Hitting your goals (with the end in mind)

Hitting your goals (with the end in mind)

At this time of the year, it’s not unusual for people to be setting both business and personal goals and working out what good looks like for 2023. And in coaching there’s an exercise we sometimes use to help clients to flesh out what’s going to be required in order to achieve those goals and thereby significantly increase the chance of that happening.

One of the habits that Stephen Covey outlined in his seminal work “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” was “start with the end in mind”. The idea is that you look back from the end of a journey and see what needed to be done in order to achieve that journey, and the exercise is based on this principle.

I’d always recommend doing this exercise with a coach if you can, but you could also find a suitable friend or colleague to assist - pick someone whose interest in self-improvement matches yours, but also someone who is very happy to sit attentively while you talk. The key here as always is the power of someone else’s listening to keep you delving for the gold nuggets! The role of your buddy is to set things up and ask the occasional question (in italics below) while you do almost all of the talking. It might be worth making an audio recording so that no-one has to take notes and you have a useful resource to draw on later.

It’s January 2023 and you’re reviewing your goals for 2022 and seeing that you’ve achieved all of them. What day is it? Where are you? How does it feel? Who have you shared your success with? How are you celebrating?

It’s worth going into some detail to set the scene, as this really helps to anchor you in your future self at that future moment. The key thing here (and possibly the most important and impactful component of the exercise) is that when you are looking back from this future perspective at the year just gone, you are talking about it in the past tense - this is absolutely critical, and the thoughts and ideas that you generate from looking back will be genuinely different from the ones that would come from looking ahead. Arguably, your buddy’s most important job is to pick you up if you slip at any point into the future tense (which you’re very likely to do). There are many possible questions that your buddy could now take you through, but here are a few ideas. The key is that they should be as open as possible to enable truly expansive thinking:

What key steps did you take in order to achieve the goals? (And what else?)

Talk expansively and comprehensively here (and exclusively in the past tense!). If you reach a pause, the simple question “And what else?” can unlock another wave of useful thinking and your buddy should keep asking it until you’ve got little else to say.

What did you do differently?

This gives you an opportunity to unearth what changes might be needed in your approach in order to achieve your goals. “And what else?” - you get the idea.

What did you need to let go of to make all this possible?

Here, you can examine any fixed thoughts, bad habits or anything else that might stand in the way of your success.

What outside of yourself did you draw on?

Here, you can explore which people you need support from, which resources you might want to take advantage of and so on.

All this is likely to be very productive in itself and provide a comprehensive picture, but If you want to extract even more insight from the exercise, then coming at it from the darker side can expose threats to success that may not have emerged thus far. For this phase of the exercise, rewind a bit and set things up in your mind as if you’ve reached the end of the year and haven’t met the goals you set out to achieve.

It’s January 2023 and you’re reviewing your goals for 2022 and seeing that you haven’t achieved them. What day is it? Where are you? How does it feel? What’s the impact?

Then the questions to explore are as follows:

What things about you derailed you? (And what else?)

What environmental factors derailed you?

What could you have done to mitigate or prevent any of that?

And from the output of all of that, you should be able to extract a list of key actions which will increase the likelihood of attaining those important goals. Then work out the what and the when and get cracking. Consider also creating some kind of accountability framework to keep you going - according to research from the American Society of Training and Development, your chances of achieving your goals are an impressive 95 percent if you find yourself an accountability partner. Coaches are good for this too but not the only way.

Have a great 2023!

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