As you approach the annual resetting of the calendar and contemplate how you will make this year different, better, and complete, here are some thoughts generated during our recent Leadership Caffeine Jam Session. (The Jam Sessions are our monthly second-Friday events where we share ideas and help each other grow smarter and stronger! No slides or pitches, just ample idea-sharing, all in 50-minutes. Register here and join us!)

8 BIG Ideas to Turn Your Goals (and Resolutions) into Growth and Gold

1. Emphasize Fewer, Bigger Goals

A significant body of research (Locke and Latham et al.) suggests fewer, larger goals translate to more personal and organizational success. Instead of choosing five chip-shots that fall into the “get better” camp, try just a few goals that frankly are uncomfortably large and challenging, and that will force you to learn on the road to doing something meaningful for your group or organization. (And yes, this suggests stretching the “A for Achievable” component of the commonly used S.M.A.R.T. goal format.)

2. Make Your Goals Promises

I love this from Marc Effron via his excellent book, 8 Steps to High-Performance: reframe your fewer, larger goals as promises. Think about it. You’re much less apt to disappoint or fall short on a promise in contrast to a more impersonal list of tactical goals created out during your firm’s annual evaluation process. Just remember to publicize your promise!

3. Have a Strong Why but Move Quickly to the What and How

Intrinsic motivation is powerful when it comes to goal achievement. If you don’t have a strong Why your energy and self-control will wane along the way. However, research suggests that the best way to take on something big and slightly ambiguous is to define your process and start small quickly.

Effectively, you need to get to the What and How. The work of working on the process, identifying areas where learning is essential, and then getting to work the goal fuels energy creation. When your energy runs down, return to the Why and remember what you’re striving to achieve.

It turns out the wisdom on eating elephants is right. It’s all about one bite at a time. 

4. Self-Reinforce Daily

I advise clients to employ some version of my daily hack as part of their journaling work when pursuing big goals.

In the morning, ask and answer: “What will I do today to move forward with my goal?”

At the end of the day: “What did I do with the work focused on my goal that worked great that I will do more of tomorrow?”

Rinse and repeat.

5. There Will be Gremlins—Plan in Advance to Defeat Them

More great guidance, this time from Heidi Grant Halvorson in her book, Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals. Plan for the gremlins by creating If/Then contingencies.

If your focus is on fitness or weight loss and you’re attending a holiday event where the sweets and fatty, high-calorie (and delicious) foods will surround and tempt you, it’s time for some If/Then plans.

If that cheesy dip tempts me, I’ll go for the veggies instead.” 

If that incredible-looking dessert is hard to resist, then I will allow myself a small taste and feel satisfied.

Or, for your workplace goal,

If I am tempted to take on more initiatives because I want to be helpful, then I will remember my promise for this goal and politely decline and suggest some other resources for them.


If I’m tempted to check my social media accounts constantly, then I will remind myself how valuable my time is to focus on my goals. 

Or, one I use daily: 

If I am tempted to skip the gym, then I will remember how great I feel after working out and just do it.

I love this approach for dealing with our natural tendency to delay or even push off some of the heavy lifting necessary for goal achievement.

6. Beware Unintended, Negative Consequences

Goals drive behaviors, and it’s essential to self-monitor for potential negative consequences from yours. Do your goals push you into ethical gray areas, encourage you to take shortcuts, or narrow your focus so much that you lose track of other important activities? Monitor yourself and ask your swim buddy or accountability partner to help you watch out for any potential negatives emerging from your goal pursuit.

7. Manage Your Energy and Rebuild Your Self-Control

Inherent in any personal or professional goal pursuit is the need to sustain through challenges. Whether you are striving to do something that’s never been done in your organization or striving to reach that level of fitness that has eluded you for too long, it’s critical to refuel to sustain your self-control.

Ideas that jumped out of our Leadership Caffeine Jam Session on sustaining your energy and succeeding with your goals include:

  • Avoid environments or situations that sap our energy. (Avoid H.A.L.T. situations for Hungry/Angry/Lonely/Tired.)
  • Hang out with individuals who are achievers. (Contagion)
  • Identify if you’ve spread yourself too thin with goals and reprioritize your work.
  • Find an accountability partner to help you through the low-energy times.
  • Reward yourself.
  • Show gratitude to others—it will affect you positively.
  • Celebrate little victories.
  • Help others with their goals.
  • Gamify your goal work and give yourself positive rewards for hitting new levels of achievement.
  • Edit the negative thoughts that creep into your mind along the way. (See the next item.)

8. Work on Your Self-Talk This Year

This is a big topic, but the short form is that many of us spend a lot of time emphasizing the negatives via our internal self-talk, sabotaging our chances for growth and achievement. I work with clients on a set of reflected best-self exercises that helps them refresh their personal self-talk tracks. What you stay to yourself about you has a powerful impact on every area of your life and most definitely on your goal achievement efforts.

Spending time to learn how others view your superpowers and tuning in to those situations where you perform at your best are great starters.

In his exceptional book, Exceptional: Build Your Personal Highlight Reel and Unlock Your Potential, Dan Cable offers the evidence for this work some great tools to help you.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Goals drive us to learn, grow, chase dreams and achieve the seemingly impossible. Yet, too often in our organizations, we reduce goal creation to a compliance activity on a form where we tend to identify those items that allow us to get better but not grow. Why not use goals to change your life and career for the better and help your organization along the way? Just come with a strategy to navigate the gremlins.

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