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How to “AIM” for better goals

Setting goals is good. Supporting and delivering on them is better. Here’s how.

The only thing more cliché than setting New Year’s resolutions? Breaking them.

According to a recent study, less than 20% of us actually manage to follow through. More than one-third of our resolutions are abandoned by February. And after falling off the wagon a few times, we tend to further weaken our willpower with self-limiting thoughts. It’s no wonder why so many people have decided to quit making resolutions altogether and set goals instead.

But even then, we need to choose the right goals — and develop a strong plan for achieving them.

Whether you’re preparing to execute a new strategy, track new performance targets, or cut down on the hours you spend binge-watching, the best goals pull us closer to our ultimate hopes and energize us to do what’s necessary to get there. Too often, our goals miss the mark.

How can we set better goals? By making sure that we “AIM” in the right direction and keep these three principles in mind.

Ambitious and attainable

Setting safe goals may feel good – they allow us us to rack up quick wins – but they rarely produce the kind of growth that comes from sustained periods of “push.” By establishing ambitious goals, we give ourselves permission to think more boldly and reach for a reality we might have otherwise missed.

But even stretch goals should take into account our circumstances and abilities. There’s a fine line between ambitious and audacious. (Climbing Everest might not be the smartest goal for someone suffering from back spasms.) By choosing an appropriate goal and making room for just-in-time adjustments, we can push ourselves up to the edge, not over the cliff.

Intrinsic and interactive

Part of the reason goals fall short is because they aren’t intrinsically motivating. When tasks hold personal significance to us, they generate stronger and longer lasting commitment than goals that carry only surface appeal. Practically, this could be as simple as knowing why we’re doing something. Case in point: When a group of university fundraisers met the recipients of scholarship funds, they became more personally connected to their work and generated nearly four times more pledges than another group that simply made solicitations.   

 Sharing our goals with the right people can also bring us closer to achieving them. Having that interaction not only increases accountability, but the shared pursuit of a goal can lead to heightened socialization and connection with others – promoting a host of physical and emotional health benefits as well.  

Measurable and managed

How we frame the goal matters, too. Broadly defined goals are harder to keep, but clearly- worded goals are more attainable. Rather than setting a goal of “I’d like to start running,” it’s better to sharpen the target (“I’d like to run a 5k in 30 minutes by June”) and then identify the micro-goals that shorten the distance between setting and doing (run 15 minutes a day three times a week, map the route ahead of time, buy a good pair of running shoes).

With specifics, less is more. A meta-analysis of 83 interventions in various organizations – from manufacturing plants to hospitals and even the U.S. Air Force – found that setting only a handful of objectives, assigning simple metrics to each goal, and providing regular feedback moved the performance needle dramatically. When goals are simply stated, we can spend less time thinking about them and more time actually delivering on them.

When we AIM for the right goals and support those goals with the right people and practices, there’s no limit to what we can achieve!

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