Saturday, August 28, 2010

Goals, Setting and Achieving

Set goals for yourself.  Set reasonable goals for your children when they are young, help them to set reasonable goals as they grow older, gently encourage them to set goals as they mature into adulthood.

~ Goals should be measurable and observable. They should have specific achievable steps (objectives) with built in accountability for accomplishment.

~ Goals should be built upon a consensus and can develop and adapt as the process matures.

~ Some goals should be met quickly and easily (especially for younger children), others should stretch and require more sustained effort.

~ Celebrate and advertise success.

~ Emphasize both process and product.

~ Document baselines to which you can compare.  (Always keep in mind and recognize from where you started.)

~ Evaluate how your results compare with the results of others working on similar goals. Be willing to learn from the success of others.

~ Always strive for improvement, evaluate, solicit feedback, and adjust your course as needed.

Process vs Product

There is often much discussion about which is more important, process or product. Both are equaly important. You usually can not have product without process and process without product usually causes people to loose interest.
For the purpose of our discussion, our product is our outcome and our process is our output. We will talk about both. Setting the goal, along with all the features and components we will discuss here are an essential parts of the process.
When other are involved, it may be helpful to understand something about collaboration and partnership. You can read additional information at: Community Collaboration and Public Participation and Setting Goals for Measurable Outcomes.
For many people, how they got there is just as important as reaching the goal.

What makes a good goal?

The best goals have the following components.
1. They are Written
2. They are Achievable
3. They are Measurable
4. They include Accountability

In addition there must be sufficient motivation to achieve the goal.
A good goal must be written.

A well written goal must be specific.
It must include who is going to do what and when.
For example: I will complete this posting today.

Some have said that an unwritten goal is just a wish, or a goal without a plan is just a wish.

A good goal must be achievable.

The goal must be something that you or the individuals involved in the goal have the ability to accomplish. Often the best goals stretch your abilities but are not too easy. Harder goals can be achieved through higher motivation, greater self efficacy, and the correct tools (including accountability) to accomplish the goal.

High need for achievement

David Mclelland developed a theory of needs which motivate action. Included in this theory is high need for achievement. People with this need do better with goals that require real effort but are achievable.

This requires that you have reasonable control over the required steps (objectives to accomplish your goals.

As people set and achieve increasingly difficult goals, their ability, understanding and capacity increases.

"We find that people's beliefs about their efficacy affects the sorts of choices they make in very significant ways. In particular, it affects their levels of motivation and perseverance in the face of obstacles. Most success requires persistent efforts, so low self-efficacy becomes a self-limiting process. In order to succeed, people need a sense of self-efficacy, strung together with resilience to meet the inevitable obstacles and inequities of life." – Albert Bandura“Persons who have a strong sense of efficacy deploy their attention and effort to the demands of the situation and are spurred by obstacles to greater effort”. – Albert Bandura
Additional information:

Please also see Ausubel’s Meaningful Reception Learning
Meaningful Reception Learning tells me, and this is my experience, that I can work on learning a very difficult concept that I know nothing about or have no connections with based on the concepts of Ausubel. My experience and the understanding of this tool has provided me with the requisite efficacy. At about the age of 18/19 I needed to learn French. It was very difficult at first and I did not have a lot of self efficacy or belief that I could do it. I remember after memorizing something that I believed my brain was full and could absolutely not take anything else in. French does have some advantages for an English speaker over a language such as Japanese or Korean. French and English have a number of similar words, the alphabet is basically the same. According to Ausubel there was already some core information that I could attach new information to. After moving to Quebec and getting through the first six months, new information became easier and easier to assimilate. I compare it to creating a new dot of information and learning. Initially it can be really difficult but once that dot is there, as long as I continue to learn new things that I can connect to that dot, the dot becomes bigger and bigger the connections come easier. Were I to learn Japanese or Korean, that initial dot would be much more difficult than it was for French; however, once I had created enough information to start to make connections and I applied these principles, the difficulty would ease as and if I continued to learn.

A good goal, effectively carried out, produces measurable outcomes.

Goals need to be written such that others can observe and see a discernable difference, change or gain that is a direct result of your efforts. 
This statement can be more complicated than you might think as sometimes goals are achieved quite by accident or by other coorelational means. Sometimes you might just say “what the heck” and move on, grateful for the accomplishment of the goal. In some situations that’s fine; however, it make it more difficult to be duplicated.
A good goal includes accountability and often consequences.
While there are some people who are so disciplined that they do not need anyone to be accountable to except themselves, those people are few. It is best to have someone or a group to report to on a regular basis. Sometimes it is important to have a consequence. Many years ago I had a professor who helped people with smoking cessation. (His plan for accountability and consequences required both an honest and a determined client.) He and his client would make a plan. His client would give him ten checks. Each one would be written out to an organization that the client detested. If the client stuck with the plan each week, one check would be torn up in front of the client. If the client did not meet his or her objective for that week, my professor would mail the check to the organization. Today, I believe I would want to put something like this into practice with cash and would have a tendency to want to be able to verify the outcomes unless the individual had very high integrity; however, the principle is the same.

There are as many options to accountability and consequences as imagination will allow.


We have already talked a little about motivation under “Accountability” and “A Goal Must Be Achievable”.
The best motivations in life are the natural ones. One of the biggest mistakes in behavioral therapy is the substitution of natural consequences or rewards for ones which are contrived. An example of this would be teaching a child with a developmental disability how to appropriate request a hug and then rewarding the request with an M and M. While this sounds absurd, this and similar things happen all the time. How many people reward their own weight loss with a treat of some kind?
Sometimes contrived consequences/rewards can be effective when used as an interim reward, as long as the ultimate reward/consequence is natural. For example, when reading a text book in preparation for a test, you may reward yourself with a slice of orange for every section you get through; however, it is unlikely that the reward for doing well on the test or getting an A in the class will be a box of oranges. More natural rewards are going to be more in line with a feeling of accomplishment, completing another step towards the degree, completing the degree, getting a good job, etc.


This is perhaps the most important part of the process. Nothing is more important; though there may be some components which are almost equally important.
You must have a clear picture of the outcome you want.
What will it look like? How will things be different? How will you be different?  How will the environment change (this can include people, things, plants, animals, or anything that may be impacted by this outcome)?
Write it down as clearly as possible, understanding that while adjustments may have to be made in some circumstances, this is your initial compass, direction or outcome.

Write down and understand where you are going. Paint a picture, usually in words, of how you will know you got there. This should be measurable by others as well as your self.
Start with the End In Mind.

The Good is the Greatest Enemy of the Best

Years ago while a graduate student my wife and I bought a small home with a partially unfinished basement. It had been trashed by former student renters and though it was a lot of work, we got a good deal. Wanting to save money, we remodeled the basement and rented out the upstairs of the house to four girls who were also going to school. They made our house payment and though the downstairs apartment was not as nice as the upstairs apartment it served us well and helped us toward the goal of finishing graduate school. We had two small bedrooms, a bathroom, living room and a kitchen. We had one child when we moved in and two more of our four children were born while we lived in that home.
As an undergraduate student I had taken a course from a Dean Sorenson. One of his favorite sayings was, “The Good is the Greatest Enemy of the Best.” What he meant by that is that we are not so much side tracked from doing what is best by doing something really bad, but by doing something good. Let me give you an example. Over the years that we lived in the house I mentioned, without fail, around mid term and finals time the girls would really clean the house. This didn’t matter if they were going to continue to be living there or not, it would be thoroughly cleaned. The reason, I believe, was that they needed to be studying. That was the best thing they could be doing at that point in time, but when they took a break, they couldn’t just waste their time, they had to do something important. Steven Covey in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People talks about a similar concept in his comparisons of “urgent” and “important.”
Recently one of my son's friends who had just started school a few days ago, posted on facebook that her apartment was spotless.  I asked if she was avoiding homework...she was.

While it is important to have a balanced life and take breaks as needed, understanding and acknowledging what you are doing can be an important aspect of accomplishing your goals.

Balancing what’s within your control with what is out of your control, and sharing your goals.

If a goal is a personal goal, you want to make sure that as many of the objectives are totally within your control as possible. For example, saying I’m going to loose 2 lbs this week is not completely within your control. Saying that you are going to walk x number of miles and eat x number of calories probably is. If this is a shared goal with others you may want to look at the following:; then you need to take into account that not everything is going to be completely within your control.

Running after every snap and crack.

There is this great story I once heard about a man who was walking through the Appalachias and came across a clearing. To his surprise there were a number of the scrawniest pigs he had ever seen running around the clearing. They would run from one end to another. Approaching the home he found an old farmer on the porch and asked him what was up with the crazy pigs. The farmer responded that a while back he had lost his voice and when he needed to feed the pigs he would call them by rapping with a stick on a pan or post. Now whenever a twig snapped or something fell the pigs would run to that spot looking for food.
We need to be careful to not be like these pigs. It is too easy to start down a road with a plan or a goal and get distracted. While occasionally that distraction may be good information that we can and should incorporate, we need to weigh the information carefully to make sure that it’s not distracting us from our final goal. I remember listening to a presentation by William Glasser on his highly successful educational programs. At the end of the presentation he told the audience that what he had presented worked, but that there were dozens of other programs out there that also worked and he urged everyone to pick one and do it.

Sometimes lots of roads lead to Rome and sometimes there is only one path to your goal. Either way, the real trick is to make the plan and stick with it unless you are absolutely sure you need to alter course.

Long Term Consequences

For every behavior, there is a consequence. We can almost always choose our behavior; but, can not always choose our consequences. Sometimes we must choose which is more important to us. Is it more important for us to choose our behaviors or more important to choose our consequences? We simply can not freely choose both. Sometimes we can delay some consequences but that is the best we can hope for.

We have a better chance of choosing our consequences if we choose the consequence first and then align our behaviors appropriately. For many if not most of the outcomes we would choose, there are time honored behaviors that will help us reach those goals and achieve those outcomes. If we start looking down the road and ask our self what outcomes we want, we can then align our behaviors. Once you have chosen your outcomes, research the behaviors which are most likely to help you achieve your goals and outcomes. Look at those “time honored behaviors” first, if there is something newer (within the last 60 years) and more faddish, review the research and find out what is really most likely to work. If it is really important to you, look at the research critically as not all research is of the same value.

When considering your desired outcomes, look way down the road. I love anthropology and sometimes read anthropology text books just for fun (I realize that would not be fun for most). Years ago I read a book on time, how cultures deal with and view time. The text would be about 50 years old and much has changed in the past 50 years but at the time it was written it was pretty accurate. At that time, for some cultures, setting long term goals and looking at long term consequences had them looking down the road 100 plus years. For other cultures long term planning would mean perhaps 5 years from now and for others tomorrow or even this afternoon. We all know people who have a hard time considering the long term consequences. There is an old adage I like that says: ‘when you’re up to your neck in alligators it’s hard to remember your initial intention was to drain the swamp.” I like this adage because while the alligator may be the more urgent problem, it may not be the gravest problem and draining the swamp will take care of all the problems. For example, if you have a swamp on your property filled with alligators and malaria and/or cholera, the alligators may be the most obvious and urgent issue, but probably not the most deadly.

Take a step back and consider what you want for you and/or your family 100 years down the road, 50 years, 10 years, and shorter term. Write down those outcomes and align goals and behavior (writing them down with specificity as has already been mentioned) in ways that are most likely to bring about those outcomes. If you can’t figure out which behaviors will create the results you want, consult research and experts. Get the help you need and do what you need to do.
Remember the old saying, “if you do what you have always done you are likely to get what you have always gotten.” And, “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Decisions Determine Destiny Planning the what if’s

Once you know where you want to go, what long term outcomes you want and the goals and objectives you need to get there. Once you set the plan with accountability and flexibility to allow for course and plan adjustment, you need to consider the nitty gritty stuff. The day to day tasks are as important as the major ones. We usually work out of habit and good habits create a life time of successful behavior. Focused, well planed, and directed, they are much more likely to bring about the results you are looking for. Decisions are different. Relatively few decisions should be made even monthly, fewer still weekly and very few daily. Sure you may decide exactly what you are going to eat on a weekly or daily basis, but if your goal is health, those choices will have already been significantly narrowed. Though many seemingly small decisions are still important, most of your significant decisions should be made in accordance with your plan and desired outcomes. When someone asks you if you want to take illegal drugs, that decision should have already been made. If someone asks you to do something dishonest that decision should already be made. If someone asks you to do something contrary to your plans and goals, that decision should already be made. If you have an unexpected conflict in values and priorities then a new decision may need to be made and if new information is likely to alter your plans then the plans may need to be adjusted and your decision may then need to be adjusted based upon an altered plan but be very cautious about any significant decisions on a spur of the moment basis.

You may say to yourself: ‘but some things have to be decided based on the ever changing situation.’ Successful people visualize and prepare for the possibilities and rarely have to make a significant decision on the “spur of the moment.” Many people live their lives and interact with others based on decisions of the type of person they want to be.
Even commanders in battle will have already decided what they will do if…

Why spend additional time and money on planning if it takes away from service or project hours?

Imagine you were going to Mars. (There is some current debate in the United States about a new goal for the space program, to go to Mars and perhaps place a permanent settlement there.)
Now imagine you are one of the potential astronauts. You are in a first stage promotional meeting and the director of NASA says: “we’re not going to spend a lot of time planning; but we’ll make it up with close contact during the trip. This is pretty big so we won’t have time for people to review and talk about all of the components. Don’t worry though; we have some great people working on this. Some of the traditional experts for this sort of thing may not be involved; but, that’s ok, we’re sure we won’t need them. We’re pretty sure it will all fit together and there won’t be any negative consequences. This is exciting. It’s going to be great!”
Now the director looks at all the astronauts and asks: “So who will be the first to go to Mars?” Would you volunteer?
In the case of a trip to Mars, hopefully NASA would not need to make such a choice, but in other situations this choice is presented. Most of the time it is a red herring. A false argument. More treatment does not always mean better outcomes and at a certain point, it never means better outcomes. If though, there really had to be a choice, I would always choose thorough (not over) planning, even if it meant just a little less in the way of services or project time.

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