Constructing a solid foundation from which to launch your strategic goals requires you to think differently than the status quo. In the process of working with a number of clients developing strategic life plans, I have had the opportunity to construct some basic tenants concerning strategic goals. If you implement these tenants in your planning process, you will position yourself to achieve your sustainable targets.
Last year I began a series of short books designed to help the average person improve his or her strategic goals through behavioral adjustments. My first book discussed ten ways to improve your retirement planning. In preparation for the next installment of The Advantage Series, I thought I would discuss ten behavioral adjustments that you can make to change the outcome of your efforts to achieve your goals. The following ideas are shared to help you think strategically. Each one gives you a little insight on how to think about goals. All of these will be expanded on in the next installment of The Advantage Series entitled 10 Ways to Improve Your Goals: Making Success More Achievable.
- Avoid setting negative goals – Don’t set goals to remove something from your life, set goals to achieve something in your life. When you set a goal to remove something from your life, you cause yourself to focus on that which you are missing. Instead, think in terms of adding something to your life. This will cause you to focus on advancing towards something instead of looking back and missing something. Goals should always be moving you forward, not holding you back. Don’t set a goal to reduce spending, set a goal to increase savings. Don’t set a goal to lose weight, set a goal to become more physically fit. Don’t get stuck in regression mode. You want progress with purpose, not regression with regrets.
- Understand your opportunity costs – To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, just as to every cost there is an equal and opposite residual cost. This is a simple concept, but it is amazing how many people overlook this one. A dollar spent today cannot be spent tomorrow. When you choose to pursue the noise and chaos of life, you sacrifice the opportunity to pursue your goals. Doing this long enough results in you getting to your retirement years and wondering where the time went. The opportunity costs associated with your goals always involves the one commodity you cannot make more of and that is time. Sometimes your goals require a financial commitment, other times your goals require physical resources, but your goals will always require time. If you spend your time chasing the wind, you will eventually wonder where your time went. Commit yourself to taking the time necessary to developing and achieving your goals before anything else. Goal priority is your choice, but don’t waste your time on pursuits that do not move you towards your goal achievement.
- Track your progress – Know where you have been, where you are, and where you are going. How do you know if you are moving towards your target without understanding your trajectory? Using the scorecard method allows you to identify significant deviations in your trajectory early enough for you to make course corrections. The process of scorecarding requires you to create a mathematical representation of your actions. This is called quantifying the quality of your actions. Financial goals are easy to quantify because financial goals deal with monetary resources, which is a natural mathematical unit. However, when your goals are not associated with mathematical units, the process of quantifying your goals might seem difficult. In the most difficult examples, simply assign a date by which certain objectives must be met. This will give you a simple but effective way to quantify the quality of your actions.
- Quiet the noise and reduce the chaos – to maintain focus requires a quiet spirit and a peaceful mind. Noise creates confusion and chaos causes you to expend your energy on activities that take you away from your goals. Did you know that several species of Tiger Moth and Hawk Moth have been found to produce ultrasonic signals that confuse an attacking bat’s acoustical targeting system? It’s a clever way to jam a bat’s radar / sonar, or at least momentarily throw it off target giving the moths a few precious seconds to make their escape.[i] This is the same experience you have when the noise of life becomes so intrusive that you momentarily lose focus on your goals. Instead of hearing that inner voice that guides you towards your achievement, you listen to the outside world that thwarts your efforts to stay focused. Noise not only creates confusion, but it also creates chaos. A quiet spirit does not listen to the naysayers who try to disrupt your attention. A peaceful mind is content to stay the course. It does not get distracted by the birds, which are eating the seed – a peaceful mind just keeps sowing the seed.
- Be patient – God’s not done with you yet. In this world of instant gratification, it is nearly impossible to slow down and wait patiently for the moment to arrive, the opportunities to develop, and the pieces to fall into place. I do not know how many times I have seen people give up on their goals simply because they could not attain the desired outcomes quickly enough. A SMART goal includes the concept of attainability. Attainability involves setting the proper time frames necessary to allow your goal to mature. This behavior is really about vision and endurance. It is about you giving yourself the time and space for your goals to mature. The process of maturing can produce excitement and fear. However, in all cases, maturity takes time. Therefore, give yourself and the changes you want to make the time to mature. Be patient with yourself, with your circumstances, with your ability to do what has to be done, when it needs to be done, and to accomplish what it is that you want to accomplish.
- Understand dependencies – These are the “if this / then that” scenarios of strategic goals. Like the work suggests, dependencies are actions or events that must be realized before the next sequence of actions or events can take place. Strategic goals are not singular in nature. They are strings of goals that build off of each other, thus creating dependencies. If you want to save one million dollars for retirement, you cannot just set aside one million dollars unless you already have that much cash. You have to create a series of goals that will move you towards that target. Financial goals like this tend to take on the complex goal structure spoken about in a book titled Strategic Goals: The DNA of Personal Success (found on Amazon). When you understand the nature of success being built upon success and achievement being built upon achievement, you understand the nature of dependencies. I call these the “if this / then that” scenarios because you will find yourself saying, “If I can set aside one percent more this year, then I will be able to accumulate more financial resources for retirement over the course of the next ten, twenty, or thirty years.” Goal dependencies have an accumulating effect such as compound interest. Each success builds the foundation for the next achievement.
- Be open to a variety of pathways – There is more than one way to skin a cat (fish) and if you are not careful, you can get stuck with the spines contained in the dorsal and pectoral fin. These spines contain a venom that causes edema (swelling) and is also hemolytic (causes increased blood flow in the area of the injury) if these spines puncture the skin.[ii] Now, why did I tell you that? Because whichever way you decide to “skin a catfish” you have to take precautions. It is no different with how you decide to achieve your goals. There are many ways to achieve the desired outcome, but you have to weigh each potential path and determine the pros and cons of each before setting out on your journey. Don’t become so fixated on one pathway to the exclusion of the others. Seek out the counsel of others who are achieving the results you seek to achieve. You might find that as you gather knowledge and wisdom in pursuit of your goals, a combination of several elements of different pathways will serve you best. In addition to the critical path, having a contingency and a mitigation plan will require you to make in line adjustments. So do not settle on a single path. Be open to a variety of pathways that will accomplish the same desired outcome.
- Recognize that the only constant is change – After all, change is why you set goals in the first place. Even in the midst of your actions to achieve your targets, you will experience change. You change, your circumstances change, the social, economic and political environment changes. And all the while, you have to make course adjustments to maintain focus on your desired targets. You have two options concerning change. You can be reactive to change or you can be proactive. The trouble with taking a reactive posture is you are always behind the change. In this sense, you are more of a settler on the vast open plains of the American West, having to settle for what someone else has accomplished. When you are proactive, you are the pioneer who is moving in advance of the potential problems faced by those who settle. You chart the course, you establish the boundaries, you are first on the scene to lay claim to the richness and fullness of life. When you recognize that change is the only constant, you identify the risks and create a mitigation plan to reduce the impacts of change and you establish a contingency plan to identify alternative pathways over, under, around, or through the obstacles that impede your progress. This way, when change arises, and it will, you have already laid claim to your targets by recognizing its possibility and probability.
- Do the leg work – Engineering success starts with knowing your desired outcomes, the materials you have to work with, and what type of foundation is required. It is, as Covey states, “beginning with the end in mind.” However, even with that, strategic goals do not accomplish themselves. You must do what is required in order to achieve what is desired. No great feat has ever been accomplishment unless the details were not first laid out and meticulously completed in the mind of the inventor. I have begun numerous chapters of books only to throw them out and start over again. Be willing to let go of a specific thought or direction and look for other ways to achieve your goals before starting your journey. You cannot climb Mount Everest on a whim. You have to secure the resources, map the path, choose the correct time of year, and plan, in detail, a myriad of other aspects of your climb before setting out. Doing the leg work of planning your pathway, being proactive in contingency and mitigation planning, and calculating the costs will position you for success.
- Just do it and do it now – Procrastination will get you nowhere fast. I posted this statement to Facebook and had a friend respond “I was thinking about saying the same thing.” I am not suggesting that you do something just to be doing something. But what I am suggesting is that after you have avoided setting negative goals, you’ve understood the opportunity costs, you’ve established a tracking method, you’ve quieted the noise and reduced the chaos of life, you’ve taken the time to allow your goals to mature, you’ve comprehended dependencies, you’ve identified a number of pathways by which to achieve your goals, you’ve recognized the possibility and probability of change, and you’ve completed all of the planning leg work, get up off the couch and get to work. You know what you need to do to accomplish what you want to accomplish. So what is stopping you? You have a choice to make. Is yours going to be a life of execution or a life of excuses? You have to be willing to step off the curb in order to cross the street. Everything you have done up until now has measured the traffic, figured out the pattern, and gauged the timing and rhythm of life. It is time to begin the journey of a thousand miles by taking the first step.
The process of goal development needs to include behavioral refinement. The more your behaviors reflect focus, intentionality, and action, the greater your chances are that you will be successful. Consider these behaviors as you move forward with your goal planning. They might just be the difference between your success and the status quo.
[i] Tropical Moths Use Ultrasonic Crotch Blasts to Confuse Attacking Bats by Andrew Liszewski on Gizmodo 7/05/13 2:00pm Accessed January 21, 2014 12:32 PM
[ii] How To Hold A Catfish and Do Catfish “Sting” Posted on April 29, 2011 Accessed on January 21, 2014 1:00 PM http://www.learntocatchcatfish.com/hold-a-catfish/#ixzz2r3bRTPwA