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You (Don't) Take Your Eyes Off The Goal
By Jack Donohue   Printer Friendly Version

Never, ever forget the ultimate goal! How many times is this type of statement used in basic management and personal development courses, or goal setting seminars? But what are we really trying to say?

There are two answers to this question. The first, and simplest, answer is that if you have goals / objectives that are truly meaningful to you and your staff, goals that inspire you to go the extra mile and put in the extra hours, then you should not have any trouble keeping these outcomes in mind. If you ARE having trouble keeping the end-product in mind, maybe some exploration of WHY the goal is not memorable would be more important than trying to constantly remind everyone of a goal they obviously don't believe in.

Secondly, research and experience have shown us that once we have set meaningful, achievable goals it is more important to focus on the PROCESS of achieving these goals than worrying about the OUTCOME of the actions we are taking. Of course, this does not mean that once we have set the goals, we should blindly pursue courses of action that are not aligned with our objectives, nor does it mean that we should ignore changing contexts. In fact, we would be remiss if we didn't have contingency plans prepared for dealing with foreseeable obstacles. Part and parcel of any effective goal setting endeavor is the preparation of contingency plans, as well as the establishment of 'touchstones' that allow us to chart our progress along the path from "NOW" to "THEN". The more concrete we can make our goals, the touchstones along the path, and the contingency plans, the less we have to worry about the outcome. The less we have to worry about the OUTCOME, the more energy we can devote to the PROCESS, enacting our plans to ensure that we reach the goals we have set.

Athletes use these principles in setting their sights on Olympic gold. The objective is obvious: to win the gold medal. The more concrete they can make the goal (e.g., which Olympics, the location of the Games, the competition at the Games) the more realistic it becomes, and the greater the commitment to achieving it. High level athletes often use imagery techniques to create mental images of exactly how the medal-winning performance will look and feel (and smell and taste). These all contribute to the realism of the goal. The athlete (coach, mental training consultant, peers, family) then develop a training regimen and competition schedule that will lead from the current position to the ultimate goal. This plan will take into account foreseeable obstacles (e.g., for skiers, dry-land training in the summers or a budget to travel to locales with snow), as well as providing for unforeseen contingencies (e.g., late snowfalls delaying training). The exacting detail of these plans to achieve the goal provides reassurance for the athlete that if they follow the plan, they will achieve the goal. Once the goal is set and the plan is made, the athlete must now focus their energies on following the plan. This emphasizes the importance of having clear goals and concise plans to achieve them. Without clear goals, it is difficult to develop a plan to achieve them. Without a clear plan to achieve the goal(s), it is difficult to have faith that following the plan will deliver the goals.

How do we develop clear goals that will allow us to develop concise plans to achieve them? We'll save that for another article!

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