To be honest, setting goals is far easier than achieving them. But then again, you knew that. For those who watched Red Dwarf, it's a bit like Arnold Rimmer's revision timetable. So much time and effort goes into a colour-coordinated, carefully planned timetable that there is actually no time left to do the revision so the timetable needs to to revised before work can begin. Round and round the circle Arnold goes!
Well, goal setting can be a bit like that. We can spend so much time working out our goals, making them "smart", visualising the outcomes, that we simply run out of time to get down to the real work. Perhaps there is a simpler way.
Maybe, having defined our goal, we should make a plan about how we are going to achieve it and then make ourselves accountable in some way for our progress. I think the hardest part of setting a goal comes in having a realistic assessment of where I am right now and understanding what I need to do to get to my goal from where I am.
In some areas this is probably easier than others, but just because it might be a little more difficult with your goal, doesn't mean it's not worth the effort of trying. My mindset was changed when I first came across Jim Collins (Good to Great) and heard him speak about the different measures needed in non-profit organisation compared to business when assessing progress. Almost everything can be measured in some way.
If you can measure progress then you can plan for progress. Or does that sound too cliche or simplistic? Perhaps it is. I know I can measure my consistency in tennis by counting the number of shots per rally or how many times I make one more ball than my practice partner or opponent. I can measure by discipline in reading by ticking books off a reading list or simply by how far I am through a book. Equally I can measure how regularly I'm using my journal by seeing how many pages are used, or more accurately how many daily entries are made.
So I know I can measure myself against my goal. But what determines my ability to reach my goal? Think about my tennis goal for a moment. It's quite simple: Win a graded tournament match. Some of the things that will determine whether I reach my goal or not are in my hands, some are not. I can, generally speaking, control my practice. I can apply myself to practice and development. I can even try listening to my coach! I can't control injuries (although I can do everything possible to be well conditioned). I can't control the draw. If I get a seeded player in the first round at each tournament, I'm going to struggle. I can choose the tournament. I can be the best prepared I can be. I can't control whether I play my best tennis on a given day or not.
If you're setting as goal, then you need to think about those things that impact your ability to reach your goal. You may have to accept that something will come a long that will disrupt your plan. If you've thought about it beforehand, you will be better prepared to deal with it when it arises.
In the end the goal is just the end product of the journey. Not reaching the goal is not total failure. I've had the same tennis goal for several years now. In fact I'm not sure what I'll do if I actually manage to achieve it! I have won a few matches, but interestingly the ones I've won don't "count" in quite the same way as the one I'm after. But that's a whole other topic!
Here's the interesting thing. This simple goal of winning a tournament match keeps me focussed and disciplined about practice. As I hit 60 this year, I'm still committed to working as hard as I can to reach this goal. It might never come, but without it turning up to the lung busting, heart pounding, joint aching practice sessions would be pointless. So I practice to reach my goal, but my goal keeps me practicing and persevering.