If Goal Setting Doesn’t Work, Try This


At this time of year there are hundreds of blog posts and articles from all sorts of people telling you how to set and achieve your goals. And hundreds of other articles outlining all sorts of reasons why you’re unlikely to achieve your new year’s resolutions.

I don't know about you, but around this time of year I really enjoy spending time reflecting on the year that has just come to a close and making plans for the coming year. I am fortunate to have a great friend and accountability partner and we have spent several hours together discussing our plans for 2017.

What is really interesting (and quite frustrating to her I’m sure) is how different we are when it comes to goal setting. She is very structured and likes to set achievable goals with achievable time frames. She is the type of person who will beat herself up if she doesn’t achieve a goal.

I, on the other hand, like to be more fluid with my goals. I’m not saying it always works but it’s a better approach for me as I’m not driven in the same way to achieve specific goals. And I also like the idea of not limiting what you think you can achieve, because in my experience you can usually achieve more than you think you can!

As an example, I have a vague goal of improving my fitness and energy levels in 2017 so on Boxing Day I thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if I went for a run today?” I don’t consider myself to be a runner and haven’t actually ‘run’ for many months; however, I figured I would just get out the door and see what happened. As I was running I felt okay and started to think “Wouldn’t it be great if I could just keep running for as long as I feel okay?”

So I kept running. At around 3.5kms I noticed my legs were starting to hurt but I thought “Wouldn’t it be great if I could run 4km today without stopping?” So I kept running. Once I reached 4km I thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if I could run 5km without stopping?” (5km is the furthest I have ever run without stopping and I’ve only done that twice in my life - once last July when running with someone else and once in a ‘fun’ run more than 20 years ago!)

So I kept running. Once I got it into my head that it would be a great thing to do, I actually ran past my house and did an extra lap around the block to bring the total distance up to 5km. I completely surprised myself at my ability to achieve this. And that’s what I love about this way of setting goals. If I had have set off with a goal of running 5km that day, I doubt whether I would have set off in the first place!

So this year I’ve decided to set out my plans for the year as a series of questions. For example:

  • Wouldn’t it be great if my book was published this year? Yes it would!
  • Wouldn’t it be great if I could learn to surf this year? Yes it would!
  • Wouldn’t it be great if I was booked for more international speaking gigs this year? Yes it would!

I took a similar approach when I stopped drinking alcohol for a year. I didn’t proclaim that I was going to stop drinking alcohol for a year, I simply thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if I stopped drinking alcohol for a while?” As the year progressed I changed the question several times until I was at about 11 months and I thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if I could say I had stopped for a year?” And I did. I’m going to try the same approach with junk food this year!

So if SMART goal setting doesn’t work for you (Specific, Measured, Achievable, Realistic and Time Bound), why not try a different approach?  What do you want to achieve or focus on this year? If you’re experiencing any resistance to your goal setting I encourage you to consider turning it into a question. For example if you want to get over your fear of public speaking, consider starting with, “Wouldn’t it be great if could speak up at a meeting this week?” Then you can move on to, “Wouldn’t it be great if I could visit a public speaking group just to see what it’s like?” And once you’ve done that, “Wouldn’t it be great if I could try out a short speech in front of a small supportive audience?” Yes it would!

Obviously, you also have to make the decision to do it and take action, but I find it’s so much easier to just take that initial first step with a more vague question pondering the possibility rather than a hard and fast statement of the goal. For me, this way of working towards what I want to achieve is far more appealing than specific time bound goals, and the great thing is that I never beat myself up for not achieving something because I always seem to be moving forward. Of course, you might think of this as a cop out, but I find that by using this approach I often achieve more than I would have originally thought possible.

So, if you’re like my friend who prefers to set and achieve SMART goals and that works for you, go for it. But if you want to try an alternative in 2017, why not ask the question “Wouldn’t it be great if… (fill in the blank)?”

Here’s to a year of exciting possibilities!

If you enjoyed this article, click here to access Mel Sherwood’s ‘Top 5 Tips for Public Speaking Success’

Mel Sherwood is a pitch and presentation specialist who prepares ambitious entrepreneurs and business professionals to take centre stage, embrace the spotlight and present with more confidence, credibility and conviction.

Mel's book 'The Authority Guide to Pitching Your Business - how to make an impact and be remembered... in under a minute!' is available on Amazon. To find out more go to www.melsherwood.com or follow Mel on Twitter @MelSherwood_