achieving goals is about closure, the one thing all human beings desire in their lives and what we continually seek either the removal of a threat or the expected achievement of needs to be met.