How To Set Goals Without Screwing It Up, Part 1

Those of you who have been following IttyBiz over the years probably know how much I winced typing the words “How to Set Goals.”

Goals drive me crazy, because people tell you how they set goals and assume what worked for them will (naturally!) work for you.

Well, it might work, but it probably won’t work for you as smoothly as they promise it will.

Let’s think about any piece of advice out there on the “best” way to set goals, given by any well-meaning blogger, author or motivational speaker who’s dishing it out.

As we think about what they’re telling you to do, consider these questions:

  • Are you motivated by the same things they are?
  • Do you have the same time or flexibility resources they do?
  • Are you going to have the same emotional reaction as they are if you don’t hit your goal?
  • Do you have the same tolerance for complexity as they do?
  • Are you a match for their level of ambition?
  • Do you have the same support structure they do?
  • Are you willing to sacrifice the same kinds of things they are?

Depending on the answers to those seven questions – and those were just seven I pulled out of my hat – the advice you should get on goal-setting should be wildly different from every other person hearing that advice.

In other words, you should be pretty wary of “seven top tips guaranteed to work for you.” It’s just about as effective as “seven top tips to make every person like you.”

One-size-fits-all advice works about as well as one-size-fits-all clothing.

You’re reading this now, and I don’t know who you are. Therefore, I cannot tell you what is guaranteed to work for you.

However, I can tell you how to not screw it up.  (Because it’s incredibly easy to screw it up.)

Our brains, wonderfully evolved as they are, are actually pretty lousy at making rational and reasonable decisions. We’re terrible at predicting what will actually make us happy and how things will really play out.

(Goals that don’t give you what you thought they would and cost more than you thought they would are so common it’s cliche.)

So what we’re going to do in this series is ask a few questions that will help you separate goals that “seem like a good idea at the time” from ones that will actually give you what you want.

It won’t guarantee happiness, but it will probably save you a whole lot of unhappiness as you do whatever it is you do.

I’ve walked a lot of clients through these questions, and they’ve seemed to help a lot. So now you get them without having to pay me by the hour.

Let’s jump in with the first question.

Does this goal have a magical ending?

When you achieve a goal, what you are guaranteed to achieve is the goal, and the only the goal.

  • If you achieve your goal of getting 10,000 people on a list, you have a nice big list.
  • If you achieve your goal of losing 30 pounds, you are 30 pounds lighter.
  • If you achieve your goal of filling your store full of products, you have a lot of stuff people can theoretically buy.

Those are your only guarantees at the end of the goal.

However, it’s common to attach a magical ending to the end of the goal – a bonus, if you will – and believe that the magical ending is guaranteed, too.

  • If you’re trying to get a list of 10,000 people so you can FINALLY start making “the big money,” that’s not guaranteed. It helps. but there are other factors that have to be put into play at the same time.
  • If you’re trying to lose 30 pounds so you will FINALLY look more attractive and you can get more romantic attention, that’s not guaranteed. It helps, but you’re going to have to more than just fit into smaller clothes.
  • If you’re trying to fill your store full of products so people will FINALLY be buying from you every day, that’s not guaranteed. It helps, but you’ve got a lot of other activities you’ll have to coordinate as well.

There’s nothing wrong with any of those goals. They’re part of the equation, but they are only part of the equation.

Once the goal is achieved, it won’t make the magical ending happen “just because.”

But that’s not very sexy.

(Which is probably why people don’t tell you that.)

It’s very easy to get obsessed with a goal when you think that it’s the only thing you have to do to create a specific future where Something Is Finally All Better.  And why wouldn’t you?  A goal like that literally is the answer to your prayers.  We want things to be Finally All Better.

But thinking something will be “Finally All Better” is magical thinking.

Thinking it will be “Better” is closer to real – but still, it’s not guaranteed.

You may have your list of 10,000, but the market tanks, or a competitor comes in and takes your market share, or what your target market wants takes a big shift, you may not have the magical ending you’re hoping for.

Don’t get caught up thinking hitting a number or doing that one thing is the linchpin in your plan for success.

Does that mean you shouldn’t make goals with the end in mind?

No.

You should always make goals with the end in mind (otherwise, there’s not much of a point).

But you should separate out any magical endings.  That’s how you figure out what it takes to get to the real end.

View the list growth as a part of a larger plan to make more money.

View the 30 pounds as a part of a larger plan for becoming more attractive.

But don’t pin any “features and benefits” on a goal that aren’t guaranteed.

If you can manage to do this, a funny thing happens:  Your goals start to change automatically.

When you take the magical ending out of a goal, it loses a lot of its sexiness.  It’s not the Holy Grail anymore, and you assign it a level of importance that’s much closer to its actual value.

So when you realize getting your list to 10,000 won’t be the only thing that gets you to making more money, you stop getting so preoccupied, obsessed and stressed about it.  You start looking at the other pieces of the puzzle, and you start assigning them the attention they deserve with a much greater sense of calm.

You might start thinking to yourself, “Wow, I was going to spend 10 hours a week list building.  I should probably spend 2 hours a week listbuilding and more time cleaning up my sales pages instead, because I’ll probably make more money faster that way.”

You might start thinking to yourself, “Wow, I was going to hit the gym 5 days a week to lose 30 pounds, but maybe I’ll just go 3 days a week and spend that other time brushing up my social skills.  I’ll probably get the attention I want faster that way.”

You might start thinking to yourself, “Wow, I was going to try and make 4 more products this year to fill up my store, but maybe I’ll just make 2 and devote that other time working on improving my upsells.  I’ll probably make more sales that way.”

Wow, indeed.

When you take the magic out of a goal, it’s not sexy anymore.

Which is good.  We think a lot more clearly when we don’t have sex on the brain.

So take a look at the goals that are most important to you, the ones that keep you up at night wishing they were FINALLY achieved.

Take the magic out of the ending and see them for what they really are, and what they’ll really give you.

Then see if your goals merit some adjustment.

Do this too: Check your biggest, broadest goals for magical endings.

A lot of goals end with “And then I’ll finally be happy.”

A lot of goals end with “And then I’ll feel successful.”

A lot of goals end with “And then [insert name] will finally love / respect / look up to me.”

I don’t care who you are or what your situation is – there’s probably not a single goal that’s going to make this happen.  

Being happy and feeling successful is your choice.  You can control that.

Winning the love, respect and admiration of others is their choice.  You can’t control that.

Your goal won’t magically make these things happen.

Yes, they can be a part of the equation.

But you need to look at what else has to happen to turn the magic into reality.

A ray of sunshine, and then we move on.

It can be depressing to realize that your goals actually won’t get you the things you originally thought they would.

But!  Awareness is curative.

When you realize why your goal won’t magically make things better all by itself, you’ll realize what else you can do to actually start making things better.

And then you’ve got a plan.

You can read part two here.

(Also, if you haven’t already?  See if you want to subscribe to The Letter.)

 

About the author: Naomi Dunford started IttyBiz in 2006. In her free time, she likes to… ha! Free time. You’re adorable. Learn more about her here and catch up with her on Twitter or Facebook.