Break Goals into 3 Categories of Completion for Greater Success

“Happiness grows less from the passive experience of desirable circumstances than from involvement in valued activities and progress towards one’s goals.” -David Myers and Ed Diener

Nothing beats the surge of energy that comes from accomplishing a major goal or outcome in life. There are countless research studies that support this experience too.

But how do you know when you’ve simply checked off a goal versus knocked it out of the park? I derive the greatest source of energy from the goals where I stretch beyond what I previously knew to be true and challenge myself to grow, learn, develop, and achieve at new levels I never imagined.

Described below is a practice that I have emulated from various organizational approaches in my own life with great success. In short, break your goals or objectives into three separate categories: entry, target, and stretch. Let me give you an example.

For the last quarter of 2011, I wanted to make sure I stayed motivated to be fit and feeling great leading into the holidays. Like many others out there, my activity level wanes with the colder weather. The abundance of sugary treats during the holidays doesn’t help either. Earlier in the year I had successfully accomplished my weight loss and fitness goals; now I wanted to finish the year strong and in great shape without relapsing.

To facilitate this, I set some fitness and exercise goals for the final three months of the year. I figured that if I stayed active with these, I would stay on target for the year and not trash all the hard work I put in during the first nine months to get trim and fit for the year.

Using this three-pronged approach, this is what that goal looks like:

  • Entry: Average 2 total workout days/week prior 1/1 with a weight of 169.9 or less
  • Target: Average 3 workout days/week prior to 1/1 with a weight of 169.9 or less and a waist circumference of 36 or less
  • Stretch: Average 4 total workout days/week including 2 total weight days at the gym prior to 1/1 (including 10 weight days overall) with a weight of 168 or less, a belly circumference of 36 or less; complete a 5K race

Each week I update my progress and create an average to measure and track my success. To date, I’m coming in right at my stretch goal for the quarter despite battling a cold and some lower back soreness as a result of the weight training. I’m also excited about running my first 5K this New Year’s Day with my wife in Phoenix during our visit with family for the holidays.

In addition to the three categories, there are a few other success strategies embedded here worth mentioning. The first is that this is a measurable goal. I know exactly what success looks like at the various levels because of the metrics. Second, there is an end date. My goal ends on 1/1 and doesn’t have some ambiguous date with which I can later renegotiate. Lastly, I interact with the goal each week by updating my progress and tracking my results. All together, these three strategies have led to greater overall success and completion, especially on those days when I just want to get back in bed and nurse my cold or sore back.

I can think of a number of applications for this approach in other areas too. Examples include weight loss goals, smoking cessation, skill building, learning and development, race training, healthier eating, financial planning, and relationship improvement. I’d love to hear from you regarding your strategies for goal completion and whether or not you find this approach useful.

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