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Goal Setting: The Nerdy Details of Maximizing Your Odds of Attainment

· decision science,behavioral science

Do you have an hour? Today? Maybe tomorrow or Thursday?

Set a couple of personal & professional goals for 2021. Seriously.

If you're serious about maximizing your own potential, this simple task is magic. According to a multitude of studies:

- Your odds of attaining a goal you don't have = 0%.

- Your odds of attaining a goal you have = infinite versus having no goal.

Ok - there were no studies focused on achieving goals that don't would be too easy. But you obviously can't accomplish goals you haven't set for yourself.

But setting goals tees yourself up to achieve them, right? RIGHT?

So, let's get nerdy...What simple science-backed things can you do to maximize your own potential in 2021, and set yourself to accomplish your goals?

Here are two things you can do...and one you probably shouldn't, to set yourself up for a fruitful upcoming year:

1) Write them down

Having a goal is one thing. Accomplishing said goal comes down to creating an environment for yourself which will drive your own intrinsic motivation to both stay committed, but also maximize your performance.

Step one is writing them down.

First, the simple act of writing them down is a signal to your brain that you are serious about your goals. It allows your brain to file the goal, creating a map by which you've signaled that anything less will be a disappointment.

Second, and you've probably heard this acronym before, writing down your goals in the S.M.A.R.T. format begins the process of establishing a guide for your brain.

S = Specific: Define what you're trying to achieve. If your goal is vague, your brain won't know what to do with it. In 2018, my specific goal was to, "...write and publish a book."

M = Measurable: Identify how you'll assess the success and progress towards your goal by including metrics and/or dates around said goal. For example, in 2018, my goal was to have the book published and available by the end of the year.

A = Attainable: There is no quicker way to crush your own spirit than to have goals that are impossible or highly improbable to attain. Make sure your goal is something you can strive for, which won't be easy, but is also possible.

R = Relevant: Does your goal advance you personally or professionally? A goal of, "I'm going to take down our holiday lights by January 10th" is meaningless. It's a goal I hope to accomplish though. A goal of, "I'm going to write and publish a book by the end of this year" checks all of the boxes for personal accomplishment and professional growth.

T = Time-Bound: While my "measurable" element was "2018", I also set deadlines for myself, knowing that if I waited until October to start, I'd never accomplish the goal. In other words, for whatever measures you determine, creating milestone dates with an end goal clearly identified will maximize your odds of staying on track.

Regarding the time-binding nature of the "T", I'm a believer in establishing milestones as a "process", meaning, when things change, you don't have to throw out your goals and start over. My goals for 2019 didn't pan out as I had written them, for obvious reasons. However, that doesn't mean you then go sit on the couch and waiting for New Years 2021 to start over. The "T", for me, represents an action plan allowing for necessary adjustments versus having just a starting point and an ending target.

Bottom line: Depending on the study, the simple act of writing down your goals in a S.M.A.R.T. format raises the odds of accomplishing those goals by 20-45%!

2) Share Your Goals...

In a recent study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology titled, "When Goals Are Known: The Effects of Audience Relative Status on Goal Commitment and Performance"1, they investigated the outcomes when personal & professional goals are made public.

The optimal result? To maximize your intrinsic motivation to both remain committed to you attaining your goal, and achieve your desired outcome, there was a direct correlation between the "status" of the individuals with which the goal was shared.

"...the perceived relative status of the goal audience member is positively related to goal commitment through evaluation apprehension, and the impact of perceived relative status on performance is mediated by goal commitment."

In simple terms, participants in these studies reported higher levels of goal attainment, in some cases significantly, when they shared their goals with someone of higher perceived status than themselves.

"Increased evaluation apprehension" - sharing your goal with someone who you perceive to have a higher status than you both motivates you to achieve your goals, but also through not wanting to appear as an underachiever to those individuals.

As a result, you'll experience a higher commitment to those goals.

...but don't share them with EVERYONE!

"Hey everyone, look at me! Here's my goals! Yay for me!"

The idea of publicly stating intentions has been debated for years - studies as far back as 1952.

At the very best, sharing your goals with strangers has a zero-net-effect on accomplishment. Studies showed no relationship between public sharing and performance.

At the very worst, some studies have shown that it actually lowers your odds of achieving your goals. In a 2009 study2, the mere act of sharing the goal publicly represented a feeling of accomplishment, causing participants to fall short of actually accomplishing the goal. The sense of progress by sharing lowered their short term planning and effort towards the desired outcome.

"When other people take notice of one's behavioral intentions, one's performance of the behavioral expectations is compromised."


"...engenders a premature sense ofcompleteness..."

Just do it...

Take some time to write down your goals. It doesn't take long, and there's no question regarding their effectiveness.

Share them with those who can hold you accountable and whom you respect.

And, think twice before shouting them out from the mountaintop. Keep them off LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or anywhere where you're proclaiming your intentions to strangers. It doesn't help...and can actually hurt your likelihood of achieving those goals.

Then go have a Happy New Year!

1 Klein, H., Lount, R., Park, H., & Linford, B. (2020). When Goals Are Known: The Effects of Audience Relative Status on Goal Commitment and Performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 105(4), 372-389.

2Gollwitzer PM, Sheeran P, Michalski V, Seifert AE. When Intentions Go Public: Does Social Reality Widen the Intention-Behavior Gap? Psychological Science. 2009;20(5):612-618. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.2009.02336.x

If you didn't know it yet, I teach...and I speak. As you're nailing down your sales kickoff & enablement plans, I'm here for you, and would love to help!

Reach out - | 847-999-0420 | or hit the contact page here.

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