Goals – Angry About Failing Frameworks? Channel Your Emotion Into Your Goals for Amazing Results
Hello all fellow “career ringers” out there! Do many of the goal setting frameworks leave you frustrated and even a little angry because you’re not fully realizing success with your goals? In this article I look at three (3) reasons that your goal planning framework may not working as well as you might like and how, with some minor adjustments, you can increase your probability of success.
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Feel like creating goals is a chore? If so, why?
“… there is too much significance placed in creating goals and far too little emphasis placed on what the goal represents and the ongoing role it plays until it is achieved…“
Let’s start with a few questions. Are goals something that you look forward to creating each year? Are they tasks that you know your manager is going to assign you to create? Perhaps, they’re something you know you should create but don’t look forward to? How successful are you at completing your goals? How do you feel when you complete a goal?
In many cases, planning yearly goals is seen as a boring, unpleasant exercise that we must (or at least should) do. Folks, that’s pretty close to the definition of “chore.” But goals are supposed to help us see a clear path for growing ourselves, our careers, our lives resulting in benefit for us, our families, our teams, companies, and others – right? Where do these plans fall short?
Creating the goal is arguably the easiest part of the process. There are a number of goal setting methods that accommodate a wide range of needs and personal preferences. As an illustration, here are a couple articles from Jell.com and userpilot.com that list over 10 commonly used and discussed goal planning frameworks. Any and all these frameworks can be used to create goals. So what is missing?
In my opinion, there is too much significance placed in creating goals and far too little emphasis placed on what the goal represents and the ongoing role it plays until it is achieved (or changed or abandoned). The main three (3) things that are essential to sustaining interest in and increasing the probability of successfully completing the goal are:
1. Incorporating an emotional investment (or “emotional relevance”) into the goal.
2. Embracing and executing a conscious, frequent, and consistent schedule to revisit the goals.
3. Tying visibility (traceability) of the short term goal to the one or more longer term plans (or systems) that it supports.
Without taking these three things into account in creating the goal and executing our goal plan we greatly decrease the probability of successfully completing the goal. Let’s take a quick look at each of these in some depth and then apply them to an example goal based on the popular SMART goal setting method.
Why are emotional investment, frequent review, and connection to long-term plans/systems important?
“…I cannot think of a significant achievement I’ve made in my career or life that did not have some strong emotions attached…”
Good goals are tied to the things we value. Great goals are tied to things we value and that provide some form of emotional reward. I’m not suggesting that we only do the things we like or love doing. Nor am I suggesting that we can avoid working on things that we find boring and unnecessary in our day-to-day lives and jobs.
I am suggesting that you do not create chores during your goal planning process. Instead, even if there are uncertainties or menial tasks you’ll have to perform to achieve the goal (i.e. that may introduce some negative emotions (fear, doubt, etc.)), the end payoff can provide the motivation to complete the goal. Put another way, are you having issues motivating yourself to achieve goals? Setting goals that have emotional payoffs at the end integrate motivation by default – you don’t have to “bolt it (motivation) on”, artificially, as you go. I cannot think of a significant achievement I’ve made in my career or life that did not have some strong emotions attached.
Revisit goals frequently…
Goals are more likely to succeed when we revisit them often. Whether that’s daily, weekly, or monthly planning – goals that are “shelved” for any length of time are less likely to succeed. A “better” framework is not the answer. There are many frameworks out there – choose the one that fits best with you. The only “bad” framework is one that you will not use regularly. Out-of-sight goals leads to out-of-mind goals leads to failure to make progress on the goals and that leads to failure. Regardless of the framework you choose, setting a regular schedule for review is critical.
Visibility of your goals in your personal “big picture”…
I’ve read several arguments that people should replace goals with “systems” or “processes”. To me, these arguments are over semantics. A plan (or system or process) of any size cannot be achieved with reliable success without some division into smaller components.
Whether you call these components “goals” or some other word is irrelevant. The keys, in my opinion, are 1. Create a plan that provides direction towards the objective; 2. Assemble parts (goals) that represent tangible, accessible, rewarding steps towards that objective; and 3. Establish and verify a clear connection between the two – demonstrating progress and providing emotions to fuel motivation. Without the connection, it’s easy for goals to simply become “check boxes” on a “check list”, losing their emotional fuel.
Traceability from short term goals to long term objectives doesn’t need to be complicated. In many cases your use of keywords relating the short & long term objectives is s sufficient. If you find something more definitive is needed, a sentence explicitly stating the traceability can prove useful.
With these 3 things in mind, ;let’s take a look at how we can take a “good goal” based on the SMART goal setting framework and make it “great”.
Example using the SMART goal setting method
“…Let’s add… minimal changes to the SMART goal… (to)… provide some motivational fuel…”
Most of you are likely already familiar with the SMART goal framework given it’s popularity with companies since the early to mid 1980’s. As a primer or recap the acronym stands for:
S – Specific
M – Measurable
A – Achievable
R – Relevant
T – Time-bound
Some references may have slight variations on the words used for each letter of the acronym but the above are the most commonly used and are sufficient for this example.
Now that we have the definitions fresh in mind, let’s create a basic “sales related” goal. As an initial draft we come up with the goal “Make 25 new sales of at least $10K by the end of the first quarter“. This meets the basic, SMART criteria:
Specific – 25 or more new sales of at least $10K
Measurable – Number of sales and amounts are well defined and can be measured periodically to determine if we are on-track to achieve our goal
Achievable – Let’s assume we’ve made 20-22 sales of $10K or more for the past 4 quarters and both we and our management feel confident that 25 can be achieved with some effort in the current market
Relevant – Let’s assume that there are sales goals for the team/business that align with this personal goal. It is both relevant to us as well as our management/business.
Time-bound – The goal is to complete within the first, fiscal quarter so there is a clear, short-term, end date.
In looking at the base goal it does meet the requirements for the SMART framework. That said, can you tell why this goal was set (what’s its purpose; how does it serve any larger plan)? Is this a personal goal that the author created to stretch themselves or is it a company imposed directive? Does this goal represent the author keeping pace with the demands of the business or is it going to help them build towards an objective of greater meaning? In short, where’s the why?
Let’s add some minimal changes to the SMART goal that may help clarify some of these questions and provide some motivational fuel for the author.
Revised goal statement:
“I will make 25 new sales of at least $10K by the end of the first quarter. Meeting this goal is a step towards becoming a senior sales team member meaning more money for the college fund for my children and funding for a special family vacation to Hawaii in 2 years. The additional sales both helps my company make/exceed their sales projections and the products being sold help thousands of people per year – selling more products makes me feel good that I’m having a positive impact on the lives of others. [This goal supports my system objectives: 1. Senior Sales position promotion; 2. Personal financial plan; and 3. Work-life balance (enjoying experiences in time off. ]“
Yes, this is a bit longer and richer than the simple, original SMART goal. What payoff do we get from the additional (albeit minimal) effort?
Effort/Benefits of the suggested changes. A few lingering questions…
“…the total time investment for creating the goals can be 30 minutes or less…”
What does this update do to help the author reach their objectives? What is the additional investment and what are the potential rewards? Here are a few highlights:
- It starts with “I will” taking ownership. While this is a minor point and some may argue is implied in the original version, clearly stating and reminding yourself that you own this goal can be motivating.
- With just 3 additional sentences the author summarizes not only their desire to reach a new position but why that new position is important to them personally. They state what this goal means to people they care about as well as themselves. They also set a reminder that this not only helps their business achieve its goal but also helps customers. Both these make them feel good about themselves and the work they are performing. They summarize what larger objectives this goal helps move forward.
- Can the same effect be handled differently – in other words can specific goals be tied to larger, more complex, long term plans without being stated within the goal? Yes – if those more grand plans are visible and frequently revisited along with the goals and there is a clear association of the short term goals to one or more long term plans. In my opinion, adding the “emotional relevance” statements into the goals can be a more clear and effective way of tying the short and long term objectives together with minimal effort. Use the approach that you find most clear and efficient to you.
- What was the investment? Writing the goal containing these 3 sentences took less than 5 minutes. A few more minutes may be invested to adjust the wording to make them even more compact if desired. If we accept a target of 3-5 active goals as the maximum the author will be working on at any one time, the total time investment for creating the goals can be 30 minutes or less.
- I don’t see anything in here about how frequently the author is going to review the goal. That is true and a fair observation, the expectation is that the author will set up a schedule that works for them to review this and other goals. They get to decide how frequent works for their system.
- What is the return for the additional time expanding on the basic SMART goal? The true outcome will depend on the diligence of the author. It has been my experience that combined with a frequent review schedule, I have been much more motivated to complete the expanded goals on or ahead of the targets. I think this is largely because the “why” reminders keep the energy tank full.
Addressing a few, anticipated questions…
OK – perhaps you’re sold on the time investment to expand your goals (regardless of framework) to include some emotional relevance and traceability to larger efforts – what about the schedule? How does that work? Let me share some thoughts that worked from my own experience – keep in mind that you may have to tweak or find a better path that works for your own, unique perspective.
During my time in corporate life I set up regular intervals for this type of task. One schedule I found helpful was looking through my 3-5 active goals as I was planning out my week (usually a 30-45 minute task on Sunday evening or early Monday morning).
I didn’t analyze or try to change the goals each week; instead, I read them to make sure they were part of my active thinking while planning out my week. I might make a quick note for a meeting where I could make some progress on a goal. These notes took very little time to produce and were valuable in helping me take advantage of opportunities (which I may have easily missed without them). As I moved into management, I did something similar to help staff with identifying opportunities to achieve their goals (let me know if you would be interested in hearing more about this process in a future article, podcast, or video).
The most important thing is to find a schedule and process that works for you and stick with it. I had situations where I found my schedule interrupted the cycle. If that happens to you, work on getting the rhythm back as soon as possible – the longer you’re not practicing the routine, the more opportunities you will miss and the greater the chances are that you will fall behind on or fail to fully realize your goals.
I feel some of you thinking “What if I have negative emotions surrounding a topic? Can I use them?” Negative emotions are certainly powerful – for example, fear can motivate us to do amazing things. It can also cloud our judgement into behaving terribly.
I endorse using negative emotions to fuel a positive outcome. For example, in the title of this blog I mentioned being “angry” about “failing frameworks” and channeling that emotion for “amazing results”. Let’s say you are angry or embarrassed (or similar emotion) that you didn’t complete your goals last year. Channeling that emotion into improving your process and being successful this year is a positive way to use the energy for your benefit. For example, “I am expanding my weekly planning exercise by 5 minutes to review goals. This will help me improve my potential of successfully competing my goals, feel more fulfilled in my job, and avoid my embarrassment in failing to achieve my objectives.”
“Hey, I’ve heard of SMARTER goals before – isn’t that what you’re describing?” There are some authors that have suggested a SMARTER goal framework with the “E” representing “evaluate” and the “R” representing “can be revised”. While I fully support evaluation and modification of goals as your professional environment changes, I think that the “emotional relevance” can provide significant returns and better serves as a driver for success.
As I mentioned earlier, in my opinion, goals should be short term directives that show progress towards a larger goal and that to be most effective they must be reviewed frequently. While my approach does not recommend performing a full evaluation and revision exercise each time they are reviewed, it does not demand that you move forward, blindly, to complete a goal that is no longer relevant. If there is a significant change in the long-term objectives, there will likely be a change in the emotional relevance that will trigger a revision exercise for the short-term goal. There is certainly a place for introspection and adjustment when you’re planning your day, week, or month and I find that “evaluation and revision” works well for me beyond the scope of goals.
There are many frameworks that you can choose from to help set goals. Choose the one that you find easiest to understand and work with – again, the goal creation framework is, in my opinion, a minor part of the overall process.
Create great goals that are associated with your values and that will have an emotional payoff at the end. If it’s unclear how your short-term goal ties to longer-term plans or systems, take the time to add key words or other notes for easy reference when reviewing your goals.
Schedule time for yourself frequently (daily, weekly, monthly) to revisit your goals. You are more likely to successfully complete goals that you’re emotionally invested in, contribute to a larger benefit for you long-term, and that are an active part of your daily routine – an investment in these three things can be just the investment in yourself needed to increase your success this year and beyond.
Do you have additional thoughts and approaches to help with goal planning? I’d love to hear your thoughts on my recommendations and any tips you’ve found effective (or not effective) for goal planning, goal frameworks, and goal supporting activities. Drop me a line at email@example.com or comment on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Instagram.
I’m also launching a video program each Monday (Mindring Mondays) that will touch on career related subjects. Look for more information on Mindring Mondays coming soon!
Resources and Attributions
- 11 Reasons Why We Fail to Achieve Our Goals – Lifehack.com – link
- 2022 Goal Setting Framework: 11 Goal Setting Methods & Tips You Need – Jell.com – link
- Goal-Setting Frameworks in SaaS: How To Set Goals in Different Ways? – userpilot.com – link.
- 12+ Real SMART Goal Examples (& How To Achieve Them) – smartblogger.com – link
- How to Write SMART Goals – Atlassian – link
- How to Make Your SMART Goals Even SMARTER – QuantumWorkplace.com – link
- Licensed Images from Envanto