Thoughts on Goal Planning

by Mark on March 30, 2010 · 2 comments

The countdown continues to the 90-Day Challenge. We have only two more days to prepare before it is go time! I have been talking about ways to really prepare for this challenge in order to make some kind of radical shift in your life over the next 3 months. I’ve talked about clarifying your dream, thinking backwards and forwards, and creating clear 90-day goals. If you have made it this far, congratulations! You are in the rare minority.

Few people go beyond knowing that they really should set goals for themselves and actually set them. And fewer still take the next step and make any kind of serious effort to create plans to achieve them. I think that this is a huge mistake. If you have set a challenging goal for yourself, then there is a good chance that you will run into at least one of two major problems: 1) you won’t really know how to achieve it, or 2) you will probably end up running the same patterns that didn’t work the last time.

If at first you don’t succeed, change your strategy, you damn fool!

Have you ever tried to lose weight? Have you tried to lose weight multiple times? I know that I have. I’m actually pretty good at it too. I have lost hundreds, maybe even thousands of pounds! Unfortunately, I have gained it all back. So what is the problem? The problem is pretty much the same as any other failed attempt at achieving a goal. The strategy isn’t effective. Sometimes I have used the same failed strategy on multiple occasions with similarly poor results. This doesn’t happen with just losing weight. Have you run into this problem? If you answered no, then you are lying! :-)

What it comes down to is very simple. If you haven’t been getting the results that you want, then you need a better plan. In fact, that is really what this website is about. I wasn’t satisfied with the results that I was getting, so I decided on a new plan with different strategies. Let’s take a look at some ideas to create more effective plans.

Thoughts on Goal Planning

  • Brainstorm. I’m a big fan of brainstorming because you really don’t know where it will lead. That’s the point. With brainstorming, you don’t worry about how good the idea is. You just uncritically generate ideas. Once you get into brainstorming mode, it is amazing how the ideas start to flow. Ideas are often connected to one another in an unpredictable pattern that leads us in new directions. Try to generate bunches of ideas. As many as you can. Before I started this blog, I brainstormed all sorts of ideas. It is actually already beginning to take shape in ways that I didn’t originally anticipate, and I’m sure it will continue to evolve.
  • Research. There is a good chance that you won’t know exactly what to do if you are trying to achieve a challenging goal. The problem is that fear of the unknown is a tremendous demotivator and often causes procrastination. Replace this fear with faith that you can learn what you need to learn. Make a plan to study topics that will help you learn what to do. It doesn’t have to be a formal education program, and it can be in bits and pieces. These days there is a good chance that you can do a search on the Internet and find someone who has already achieved what you are trying to accomplish. Try to learn from them. Just learning a little bit is usually enough to give you insights on how to continue.
  • Incorporate both radical change and incremental change. We would all prefer radical change, which is rapid, but radical change requires will power, and will power always runs out (which is why crash diets always crash). This is fine if we remember to anticipate it. If our plan to achieve a difficult goal is dependent on will power,  then it is probably doomed to failure. This is why I recommend planning for small bursts of radical change in conjunction with consistent action to produce incremental change. For example, if you want to declutter your home once and for all, you might want to block out a few hours to make rapid progress, but then also plan to make small changes to your daily routine to eliminate clutter and keep it eliminated. This might help satisfy your desire for quick results without ultimately failing when your will power inevitably gives out.
  • Record your starting point. This will be your reference point to measure your progress, it will give you an indication of the amount of work that will be required to achieve your goal, and it will help motivate you to continue. In My Goals for the 90-Day Challenge, I mentioned that one of my goals is to have a 34-inch waist. As of today, I have a 37-inch waist.
  • Create milestones. Once you know your starting point, you can break down your goal into more manageable chunks. Big goals can sometimes be overwhelming. It might be a little overwhelming to think about driving from New York to Los Angeles if we think about the whole trip at once, but if we break the trip down step by step, it becomes quite manageable. Narrow your scope. Break quarters down into months. Months into weeks. Weeks into days. I need to reduce my waist size 3 inches in 3 months, or about 1 inch each month, so that is what I’m going to use as a milestone. However, I hope to make slightly faster progress than 1 inch per month in the beginning because progress will probably come slower at the end.
  • Change a habit. Do your habits support your goals? If you haven’t been achieving your goals, your habits may be the culprit. Decide on one habit that you could change that would help you move in the direction of your most important goal, and then develop a plan to condition that habit until you don’t have to consciously think about it anymore. At this point, will power will no longer be required, and you will be on automatic pilot. You will have to monitor your behavior to make sure you don’t go off track, but it will be much easier than trying to chug away on will power alone.
  • Be accountable. One of the reasons that I created this blog is because I want to hold myself accountable. By communicating what I intend to do in such an incredibly public fashion, I am turning up the pressure to follow through. There are different ways to hold yourself accountable. You can blog. You can use You can post on message boards. Whatever works for you. It’s most effective, however, when you commit to checking in regularly to give progress updates, and when others won’t let you off the hook. My plan is to blog regularly about the progress that I’m making.

When you are creating a plan, don’t worry about form so much. Worry about content. I used to read books on goal setting and try to make sure that I was using the person’s format for a goal planning worksheet or whatever tool was going to make it all work. Now I don’t worry about that. The idea is to generate effective strategies and to begin to gain clarity about what actions to take to achieve our goals. It doesn’t have to be pretty. In fact, it might help if you make it somewhat free-form and flexible.

Don’t worry about getting the plan perfect, because it won’t be, and it doesn’t need to be. Plans are a work in progress. They will continue to evolve up until the moment the goal has been accomplished. As an accountant who has spent a considerable amount of time developing forecasts, budgets, and other financial plans, I can tell you that reality will never match your plan. Reality is just too messy to be perfectly planned.

The real value of planning comes from the thought process that you put into it.

So what are you waiting for? Get planning!


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