Many have made new year resolutions only to fail dismally in the implementation thereof. Others make goals to improve a certain aspect of their lives, but are not successful in creating a platform for new habits to form and for their newly-formed goals to be realised. This may result in frustration or even feelings of disappointment or despair. What is it about breaking with the old and sustaining the new that is so hard? Why do we fail repetitively in our attempts to solidify our good intentions into workable solutions and behaviours that impact our lives positively?
Goal-setting and the creation of action plans goes back many thousands of years when nations were attempting to fortify and build perimeter security walls for cities. In the past couple of hundred years, Benjamin Franklin outlined a step-by-step process for becoming a virtuous person through setting daily and weekly goals to increase admirable behaviour. Daniel Goleman, in his book “Primal Leadership”, pointed out that in the 1960’s, David McClelland of Harvard University showed that setting specific goals and developing a plan to achieve them made entrepreneurs more successful. He further showed that David Kolb, a former student of McClelland’s, later did a study that pin-pointed which parts of the goal-setting process were essential for improvements to occur.
In the work environment, managers are required to set goals to achieve targets and their direct reports are equally responsible for getting things done on time and in accordance with appropriate quality standards. Based on extensive research from a number of quarters, Goleman importantly emphasises key factors that help goals stick for people who have improved their emotional intelligence:
- Goals should be built on one’s strengths, not on one’s weaknesses
- Goals must be a person’s own – not goals that someone else has imposed
- Plans should flexibly allow people to prepare for the future in different ways – a single “planning” method imposed by an organisation will often prove counterproductive
- Plans must be feasible, with manageable steps: plans that don’t fit smoothly into a person’s life and work will likely be dropped within a few weeks or months
- Plans that don’t suit a person’s learning style will prove demotivating and quickly lose his/her attention
It would seem then, from the above, that goals have to be aligned to one’s personality, learning style and giftedness and also to what is considered to be really important to one if they are to stick and reach fulfilment. A further consideration is vision for the desired future state – goals need to contribute to a desired end result. Goals, and their achievement, should contribute substantially (even step by step) to one’s hopes for the future and one’s vision for one’s personal and professional development. Goals that are not rooted in a vision for the future are probably not going to stick.
Leading one’s life forward, with impact goals in place – impact goals that are receiving one’s focused attention – requires alignment to visionary self-leadership. Having a clear, uncluttered vision of a desired future state, both personally and professionally, is paramount in the creation of an environment where goals can stick and be acted on. The same goals, when aligned to personal giftedness and individual learning style, can produce great results in the achievement of progress steps towards the realisation of one’s vision.