Don’t have time to read the entire post now? Watch this video with the summary.

By now, most of us are very familiar with the goal setting process at least at work. Outside of work many may have experimented with new year’s resolutions, objectives, bucket lists, vision boards, etc. And most of the time we fall short on execution especially on our personal and/or career development goals.

Why does this happen? We have this amazing document with what we want to accomplish in life. We have well defined growth plans. And yet every year when we go back to see what we can cross off, we realize that our time went by in a swirl of projects at work, unimportant tasks, and life in general.

The good news is that there are specific steps we can take to establish the routines, practices, and micro habits necessary to achieve our goals.

“The great danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low and achieving our mark.” Michelangelo

1) Balance the type of goals

There are two types of goals: performance and mastery.

Performance goals (also known as outcome goals) are those that focus on a specific result. For example, ‘run the NYC marathon’ or ‘deliver project Delta by the due date and on budget’. The advantage of performance goals is that it is very clear if we accomplish them or not. The disadvantage is that we may take shortcuts especially when under pressure to achieve results.

Mastery goals (also known as process goals) are those that focus on creating a habit (or process) for us to improve our skills or knowledge and make progress. For example, ‘run five times per week’ or ‘spend one hour per day working on project Delta’. The advantage is that we get feedback in the shape of expected or unexpected results faster giving us time to adjust and pivot as needed. The disadvantage is that it is more difficult to ‘sell’ to others (especially at work) because the ‘final’ result does not always happen as fast as expected.

We want to have a combination of performance and mastery goals. I personally focus on mastery goals as much as I can. Another option is to combine the two, so our focus is balanced on both the final result and how we are going to achieve it. The latter looks like ‘Train to run the NYC marathon next November by running five times per week’ or ‘Deliver project Delta by the due date and on budget by spending one hour per day working on it.’

“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” C.S. Lewis

2) Gather support

For this step, we want to engage the people closest to us and who would be the most impacted by our goal. This is extremely important when it comes to bold and risky goals such as pursuing another career, opening your own business, or throwing your name on the hat for a C-suite position.

Some goals may not have a direct impact on our friends and family. Still, we want to share our goals with our significant other, kids, close friends, and colleagues as appropriate. There will be a time when we will feel like giving up and they will remind us why we are on this path.

Consider who will remain neutral, support, or detract your goals. Find ways to convert detractors to supporters or at a minimum shift them to neutral territory.

Another aspect of gathering support is to associate with people who have goals similar to yours. This is where associations, community groups, meetups, etc. come handy. Remember that birds of the same feather flock together.

“Surround yourself with only people who are going to lift you higher.” Oprah Winfrey

3) Think automation

When was the last time you had to decide to brush your teeth in the morning? For most of us this process is so automatic by now that by the time we finish it we can hardly remember how we started it.

This is exactly the type of automation we want to have to achieve our goals. Ingraining habits takes time and consistency, and we want to start small and build up so our mind does not get overwhelmed.

One way to do this is to create a simple sequence of events that we can tell ourselves every day and for which we do not have to make a decision. The starting point of the sequence is something that already happens. This way we can anchor our new behavior to an activity that we already perform automatically.

As part of a new exercise regime, my friend Lea wakes up earlier than before. The sequence for her could look something like this

  • When the alarm goes off, I stand up (from the bed) – the alarm is the anchor
  • Once I stand up, I remove my pajama
  • Once I remove my pajama, I put on my gym clothes and sneakers

This is simple, short, and a no brainer. Lea does not have to decide what will happen once the alarm goes off because her first micro habit is ‘when the alarm goes off, I stand up’. Once she has her gym clothes and sneakers on, she is ready to exercise, and she has not used up energy to make that decision.

“One part at a time, one day at a time, we can accomplish any goal we set for ourselves.” Unknown

4) Address inner blocks

Self-efficacy is the belief that we have what it takes to achieve our goals. Even though we have a long record of achievement, we still have strong inner blocks that tell us otherwise.

One approach to regain our self-efficacy is to increase confidence in our ability to actually accomplish the goal. We could get formal or informal training, perform tasks similar to the one we are learning, do role-playing, etc. The key here is to link our effort to the expected results and to have small wins. This way, our brain associates effort with results feeding into the belief that we have what it takes to accomplish our goal.

Another proposal is to learn from others either by shadowing, imitation, or experimenting with their methods and our own. Enter videos, mentors, sponsors, podcasts, friends and family, etc. We could get additional motivation in the form of ‘if she could do it, so can I’.

A third option is to get encouragement from a credible (to us) source.  When our mentor, boss, parents, etc. tell us that they know we can do something, our belief in ourselves tend to increase. As a coach, I use this frequently and genuinely with my clients by expressing my belief that they can execute the plan (or first step) they have defined.

To believe we have what it takes to achieve our goals, we want to have a combination of actual knowledge or skill and the conviction that we are ready to jump and fly.

“Believe you can and you’re halfway there.” Theodore Roosevelt

5) Manage time and energy

Have you noticed that we tend to do really well on our goals in the morning and not so well in the afternoon or evening? We seem to resist that donut at 9:00 am but it is almost impossible to say no to the same donut at 5:00 pm. How come?

It turns out that our ability to make decisions, to manage our emotions, to keep our thoughts focused, and to start action sequences draw from the same self-regulatory resource, which is very limited. No wonder why people who quit smoking gain weight, or why we binge eat when we are stressed out. We are using the same source of energy to make important decisions such as not smoking or choosing the healthy snack.

Tackle the most important activities (the big rocks) during your prime time. I am an early morning person, so I do my most important work including exercising in the morning. You may have more energy at night. The key is to undertake your ‘to do’ list based on your energy.

“Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.” Alexander Graham Bell

In addition to our goals, we want to have a strategic execution plan. We do not want to leave our most important objectives to chance or luck. Our goals will not magically happen.

Both processes – setting the goals and the execution plan – are equally important. One does not exist without the other. The sooner you learn these skills the sooner you can implement them with your team, family, and community.

When you are sitting down quietly on January 1st thinking about the prior year, you will be surprised at how much you accomplished. I can already see the smile on your face as you sip your cup of coffee, tea, or hot chocolate.

What is your strategy for goal execution? What did you learn by reading this post? Please, let us know in the comments. You can write in English, Spanish, Portuguese, or French.

To join our email list and receive helpful articles, humor, and the latest posts, please complete this form with your name and email. In gratitude, we will send you a free e-book on how to become an emotionally intelligent leader.

Source: eCornell course, The Psychology of Getting Things Done

As a leadership coach, I enable talent to achieve bold goals with high standards. My mission is to help women transition from mid to senior level leadership positions by creating awareness, increasing emotional intelligence, and unveiling the tools and choices available to them, so they can confidently realize and fulfill their potential.