A Realist's Guide to Goal Setting

Learning how to better determine and achieve your life ambitions is vital to maintaining success

Here we are in March and while spring is coming, many folks are feeling rather down. The reason? They have failed to fulfill their New Year’s goals. In fact, it is reported 80 per cent of all resolutions fail by the end of February with less than 45 per cent of people still continuing on with their goals by year end.

While these are grim statistics, I’ve always had a sense of curiosity as to why people can’t seem to stick to their goals, especially when they are work- and/or career-oriented.

On the other hand, what can one do better to ensure success?

Many studies suggest goal failure is a result of too many resolutions undertaken at once, resolutions being too ambitious or resolutions being unrealistic within their respective timeframe.

However, if you were to ask Angela Duckworth, the author of GRIT – The Power of Passion and Perseverance, her answer to success would simply be, "GRIT."

Duckworth explains GRIT as being a combination of direction, passion and perseverance — all of which she sees as distinctly separate from talent.

In fact, in her view, talent is no guarantee of grit.

She demonstrated this by assessing sets of highly talented army cadets to find that those who made it through their tough boot camp had a future direction that they were passionate about and they combined this with a focused determination to reach their overall goal.

The author suggests there are actually four elements of GRIT.

She calls the first element that of "interest." In her view, interest means that individuals intrinsically enjoy what they do and so they will put up with and/or ignore smaller nuisances such as boring, frustrating or even painful activities in order to reach their longer-term goal.

Perhaps this concept might explain why so many diet and exercise resolutions fail.

In this case, the level of interest in reaching a certain weight is simply not deep enough and/or not meaningful enough, resulting in an individual faltering as soon as the individual encounters those boring exercises and/or restricted diets.

The same applies to work; if the work is not "intrinsically" interesting, activities considered to be a nuisance quickly become barriers to success.

For example, I am aware of a situation where an individual took five years to complete a highly technical report.

He simply wasn’t interested enough to stick with it until completion.

Of course, this raises the question: where was the boss?

The second element of GRIT as suggested by Duckworth is that of disciplined practice.

This means hourly, daily, weekly and monthly practice working toward your goal.

And let’s face it, in many cases, goals are written down on a goal sheet perhaps with some barriers described and how to overcome them.

However, this goal sheet is often simply set aside with an expectation the goals will happen all by themselves.

As you know, this just doesn’t work. Success means keeping those goals front and centre! It means developing the habit of working on the goals every day.

Not only that, but the quality of the time spent on your goal matters more than the quantity.

In some professions, reaching a goal can take up to 10 years. Meanwhile, other goals may require at least 10,000 good attempts.

Finally, deliberate proactive practice requires setting "stretch goals" that include increasingly difficult levels of a task accompanied by feedback.

The third element of GRIT is described as that of purpose.

You have to believe that your goal and/or work really matters, not just to you but also to others.

In many cases, this starts out as a self-oriented interest but, gradually, it turns into an "other-centred" purpose. In other words, if you simply have interest but you don’t have a purpose behind that interest, then your goal will surely fall by the wayside in no short order.

Purpose then becomes your motivation.

The author goes on to demonstrate different levels of goals by sharing a parable about brick layers and how they view themselves.

The parable reports that three bricklayers were asked: "What are you doing?"

The first says, "I am laying bricks." The second says, "I am building a church." The third says, I am building the house of God."

In terms of assessing the meaning of the parable, it can be said that the first bricklayer has a job, the second has a career and the third has a calling.

In today’s world, having a job is an economic necessity but it can also act as a stepping stone to a career.

However, when individuals have a "calling," they are doing what they consider to be the most important thing in their life.

These are the folks who love what they do; they have GRIT. And this applies to any industry sector and/or career.

The fourth element, according to Duckworth, is that of hope.

She refers to hope as a belief in the success of each of the elements and every stage of achieving a goal.

In her view, it is the element of hope that allows a person to falter yet get up and try again and again.

Hope allows people to see obstacles as opportunities, something an individual can learn from that will help them improve on the journey to reach their goal.

With this perspective on setting and sustaining your goals, take some time to review and assess them in light of Duckworth’s four elements of goal success.

Ask yourself, "What is the actual broader interest behind your goal?"

  1. If it is personal, does it contribute to your overall well-being?
  2. If the goal is work related, how does it fit into the bigger picture?
  3. Does your goal really speak to the broader interest or passion?
  4. Does the purpose of your smaller goals lead to your larger goal?

Since practice is so important, have you established a goal in bite-sized chunks so that you can see and measure progress?

  • Have you established a form of deliberate practice so that your new behavior becomes a habit?
  • How have you planned for feedback?
  • What do you do to encourage and give yourself hope at each step of the way?
  • And finally, how will you reward yourself?

With up to 80 per cent of New Year’s goals falling by the wayside by the end of February, goal setters need to start doing things differently.

Learning and practicing a new way of setting and accomplishing goals in one’s personal life will also help goal setting in the workplace.

Go for it!

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