Too Many Goals? Try Setting One or Two at a time. Sound scary? Let’s explore this further.

At a recent speaking engagement, I was asked how a coach could help someone who consistently does not meet the goals they set for themselves. Well, to start with, my definition of a goal is that it is a dream with a deadline, not a ‘To-Do’ list.

So, the answer was pretty simple. Try setting fewer short, medium and long term goals. Otherwise, you are setting yourself up for failure – or at the very least, feeling like a failure or thinking that you’re just plain lazy.

It’s kind of like the psychology experiment conducted by Pavlov (you’ve heard of Pavlov’s dogs right?) where he rings a bell and then food drops into a bowl.  Later in the experiment, after the dogs are conditioned to hearing the bell and getting food, he stopped the food.  The dogs went right on believing they were going to get food and began salivating at the sound of the bell.

We tend to do the same thing to ourselves.  We condition ourselves to equating certain activities with rewards.  We set what we think is a goal, take action on it, accomplish it and reap the rewards.  So then, we set two goals, then three and before you know it, we’ve got a whole page full of them.  But somewhere during the process, we find out that our goals keep getting pushed back . . . month, after month, after month.  And we don’t even realize that we’ve morphed our goals – our dreams with deadlines, into a rather extensive ‘To-Do’ list.

If this describes you or someone you know here’s what you can do to remedy the situation.  Take out a piece of paper, or for those of you who are computer-driven like me, write down the one, two or three goals you would most likely accomplish in three years.  Make them big and specific, not just “I’d like to have more money”, but more like one I heard today from someone in my circle of influence, “I really want to spend more time with some of my elderly relatives because time is passing too quickly”.  That’s a great goal, because now he has the ability to focus on the strategic and action steps needed to get there and they include setting smaller goals in his business, personal, and spiritual lives.

I recommend that my clients take on goal setting like project management.  Once you know what you want to accomplish by when, you can move backwards in smaller, more manageable segments.  Action plans should have major increments, like one, two and three years, along with smaller segments of say, three months.  And they MUST be written down! 

A study conducted withPrincetonUniversitygraduates showed that in one graduating class, 17% of the class wrote down their long term goals while the other 83% did not, even though they pointed out that they had goals in mind.  These same graduates were contacted 10 years later and asked about their goal achievement.  Strangely enough, the 17% who wrote down their goals achieved them and the 83% who did not, were still trying.  By the way, almost all of the 83% still had not written down their goals!

After writing down those yearly goals, it’s then a smart next step to create A and B goals for each smaller segment that will permit you to reach the larger, one, two and three year goals – the really big dreams you want to make come true.

You’ll find that developing short and long term goals will not only better assure a higher success rate, but that you will accomplish much more than you are right now.  And life will be great!