The Science of Goal Achieving

life goals Jan 13, 2020

Goal setting is something we all do for ourselves and with our teams. We set goals for our careers, our health, and our lives. Organisations and modern society in general are always encouraging us to think about the next milestone. And there is a very good reason for this.  Robert A. Heinlein identifies the necessity for goals so well – “In the absence of clearly-defined goals, we become strangely loyal to performing daily trivia until ultimately we become enslaved by it.” 

Without clearly defined goals, organisations, teams and individuals spend a lot of time being very busy and achieving not very much at all.  How many times have you asked a team why do we need to run a particular report or complete a particular routine task, to find out it is “because we have always done it this way” with no thought given to, is it even needed and who is using this report?

So, once we have the clearly defined goal, we then need to start thinking about the science and strategy of how to achieve these goals.  You know most people, teams and organisations don’t fail because they started something and it did not work.  They fail because they stopped before they even started. There is a real science that is well documented and can be tailored to any situation when it comes to the “Art of Goal Achieving”.

Here are just four simple ways to trick your mind into helping you accomplish your goals, as a starting point:

1.  Be Specific

Behavioral scientists Edwin Locke and Gary Latham examined 35 years of empirical research on goal setting.  One of the conclusions from their meta-analysis was that ambiguous aspirations, such as “do your best” rarely inspire the behavior change necessary to achieve a goal.  What works, the research shows, are goals that have clearly defined outcomes.

All of us want a better future, yet if we are not crystal clear on what we want, it is doubtful that we will obtain it.  Specific goals have an energizing function.  It is hard to get excited about pursuing an ambiguous goal.

A specific goal provides the mental clarity that allows the mind to easily conceptualise the behaviors needed to obtain the goal.  It is fine to create goals, but what really matters is that those goals influence future behavior.  This is why goal specificity is so important; it fuels the behaviors that take a goal from a dream to a reality. Being specific allows the mind to visualise.  We think in images and to create images on the screen of our minds, they needed to be specific.

As a side note, the goal itself also has to be exciting, fresh and new.  We have to be emotionally attached to the goal to allow ourselves to pursue the vision long term.  A goal that is too easy becomes routine and the chances are, it will be abandoned very quickly. If you want to promote creativity and innovation in your organisation, you want to be encouraging the team to come up with a big goal that they have never done before. 

2. Change Your Environment 

Sometimes a fresh environment is all you need to kick your brain into gear. In one study, scientists discovered that students who transferred to another college were more likely to change their daily habits than students who remained at the same place. This is why it is important to take your teams of sight for your yearly and mid yearly planning/training sessions.

Environmental cues are essential when it comes to habit formation, in part because the mind is excellent at connecting an environment with a specific situation. As an example, someone who likes to snack while watching a movie might not be able to resist buying popcorn, even if they are not hungry. According to Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, the best time to change a habit is on vacation—because your usual environmental cues are missing. 

If you find yourself constantly giving up on your goals, take a look at your surroundings; Is it difficult to clean the living room because you are so used to watching television in that space? Do you zone out when you visit your favorite coffee shop instead of finishing your report? Try sitting in a different chair or working in your local library. Take your team out of their normal environment. Seeing new sights may make it easier to achieve goals. 

3.  Create Action Triggers

For many, pursuing a goal is a frustrating endeavor.  Even though people often start out with the best intentions, within a short period of time their self-discipline fades and they fail to realise the goal. 

It does not have to be this way.  Research on this topic has discovered why this occurs and what can be done to counteract it.  The evidence suggests that self-discipline is a depleting resource that is heavily influenced by many factors.  One of the best ways to strengthen your resolve to accomplish a goal is to use action triggers.

Action triggers are pre-loaded decisions that link a behavior with its environment.  For instance, imagine that you want to begin going to the gym.  If you were to create an action trigger of visiting the gym on your way home from work, you have connected the behavior (going to the gym) with an external reference (driving home from work).   This will pass the control of the behavior to an environmental stimulus, which will also improve the likelihood that you will get in the habit of stopping by the gym every day on your way home from work.

For teams these action triggers could be in form of setting up accountability sessions.  Set up short weekly and even daily accountability sessions and you will see an immediate change in behavior.  These quick huddles would be organised to ensure people know they are supported and are designed to help eliminate any road blocks along the way quickly. These sessions will quickly allow people to change their behavior to ensure work is completed on time.

4.  Focus on Feedback

In the pursuit of any goal there are always unexpected twists and turns.  Rarely do things go as planned.  Successfully adapting to new obstacles and changing circumstances is a primary factor in achieving goals.   

The way to know how to best alter your course and propel yourself toward your goal is through feedback   Research confirms receiving feedback that explains where you are in relation to a goal is the key to unlocking the path to success.

For example, in your pursuit of a goal you may notice that you are not making as much progress as you once were.  As you analyse what is occurring you may realise that you need to change your strategy or exert more effort.  How you respond to this feedback will often determine if you reach your goal.

For teams, the feedback can be given during the weekly and daily huddles.  It is critical that feedback is given at the right time and quickly to ensure swift change in course of action if needed. People then feel connected.

Achieving any worthwhile goal will present challenges.  Although, through utilising the science in your favour you are far more likely to behave in ways that will move you closer towards what you or your team desire. 

If you are interested in a customised workshop on the Science of Goal Achieving or want to chat further email  [email protected].

You can also enquire about the “Goal Achievers Workbook” for you or your team on this same email.

Feel free to post a comment or share this with anyone you feel could benefit from this on LinkedIn.


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