Successful goal setting: 5 tips to achieve your outcomes

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Setting goals is easy; sticking to them is hard - or is it? At least, you could deduce this from one of the most popular examples of goal setting: New Year's resolutions. Year after year, millions of people set ambitious goals for the next 12 months - ideally starting on the 1st of January. But only very few actually stay committed over the entire year. According to a study by the Statistic Brain Research Institute, 92 percent of resolutions fail. The reason for this is the planning misconception; the tendency to underestimate the effort required for projects.

But there is a simple way to successfully setting goals - whether personal or professional - in order to achieve them. Spoiler: You cannot do it completely without discipline. But with the following 5 tips for achieving your goals, you will significantly increase your chances of success.

1. One step at a time: Think in intervals

An annual goal can quickly feel like a big mountain to climb, especially when it comes to taking the first step. A 12-month goal can quickly feel abstract; we don't know what challenges or unforeseen events may occur in that time span and affect our goal. That's why it's easier to break the annual goal into quarterly or even monthly goals. This equalizes the project - makes it more manageable - and can also be used at shorter intervals to correct the course and adapt it to new circumstances if necessary. 

2. With quality toward happiness: Set your goals the right way

What do you think of when you hear the word "goals"? Is it rather terms like "fun" and "joy" or more something like "effort" and "discipline"? Often we believe that something has to be difficult for it to count. Yet intrinsic motivation significantly increases the likelihood of achieving a goal (Ryan and Deci, 2000). Or to put it another way: fun is the key. Therefore, when formulating your goals, you should ask yourself in advance: What is the actual motivation behind my goal?

Once this question is answered, the next step is to formulate your objectives in the right way. The quality criteria of the OKR method help by formulating both objectives and key results for goal setting: 

Objectives: Are a desirable, ambitious goal that qualitatively describes a target result. They provide a clear direction and are intended to motivate everyone involved to work towards it. The objective basically tells you where you want to get to.

  • Formulate an ambitious but realistic target state that you would like to have achieved by the end of the year
  • Orientate yourself on your outcome - not on your output - and always design your objective qualitatively, not measurably
  • Keep it short, concise, precise and easy to understand

Key Results: Describe the leverage you will use to achieve the Objective. They are measurable results that indicate whether you are on track to achieve your goal and whether it has been achieved.

  • Your Key Results should be directly related to your Objective and cover its promise
  • Ideally, the key results are your key performance indicators; they can be directly influenced and indicate progress
  • No room for to-do lists: OKRs should not include initiatives
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3. Better than to-dos: Take initiative(s)

Your goal is set. It is clearly formulated, contains a concrete outcome and is ambitious - so you want to get started right away! However, with what exactly? At this point, it is beneficial to divide the goal into initiatives. They can be viewed in a similar way to hypotheses: What do I need to do to achieve a certain progress with regard to my goal? 

This is not about small-scale to-do lists, but more about getting a structured overview, which can help especially with resource planning. This is because behind each initiative there are further sub-levels of to-do's that do not get lost thanks to an overarching initiative. It also offers flexibility to change sub-tasks along the way, depending on the impact on the goal.

4. Achieving your goal with commitment: Do the check-in

In order not to lose focus on your way to achieving your goal and to ensure that you stay on track, you can set up regular check-ins. For example, every week you can look back at the commitments of the previous week and see what the current status is. It is advantageous to document the whole process in order to track the regular progress. 

During the check-in, either with yourself or with another person, the focus is ideally also on the most important key figures or metrics in order to make progress measurable. Especially important are the key performance indicators that reflect the present and show whether certain measures are having an effect so that you can successfully achieve your goals.

In addition, both the check-in itself and the measurable review of progress serve to set the plan for the following week. This quickly makes it clear whether a new initiative should be added or the focus changed.

5. Looking back: Reflection through review sessions

Complementary to check-ins, it is a good idea to hold review sessions on a quarterly basis. This is an opportunity to review progress over a longer period of time, where the big picture and trends become more apparent. Reviews are good opportunities for brainstorming new ideas for the coming quarter to achieve the goals.

Need some drafting inspiration? Download our Meaningful Outcome Planner here, including drafting pages with concrete examples.