You may have heard at some point in your life that you need to set your goals low so that you build confidence. The idea is to set your expectations low so that you won't be too disappointed if you fail. With that attitude, it's not "if" but "when" you'll fail...
I call these "lame goals" because you are already cutting yourself off at the knees by setting your sights low.
Of course, you usually don't say to yourself that you are "setting your sights low". What you say to yourself is that you want to keep your goals "realistic". Aarrggghhh! This infuriates me! That's another reason I say to skip the R (and the S and the A) in SMART goal setting and just focus on the M and the T.
While having some easy goals can help you build momentum, easy goals are really only useful as supporting goals. By that, I mean there are major goals and minor goals. Major goals have many supporting goals (minor goals) that are required along the path. I'll write more about major/minor goals in another article but here's an example:
A major goal could be "To have enough assets by 2015 that my passive income is enough to support all my basic living expenses." Then many minor "supporting goals" follow, for example "Purchase a small rental property by August 15, 2010 that is immediately cash-flow positive and that requires less than a $20k down payment." Or, as a really easy one, "Read 3 books on real estate investing by July 1." As I'll write in a few weeks, confusing your minor goals for major goals can cause major problems and limit your success.
Why Easy Goals Backfire
The problem with setting easy goals is that they easily slip into what I call the self-esteem trap – the idea of feeding your self esteem without actually accomplishing anything worth being proud of.
Setting goals that are too low or too easy undermine your true confidence. On the surface, you feel good because you “accomplished” that (lame) goal. But subconsciously, your heart and mind know you are just coasting and (again, subconsciously) you start to believe that you are incapable of achieving anything ambitious.
A Real-World Example That Hurts Individuals And Society
One real-world example area I am increasingly alarmed about that fits this description is obesity.
There are a growing number of fat people (pun intended) who are promoting the idea that being fat is ok. Actually, more than ok. It’s to be celebrated.
These are almost always people who have tried to lose fat, several times, and have given up. They believe they simply can’t do it. It’s just a belief, but they view it as fact.
Having failed at the true goal, they set a new (lame) goal of "well, I guess I'm just built this way, but I probably shouldn't get fatter". So their new goal: "Don't get fatter."
Let's say they successfully "don't get fatter". Well, they accomplished their goal. Sure, they are 300 pounds with no muscle, but hey - at least they can be proud of accomplishing their goal of not getting fatter!
In an effort to save their self-esteem, they convince themselves that fatness is ok, even good. But that’s all external show. Inside, they know they have failed. And their self-confidence is cut.
Let’s get this straight- it is not ok to be fat. It’s unhealthy and it’s selfish. That’s an internal and an external expectation there for those of you keeping track…
But what worries me most is that they have the potential to change society’s view on obesity. If kids start hearing from an early age that it’s ok to be fat. And if kids “learn” that, then they’ll grow up without any inner sense that they need to be other than fat. So it may never occur to them to have a goal related to fitness that is any more challenging that being fit enough to walk from the couch to the fridge.
Ok, let me step off the soap box and wrap up this article...
Set Non-Lame Goals
Why not set ambitious goals? What are you afraid of?
Any discussion of goal setting would be incomplete without mentioning the SMART framework. SMART goals stand for Specific, Measureable, Action-based, Realistic, and Timebound.
Or is it Stretch, Meaningful, Achievable, Results-Oriented, and Timely?
Or maybe the A stands for Agreed-upon? Or maybe…
“Ah, whatever. This is too confusing. I’ll just set my goals the way I always have. Which means I won’t really do it well.”
Unfortunately, you see this happen too often. A cute acronym gets butchered by well-meaning managers and self-help gurus. And what was designed to speed effectiveness ends up becoming a road block and maybe even the butt of a joke (I’ve been in meetings where someone next to me, bored with the lecturer telling them how to set goals, ends up finding some really hilarious word substitutions you wouldn’t want to show your kids).
While it’s easy to remember SMART, it’s hard to remember what each letter stands for. And even if you do, it gets even harder when you’re writing your goals to make sure you’ve satisfied each criterion.
Let’s Simplify This A Bit
I’m going to help you simplify this. The kernel of this idea came from a great business podcast called ManagerTools, so I credit them with the simplicity.
All you need for good goals is to make sure they are measurable and timebound. That’s it. The rest is common sense.
Every goal has to be measurable and every goal has to have a time-based deadline.
If they are truly measureable, they’ll be specific enough and certainly they’ll be results oriented (you are measuring the results, right?).
Timebound remains important because it tells you when to measure. And we all know that goals set to be achieved “someday” are less likely to happen.
As for the possible SMART interpretations of “realistic” and “stretch” and “achievable” – why would you ever want to limit them? Some goals should be realistic and some should be challenging. Forcing every goal into one of these buckets is lame.
And goals should be easy to remember. Encumbering them with extra words, just so that satisfy S.M.A.R.T. (whatever they stand for), reduces their effectiveness.
If you have staff that report to you, one sure-fire way to get them to roll their eyes is to ask them if their goals are SMART. It’s a bit patronizing really.
Try it right now. Pick an area in your life that’s important to you. Any area…
Now, what would you like to accomplish in that area? Start by trying to satisfy every SMART criterion. I’ll wait…
Done? Ok, how hard was it? How long did it take?
Now pick a different area in your life. Got it in mind? Now, what do you want to accomplish in that area? But this time, use just the M and the T – make it something you can measure and give it a deadline.
Done? How long did that one take?
Look at the two goals? Is the SMART goal any better than the MT goal?
I bet not. I bet that the MT goal took a lot less effort and time and may actually be superior in terms of the way it’s worded – so that you actually achieve what you want to. Do this enough times – say, for 10 goals - and you’ll be convinced that nobody needs the S, A, and R.
I've got my work cut out for me tomorrow. See, I have to lift more than I've ever lifted on two lifts (weightlifting) by tomorrow to meet my goals.
Maybe you don't lift weights. Regardless, this article should help you see why written goals are invaluable.
Over the summer, I set weight goals for 7 specific weight training lifts: squats, deadlifts, chinups, barbell rows, dips, bench press, and overhead/military press. The Big 7.
And tomorrow, I've got to make good on my self promises.
Goals = Self Promises
That's a good way to look at goals - they are promises you make to yourself.
In this case, I never told anyone I was going to set personal records.
But I did write them down.
6 Reasons To Always Write Down Your Goals
I know a few weeks ago I said that goals didn't HAVE to be written down. I simply mean that a goal is a goal, even if not written. But they SHOULD be written down. Here's why:
- The act of connecting pen to paper, or fingertips to keyboard, in and of itself reinforces the goal.
- You can't cheat later - the written goal is the metric by which you judge success.
- You can easily refer to the written/printout goal; even daily or multiple times a day.
- Writing lets you work and rework the wording of the goal; word choice matters. For example, one tidbit I love from Tom Venuto: you want to burn fat, not lose weight. Losing weight means you might lose muscle too. And even losing fat isn't quite right, because if you lose your keys, what do you actually hope will happen? That you'll FIND them again! Do you really want to find your fat again? No! You want to burn it so that it is gone forever. Small word choices make a huge impact on your success and the best way to get the right words is to right them.
- By writing your goals down, you get the additional positive reinforcement of putting a check mark next to them when you achieve them. For some of us (yes, that's me) there is a bliss that comes from checking something off your list that makes it even more compelling to complete the goal.
- The physicality of the written paper allows you to force reminders - you can't escape the list taped to your computer, or on your car steering wheel, or wherever you post them to remind yourself.
So Do I Follow What I Preach?
For each lift, I set two goals: one by the end of August, the other by the end of the year. The exact amounts aren't important for this article, but keep in mind that I'm not a powerlifter - my lifting is more about physique than about being the biggest and strongest guy (see my site, http://worldiftnessnetwork.com for more info).
I wrote them down, with specific deadlines and with specific amounts. So they were objectively measurable.
I read them at least once a week through July and August.
I met all my August goals.
And I promptly patted myself on the back (yay me!), and then... the goal list...
got lost in my shuffle of papers.
For September, October, and November, I neither thought about nor looked at my list.
Until three weeks ago, when I found the list in the back of my workout log.
I have to admit, when I saw the list, I was not happy at all.
Those goals looked scary.
I didn't WANT to meet those goals anymore. I didn't want to lift that much weight. It was so much more comfortable to just keep on my current lifting routine (which I was making progress on - in fact, I actually had set new personal records in all the lifts, just not high enough to reach the numbers I had targeted - what, was I on crack at the time I set those???)
Usually, you'll hear me talk about how important it is to review your written goals regularly. While that's a subject for it's own article, the basic idea is that the more important the goal, and the closer the deadline, the more you need to look at your piece of paper. Some people even tape copies of their most important goals to their toilet seat so that they must read them every day!
In this case, I have to be honest - these weren't that important of goals to me. My life, and the lives of those I care about, really aren't impacted by how much weight I can lift. Plus, last summer it seemed like the end of the year was a long way away...
So, I really hadn't looked at these goals for a while.
I took a deep breath and reminded myself that this is one of the reasons we write goals rather than just stating them.
The written word is far more permanent and doesn't allow your mind to forget or alter the original goals.
If I hadn't written them down, there's no way I would have met my August targets. Back then, the targets were fresh, urgent, exciting, achievable, and written. I easily met them all.
But now (three weeks ago) I was faced with a daunting task of having about 23 days to crush my records in 7 lifts.
I took out my lifting logs to assess the challenge.
Sometimes We Are Closer To Our Goals Than We Think
Turns out I had already met one of the amounts (deadlift). Whew. That left just 6 to go.
I was really close on 2 more. I ended up breaking those the next workout (bench press and chinups).
But the remaining 4 lifts were going to be hard.
So what do you do when your goal level is far from your current level? You set intermediate goals (or action steps).
One of these lifts was the squat. For those of you unfamiliar with lifting, this is where you load up a barbell with weight, hold it across your back, and bend your knees and hips until your hips go lower than your knees, and rise up again.
I needed to add 20 pounds to that lift. So I immediately changed my routines to lifting heavier, for fewer reps, and more rest. Then at the end of those workouts I did extra sets of what are called :partial reps" with super heavy weight. This is where you don't use the full range of motion, allowing you to get used to much higher weight. Then, before attempting the maximum lift, I made sure the muscles involved were rested at least 4 days.
Using this approach, I met my goals for squats and dips.
But as of this writing, I have not met my goals for barbell rows and overhead press.
And not to make excuses, but I hurt my wrist about a month ago that makes barbell rows very painful. This is a case where visualization is going to make a huge difference. Again, a topic for another article, but when you have to perform, visualization is critical. In this case, I need to prepare not only for the maximum lift but also to ignore the pain.
My training is done - now I need to perform. Tomorrow is the day.
I'll update this post in the comments section with the results!