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How to Set Effective Goals

Setting effective goals is essential for success. But HOW you set goals determines whether you are  poised for achievement or frustration. In Harvard Business School report “Goals Gone Wild,” authors conclude that: “goal setting has been treated like an over-the-counter medication when it should really be treated with more care, as a prescription-strength medication.” Misguided goal setting may emphasize the wrong things and lead to extreme behaviors. Even worse, abandoned goals tend to breed anti-motivational states of cynicism and hopelessness.

Conventional goal-setting wisdom engages the acronym of S.M.A.R.T. It is a reminder to set goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-bound. In addition to applying these fundamental principles, here are some major pitfalls to avoid:

The Top Ten Goal Setting Mistakes

1. Choosing a goal that you aren’t fully willing to follow through on.

Kurt’s wife wants him to quit chewing tobacco, and while he wanted to please her, he isn’t truly willing to give up his habit. He goes through the motions on the surface, but never fully committed to quitting.

2. Selecting a goal that is beyond your personal control.

Deborah set effective goals to earn an extra $50,000 by spring, without taking into account changes in the marketplace. When she didn’t achieve her goal, she inaccurately presumed that she isn’t as qualified as her competitors, and lost much of her confidence and enthusiasm.

3. Making your criteria for success an “all or nothing” proposition.

Jack assumes he is a failure because he set his goal to lose 30 pounds in six months, and at the end of it all, his net loss is only 10 pounds. In the context of “all or nothing” thinking, Jack abandons his goal as unattainable.

4. Choosing a goal that’s not a high enough priority.

Ann set a goal to lose weight, but she values her diet of hot dogs and loves to spend time playing computer games. When push came to shove, she chooses her current lifestyle as a higher priority than making time to exercise and choosing healthy foods.

5. Assuming you can jump in without planning or rehearsing potential scenarios.

John is eager to fulfill his New Year’s Resolution of quitting drinking alcohol, but when he was out with friends and they bought him a drink, he was unprepared and went along with the crowd. Assuming he is a failure, he soon abandons his goal.

Lauren Archer Lauren Archer directs our Mindfulness Program. With over 25 years in private practice, Lauren is the author of Six Word Lessons on Changing Habits: How to Stop Self-Sabotage and Gain Self-Mastery. She has taught classes in the Community Health Education program at Evergreen Health, and helped thousands of people adopt healthier habits.

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