Goal Setting: Attack the Gap

There’s Weird Advice Out There

I was listening to the radio the other day during my commute to work and, given that we had just celebrated New Year’s, the radio host was speaking about New Year’s resolutions.  He said that, for him, he doesn’t make specific resolutions because it’s too easy to fail and then feel bad about falling back into old habits.  Instead of setting specific goals, he prefers to make general aspirational statements like “This year I will be my best self.”

This approach is a really bad idea and really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.  In fact, I’d suggest that failing to set real goals is the biggest reason that people fail to accomplish their New Year’s resolutions. So let’s give some attention to goals.

Gap Analysis For Goals

I’m not going to re-post my change management model that I developed during consulting with a client organization; you can view the model in Developing a Baseline and Developing a Vision for reference.  In those articles, we talked through defining the current condition so we know where we are and defining a vision, which is an ideal state that is something to aspire to.  The “gap analysis” that is seen in Phase III of the model is essentially a process for figuring out how to get from the current state to the vision state.  Up to this point, the work we have done has been reflective and personal requiring the collection and analysis of qualitative data, like we discussed in Data-Driven Personal Growth. At this point you should know where you are and where you want to go. Now let’s attack the gap with some real goals that will help us move in the right direction.

Get Serious. Get SMART.

For goal setting, though, we’ll need to get more practical and use quantitative data where we can. It is very common to use the SMART approach for goal setting, in which goals should be:

Specific – Detail is your friend. Being detailed in your goals always you to truly know what you’re talking about, even on a subconscious level.

Measurable – You have to be able to measure whatever the object of your goal is. Use numbers, or if you’re tracking something qualitative, remember to keep a journal that is very intentional.

Achievable – Make sure your goals are within your reach. It’s okay to put numerous steps between a current state and an ideal state if you need to break it up.

Relevant – Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.  Make sure the goals you pursue support your vision.

Time-bound – Give yourself a due date.

The SMART method is tried and true, but I feel like the “Relevant” aspect doesn’t always bring the full punch to a personal change effort unless you’ve done quite a bit of soul searching and you really understand your purpose for doing what you’re doing.  That is exactly what we have done if you’ve been following the first several posts in this blog.  The process of creating a vision that has been detailed here goes above and beyond what you would typically encounter using the SMART method, which really treats relevance almost as an after-thought.  By being very intentional and really visualizing your ideal state, your goals will be very powerful in a way that most goals aren’t.

Examples of SMART Goals

The vast majority of goals can and probably should be quantifiable. Here are some examples of good quantifiable goals and an example of a qualifiable goal.

Lose 10 lbs. and 2% body fat by Memorial Day.

Goals don’t have to be – and should not be – complicated. This goal is very simple, and yet, it beats the pant off of something like “I gotta lose weight in 2020, man.” You may consider adding more specificity by describing exactly how you will achieve this. “This will be achieved by cooking 4 plant-based dinners at home per week, and by attending spin class 3 nights per week…” However you choose to add specificity, make sure it makes sense to you and can be measured.

Improve sales acumen by making 8 cold calls to potentials clients within the next 2 weeks.

              A goal like this is specific enough as long as the vision involves an increased degree of sales acumen, but don’t waste your time with goals that are meaningless to you, even if they will help your career. Find ways to feed your career and the vision at the same time! Follow-on goals to this may include particular outcomes such as sales call conversion rates, monetary increase in sales, etc.

Deepen relationship with significant other by having 1 date night every month for the next 3 months. No phones allowed!

              This goal makes sense for visions that include reduced screen time and/or enhanced romantic connection. I like this example because I think it demonstrates how quantitative means of measuring may be inadequate for goals that involve a lot of emotion. In order to “deepen a relationship,” if that is a critical part of the vision, you may consider qualitative measuring, which again, may include journaling about experiences and the feelings and raw emotions that occur during those experiences.

In which case, you may consider something like:

Give partner the benefit of the doubt more by resisting knee-jerk reactions and assuming negative intent. Ask questions instead of building stories in my mind. Qualify an improvement by March 15th.

If this were a real goal rather than just an example, it would probably be more specific to the fit a real need.  Many people would say that this goal is not measurable, but again, the point of this goal is to be measured qualitatively instead of quantitatively. As long as you have defined a status quo (Developed a baseline to compare new data to), have defined a vision (and this goals supports the vision), and you plan to use intentional journaling to document experiences, feelings, and emotions, then I’d say this goal is both specific and measurable.

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4 thoughts on “Goal Setting: Attack the Gap

  1. Excellent analysis, simple and SMART! I recently set a series of personal and professional goals for myself. i’ve learned over time, and in class with you, about the importance of goal setting and the gap analysis process. my recent goals were refinements of goals and approaches over the years, along with the experience and wisdom of failed attempts. i was unafraid of these goals, confident I could meet them, not because they were easy. I was unafraid, because I understood the impacts of not meeting them. And, because I understand the value of making deliberate, intentional decisions to set myself up to meet them.

    Thank you for sharing this article!

  2. Good for you, Brendan! I’m certain that you will be successful with your goals as you have armed yourself with wisdom gained from reflecting on past experiences. You make a great point about understanding consequences, whether good or bad, for the changes we wish to make. I’m reminded of this quote:

    “There are two primary choices in life: to accept conditions as they exist, or accept the responsibility for changing them.” -Denis Waitley

    Reading a little deeper, we could suggest that Mr. Waitley is speaking not just about a current condition, but also a current trajectory. As if to say “The way we’re going now will lead to X,Y,Z. Are we willing to live with that?” I think this is a powerful way of thinking that can either lead to a lot of hope and joy, or help us to get more serious about some things in our lives.

    Thanks for the engagement!

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