New research suggests we fail at achieving our goals because we approach them backwards.
When we first decide on a goal we are motivated by rewards. But as we put our plans into action, our focus turns to the difficulty of the effort we need to put in to achieve those goals.
That dooms us to failure, according to scientists at Queen Mary University of London.
They suggest the key to achieving our goals is to consider the effort needed when deciding what to do, and then remembering to focus on the rewards once the time comes to put the effort in.
To investigate the relationship between effort and reward, the researchers designed experiments involving two different forms of effort — physical and mental.
Physical effort was measured squeezing a joystick, while solving simple mathematical equations tested mental effort.
Study participants were presented with different options that combined either high or low effort with high or low financial reward, and were asked to select which one to pursue.
The scientists found that when selecting options, participants were guided by the level of financial reward offered, but on execution of the task their performance was determined by the actual amount of effort they needed to exert.
The researchers report the results were similar for both the physical and mental effort-based experiments.
The Keys to Achieving Your Goals
When I was very new to the collision repair business, I had a boss that always said the same thing on the morning of January 2. He said, “Everyone, the holidays are over; now let’s get to work!”
That boss scoffed at the idea of making New Year’s resolutions and he always seemed to know what to work on to be successful and move his business forward. Making New Year’s resolutions is a long-standing tradition in the U.S. and recent research shows that 61 percent of us admit to making resolutions each year. Unfortunately, only about 8 percent of us are successful in achieving those resolutions. Most people admit that they fail their resolution before January 31.
An article last year in Inc. magazine cited a survey of 2000 people and listed these as the top five resolutions:
- Diet or eat healthier (71 percent)
- Exercise more (65 percent)
- Lose weight (54 percent)
- Save more and spend less (32 percent)
- Learn a new skill or hobby (26 percent)
It seems to me that we’ve got it all wrong when it comes to making these resolutions and several quotable notables agree. Mark Twain observed, “New Year’s Day: Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.”
Why is it so difficult to achieve our resolutions? I think that the resolutions we make are not framed properly to be achievable because they are vague and largely negative. For example, losing weight is a negative construct. Nobody likes losing, even if the losing results in something positive. Most importantly, though, is that resolutions are not S.M.A.R.T. goals
What do I mean by SMART goals? SMART goals are established using a specific set of criteria that ensures your goals are attainable. SMART is an acronym that stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. These terms are slightly different than those used by the inventor of the SMART goal setting process back in 1981. The November 1981 issue of Management Review contained a paper by George T. Doran called There’s a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management’s goals and objectives. The paper discussed the importance of objectives and the difficulty of setting them. Here is a quote from Doran’s paper:
“Ideally speaking, each objective should be:
Measurable – quantify or at least suggest an indicator of progress.
Assignable – specify who will do it.
Realistic – state what results can realistically be achieved, given available resources.
Time-related – specify when the result(s) can be achieved.
Notice that these criteria don’t say that all objectives must be quantified on all levels of management. In certain situations it is not realistic to attempt quantification, particularly in staff middle-management positions. Practicing managers and corporations can lose the benefit of a more abstract objective in order to gain quantification. It is the combination of the objective and its action plan that is really important. Therefore serious management should focus on these twins and not just the objective.”
When writing a SMART goal, you work through each of those terms to construct a goal that states exactly what needs to be accomplished, when it needs to be accomplished by, and how you’ll know when you’ve successfully reached your goal. Setting goals this way is obviously better than making resolutions, because it eliminates generalities, guesswork, and negative verbiage and sets a definitive “win” opportunity all the while making it easy to track your progress to the goal.
Let’s unpack each of these terms and apply some real world examples to each one so we can better understand how to use this system.
The first term is “specific” and is the foundation piece of the system. Specific goals are more likely to be attained than general goals and resolutions. To set a specific goal, you have to address the five “W” questions.
- “Who”: Who is involved?
- “What”: What do I want to accomplish?
- “Where”: Where will the actions occur?
- “When”: When will the actions occur, within what timeframe?
- “Why”: What are the specific reasons and benefits of accomplishing this goal?
As an example, a general goal or resolution might sound like, “I want to get in shape” whereas a specific goal is, “I will join Gold’s Gym and do workouts every week.” A financial goal that is general in nature might sound like, “I want to save more and spend less” whereas a specific goal is, “ I want to pay off credit card debt.”
The next element is “measurable” and, in a nutshell, refers to the ability to track your goal using numbers. If you notice in the examples above, we don’t have any numbers and measurements in place. A well-constructed SMART goal of doing workouts should sound like this: “I will join the gym and do four workouts of one hour each per week” Paying off credit card debt goals sounds like, “I will pay off $3,000 of credit card debt by applying at least $150 to that debt each month.”
By adding a measurable element to your goal, you can easily track your progress and also be aware when you get off course toward your goal.
There is one very important step
that you must take when establishing your SMART goals.
It sounds so simple, yet most people fail to execute on it. The most important step is write it down.
The letter “A” stands for “attainable” or “achievable.” While I believe that your goals should be something of a stretch, you’ll want to make certain that the goal is actually achievable. For example, most companies don’t become a billion dollar enterprise overnight, so you’ll want to gauge the achievability of your goal by asking a few questions: Is this goal something I have control over? Do I have the necessary resources, knowledge and time to accomplish this goal? Are the actions I plan to take likely to bring success?
Here is one of the subtle secrets to successful goal setting: You must make your goal actionable. Use action words and verbs to draft your goal by listing out the exact steps you will take to accomplish your goal. Let’s say you have a goal to exercise 30 minutes per day, five days per week but you want to make sure that is achievable. In this case, you might look at your typical daily schedule and note that you love to watch “Jeopardy” every evening at 7 p.m. and the show lasts 30 minutes. If you then construct a series of action steps, they might look like this: “I will set up my exercise bike in the TV room and will ride the bike for 30 minutes while watching the nightly episode of “Jeopardy.” I will not watch Jeopardy if I am not riding my exercise bike.” This seems to me to be a simple, action-oriented and attainable goal.
The letter “R” stands for “realistic” or “relevant.” I believe that the standard term of “realistic” fits better as a descriptor of “attainable” or “achievable.” For that reason, I tend to create goals using the term “relevant.” In simplistic terms, a relevant goal is one that is worthwhile and is actually important to you right now. Ask yourself these questions: Will this goal make a material difference on achieving my larger objectives? Is this goal closely aligned with the mission of my business or my work team? Will this goal make a meaningful, positive impact on my life, or is this just a random idea that sounds good at the moment? Let’s face it, if the goal is not important to you, it is likely to fail. If you are setting a goal for your own personal development, you’ll know if the goal “feels right” and is relevant.
The letter “T” stands for “timely” or “time-bound.” Now, it might seem obvious, but goals can’t stretch out into eternity. When do you want to accomplish the goal and be able to say it’s complete? Next week, next month, 90 days from now? Robert Herjavec, one of the entrepreneurs on the TV show “Shark Tank” is quoted as having said, “A goal without a deadline is just a dream.” I think Robert may have been influenced by Napoleon Hill, the author of Think and Grow Rich who stated it this way, ”A goal is a dream with a deadline.”
Not withstanding the semantics of these two aphorisms, it is vital that your goals have a deadline. Otherwise, how will you know when you’ve reached the goal? Deadlines need to be specific. You can’t say you’ll accomplish something by next summer. That’s too vague and allows you too much wiggle room to extend your goal. It’s also too ambiguous for people who may be working with you to achieve a goal. It’s better to say that your goal will be reached by a certain date so that everyone can retain their focus on the action items that need to be completed to achieve the goal. Deadlines create a sense of urgency that stimulates action. If you’ve set a goal to drop 40 pounds and you think you can do it by exercising 30 minutes per day, then the last remaining element is to decide on the date that you’ll achieve the goal. Tie that back to the “attainable” or “achievable” element and you’ll have a very solid goal in place.
Using SMART criteria for setting goals is a huge improvement over the old New Year’s Resolutions scenario and I hope you will begin to use this method right away in your personal and professional life. Once you’ve set some goals remember to write them down. According to a study done by Dr. Gail Matthews, a psychology professor at Dominican University in California, you become 42 percent more likely to achieve your goals simply by writing them down on a regular basis.
Lastly, don’t forget to celebrate small wins that you make along the way to achieving your main goal. Our brains are wired in such a way that celebrating wins creates a sense of happiness and these accomplishments stimulate further motivation to reach the finish line.
by Steve Morris
December 31, 2019 / January 28,2020
-Steve is director of operations for Pride Collision Centers,
a seven-location MSO located in Southen California.
He is an Accredited Automotive Manager (AAM) and ASE-certified master technician.