It’s January, and hopes are high for the new year. Goals are set, enthusiasm is high, and it’s going to be a great year! Twenty-one days into the new year: Habits are forming, your confidence is high, life is good. The goal is no longer just a dream; it’s attainable. It’s now February. You have not yet achieved some important New Year’s resolutions, but you’re on top of it, right? A few weeks later, it’s March. You have forgotten which goals are most important, which ones should take priority, and where to place your focus. April arrives: What was I working on? Does this sound all too familiar?
You are an American, living the dream, where you were told and believe anything is possible. It seems, however, like everything in the world is vying for your time and attention accept those personal goals you hold so dear. How grateful you are to live in the land of opportunity where your dreams of success are alive and well, but, unfortunately, they seem to give way to the daily duties and responsibilities of life. If this sounds like you, I would suggest asking yourself an important question: Are your goals driving you happy or driving you mad? Do you inch closer every day to creating a new reality by design, or do most of your goals create apprehension, stress, and lots of frustration? If you are like me, and most others, it’s a little of both.
Well, don’t fret. According to research by Scranton University, a staggering 92 percent of people who set New Year’s goals never actually achieve them. We have all suffered at one point with this depressing scenario; if you are like me, a Type-A personality, failing to meet goals hurts, creates setbacks, and results in discouragement. I have discovered top producers do things differently. They do something few others do on a regular basis. Top producers don’t just set goals; they prioritize them and plan to succeed. Together, priorities in concert with goals and a follow-up plan make a big difference.
Goals are paramount to success. They are the catalyst for most every successful task we set out to achieve. We are provided with many resources and a variety of ways to set, measure, and attain our goals, but few seem to be able to consistently perform well when it comes to achieving goals on a regular basis. I would like to shed light on the main reasons people do not consistently achieve their goals, even when they are knowledgeable about the practice and perhaps very successful in other areas of their lives.
There are many methods that will improve your ability to set goals, but the setting of goals is really not the problem. There are books that explain why setting goals are so important and how to go about it. We have all heard about SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely). And there are many experts and coaches who clearly explain the how-to mechanics of goal setting. So, what’s the problem? Again, the setting of goals is not the main obstacle to success. Few experts care to explain this, nor do they care to share why we so often fall short and fail at the process of goal setting.
Top producers understand that setting goals is just one step in a three-step process. Everyone seems to be pretty good at setting the goal (Initiate). To achieve your goals, however, you must make them a priority. Otherwise, they will be dead on arrival (Prioritize)! Finally, you must quickly follow up with a plan to accomplish the goal (Execute). This three-step process (initiate, prioritize, and execute) can be a daunting task, especially without priorities to keep you on track. So, let’s examine what exactly can be done to be efficient and effective with this three-step process and focus on the latter two steps where little attention is paid. Let’s look specifically at the tools we can use with steps two and three of the process and adopt the critical thinking skills that lead to prioritizing and executing on goals.
The prioritization and plan to execute on goals is elusive, because we are moving from the dream to reality. I submit to you that the dream is the fun, and perhaps even easy, part of the process. It is, however, the prioritizing and execution that most fail to even recognize as a critical step; thus, they ultimately fall short in the process. For me, the problem is clear: We love the dream, but fear the work. At the heart of the issue you will find it is not really about the goal at all; it’s oftentimes more about the other competing goals–the distractions! Think about it. We are flooded every day with competing information and the hijacking of our time and attention. There is literally an onslaught of demands placed on us in our information processing society: Family, friends, job responsibilities, business commitments, smartphones, social media, and the list goes on and on. It boils down to one simple issue: Our inability to set priorities, have the discipline to adhere to them, and then execute with a plan.
We set goals and literally delude ourselves into believing we’ll achieve them without a solid plan. While time wisps away, we quietly succumb to the demands life places on our time, and then passively dismiss the dream with hardly a fight. Let’s face it: Without priorities and a plan to fast track them, the likelihood for success is diminished dramatically.
I believe this is at the heart of the 80/20 Rule and the existence of average producers in every walk of life. We all have goals, but mediocrity and the inability to prioritize and plan rob us of these dreams. Harsh, perhaps so, but certainly not far from the truth for many. But, please don’t despair, there is an answer, and I can assure you it’s within your grasp if you will take a moment to reflect on your goals a little and ponder on them long enough to understand what it is that is most important to you. The good news is there is a tool to assist you with reflecting, pondering, and completing the process.
The Pair Analysis Goal Setting Matrix
Early in my career, I read a book by Kevin McCarthy titled, “The On-Purpose Person.” It was a real game changer for me, and I highly recommend this book. His strategy for expediting success for setting goals is to conduct tournaments between the goals. List your goals and have a bracket playoff tournament between them. His modern parable points out the need to compare and contrast goals until you determine which outweighs the rest and what is most important to you in your life at that moment. By going through the exercise, you are able to clearly initiate, prioritize, and better execute your goals. This process virtually eliminates subjectivity and puts into action a method for objectively, comparing and contrasting all that is important to you. It’s brilliant!
The exercise was so impactful for me, I later researched ways to improve upon the idea. The result was the Pair Analysis Goal Setting Matrix. I chose to modify this excellent tool by adopting a full-blown matrix to ensure a comprehensive objective comparison of all personal and professional goals. Mathematically, this approach ensures that all goals get a fair shake. The matrix contrasts each goal with one another, mixing personal with professional aspects of life in an effort to achieve balance while pursuing goals. With this modified approach, many are actually motivated to set even more goals! The process is inspiring and filled with intrigue; it will cause you to really think about all your goals for each aspect of your life. The process will ultimately help discover what’s truly important to you as determined by you and you alone, which makes the process a truly enlightening experience.
I’m very pleased to report that almost everyone who has used the Matrix has reported to me that they had at least one significant surprise on their list of newly created priorities, or at the least an “Aha” moment. Others have exclaimed that they had a bona fide epiphany as a direct result of using the matrix!
With critical thinking skills on the brink of virtual collapse in our modern culture, I believe an extra measure of objectivity to sort things out is definitely in order. A recent study by Terri Williams, published in Good Call, reflects that “over half millennials get an ‘F’ in critical thinking” skills.
But, if prioritized by your own hand, all that is important naturally comes into focus with the use of this tool. You will have a genuine insight into yourself and your goals like never before. And the reason you will glean such great value from the exercise is because it emerged strictly by your own hand, your own personal perspective, and your view on life. I can say with confidence, few ever get an opportunity to experience such clarity with themselves and their goals.
For many years, every speaker I represented in the public seminar arena place an emphasis on a goal setting training piece. There is an overabundance of ideas, concepts, and techniques on effective goal setting procedures. One of my mentors published 26 steps to goal setting in their advanced training; I had to make a goal just to memorize the 26 steps! Of the 26 steps, five stuck with me over the years. It should come as no surprise that each one is a how-to technique that contributes to quickly launching and focusing on execution. Here is a quick rundown on each step and the value it delivers.
1. Start Off Small
I may be the only authority to tell you that the no. one priority in setting a goal is to start off small. Quite the contrary to “dream big” as most others might suggest. My point is simple: The whole reason we set goals is to achieve them. If you want to write a book, perhaps you should start with a blog article first, then an essay, and then a news article for publication. I’m sure you get the point.
2. Be More Specific
Once you set a goal, you must be passionate about it for it to clear all the hurdles you’ll encounter along the way. Know your goals intimately. Take it, work it, massage it, banter back and forth with each aspect, and then better define what you ultimately want to achieve. I was trained to journal about my passions and read all I could about the subject to develop my interest thoroughly before launching without clear purpose. This step will galvanize your thoughts and propel you forward. Journaling and honing your goals makes a big difference.
3. Break Them Down
I have a great story about one of my early mentors and how he gave me the gift of self-motivation. The short version will suffice and drill my point home. My goal to make $60,000 a year was broken down for me in a most clever way. I was asked a series of questions to illustrate that if I wanted to make $60,000 a year, that was $5,000 a month, or $1,250 a week, which (given my closing percentages on the sale floor) was equal to 125 phone calls a day. This meant that I would need to complete 15 calls an hour in an eight-hour day. Need I say anything more? It brought my dreams into stark reality; I knew every hour of every day, whether I was on track or not. Breaking goals down matters.
4. Write Them Down
This is one technique I don’t fully understand, nor have a need to figure out. I only know that those who write goals down and post them where they can be seen on a daily basis increase their chances for success significantly. Common sense tells me that daily reminders coupled with others seeing them posted, and thus holding ourselves to a higher level of accountability, is the reason writing them and posting them is effective. Others might suggest it’s the act of writing them that does it. For me, it doesn’t matter. I use a day planner system that forces me to write hourly, daily, weekly, and monthly goals with action steps to keep me focused. This is time management in action. Done on purpose with your goals interfaced into daily activities will keep them constantly in front of you and help you place the important goals as priorities above and beyond the daily demands of life.
5. Persist Plan
Persistence is the great equalizer. I have seen very competent experts fail due to a lack of persistence, while underachievers with an almost naïve but unshakable commitment to their passionate goals rise to the top. Is perseverance a learned skill? Perhaps not, but true passion with focus helps even those with few skills rise above all obstacles and persevere. My point is: If you are very specific early on and define your goal and passion, the likelihood of being able to stick it out is enhanced exponentially. True passion is inexhaustible. When persistence becomes a bi-product of passion, you know you’ve embarked on a goal that is worth of all your time, worthy of making a priority, and worth stretching for during execution.
Creating priorities with the use of a matrix or any similar tool will have you beaming with confidence because you are borrowing from the scientific community with a tool that demands objectiveness and exactness when it comes to critical thinking. The matrix process rigidly demands thoroughness; once completed, the exercise will churn out a new set of priorities for you to contemplate. Your true goals will make themselves apparent. You will have a new focus. For some, these tools will create an epiphany.
Nothing is more exciting than witnessing someone having a personal breakthrough with their goals. Make creating priorities and plans a natural part of your goal setting and you will see why these steps matter so much. Those things that are important in your life will be rearranged, taking on a new perspective, new meaning, and a new priority in your life. These are sophisticated yet simple steps and tools that can be used over and over again to help with critical thinking. It will help you generate priorities and help you gain confidence with your decisions. You’ll enjoy revisiting it time and time again, especially when faced with tough decisions about your future. Priorities are just as important as goals; followed by a plan to quickly execute, you will catapult your goals forward and find yourself more motivated than ever before!
Paul Schween is a sales professional, author, trainer, and speaker based in Gilbert, Arizona.