5 Keys to Successful Goal Setting
There’s something about the start of a new year that motivates us to change. A fresh start to the year makes it the perfect time to clarify our values or vision and set strategic goals. But we all know it’s easier to set goals than it is to actually accomplish them. So, let’s talk about the keys to successful goal setting by expanding our SMART goals and learn to CRAFT our goals. These tips will increase our chances of success.
We talk about resolutions at this time of year. Why? Because we need resolve – we need to be committed if our dreams are to become reality. But even resolutions, which start out as firm decisions to do something (or not do something), start to fade and can end up dying out before we succeed.
So how can we set ourselves up to achieve our goals? What’s the secret to success? It turns out we don’t need to uncover a secret – we can just dive into the more than 1,000 research studies done on goal setting to find some effective strategies and troubleshoot where we may be getting tripped up.
Smart Goal Setting
When most people think about tips for successful goal setting, the acronym and mnemonic device “SMART” comes to mind. While there are different interpretations of SMART goals – the most popular appear to be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound/Timely. Research shows that goals with these qualities, among others, can increase motivation and improve the chances of success.
If SMART goals as you know them are working well for you – that’s great. If you want to crank things up a notch by incorporating SMART goal setting into a broader framework informed by Goal-Setting Theory – keep reading to learn how to CRAFT your goals better.
The industrial/organizational (I/O) psychologists Dr. Edwin Locke and Dr. Gary Latham, developed Goal-setting Theory based on more than 400 research studies. Put simply, they theorize that specific, hard goals lead to a higher level of task performance than easy goals or vague, abstract goals when the person is committed to the goal, has the ability to attain it, and is not constrained by the situation or conflicting goals.
They identified the following five goal-setting principles that can help improve your chances of success: Clarity, Challenge, Commitment, Feedback and Task Complexity. I love a good mnemonic device so I decided to tweak the wording of this classic research slightly so these key ingredients can be easily remembered with the acronym CRAFT.
Successful Goal Setting: CRAFT Your Goals
- Reach (Challenge).
- Adherence (Commitment).
- Task Complexity
A clear, specific, measurable goal with a concrete timeline for completion is more achievable than a vague or abstract goal. For example, a goal such as “deposit $100 in savings account every Friday” is clearer than “save money”. The S (specific), M (measurable), and T (time-bound) qualities of SMART goals fit here.
2 Reach (Challenge).
Choose a level of difficulty in order to motivate you to strive toward the goal. Too easy? You get bored. Too hard? You get frustrated. Set yourself up for success here. Reach enough past your comfort zone that you can feel good about what you have done. Think about the A (attainable) of SMART goals here. Aim for a hard goal within your ability. Something you can reach but have to stretch for is your target. Choosing an R (relevant) goal will also be helpful here – challenging yourself can be uncomfortable so you want it to be worth it!
3 Adherence (Commitment).
Research shows that commitment to the goal is enhanced by self-efficacy (task-specific confidence) and viewing the goal as important and meaningful. The R (relevant) of SMART goals comes in here. If the goal is not relevant – it will be harder to commit to and stick with when the going gets tough (why bother?). Put your values into action and commit to your goal – be willing to adhere or stick to it even when things get tough.
People need feedback in order to track their progress and course-correct, if necessary. Set up a method to receive information on your progress toward a goal. If the goal turns out to be too hard, you have time to adjust your goal or plan of action midway through the timeline rather than give up entirely. The M (measurable) and T (time-bound) from SMART goals come in here as well. Choose something that can be measured over time helps you get feedback and stay on track. Feedback can also be rewarding and motivating.
5 Task Complexity.
Task knowledge is harder to acquire on complex or complicated tasks so set goals in line with the task’s complexity. Give yourself enough time to account for the learning curve and/or consider chunking tasks into smaller steps. The A (attainable) of SMART goals is relevant here. Consider whether you have the requisite ability to achieve the goal. If you do not, you may need to either adjust your goal, come up with a plan to develop your skills, or delegate parts of the task.
Situational Constraints: Trouble Shooting Tip CRAFT+S
Goal setting and achievement do not occur in a vacuum.
Situational factors are relevant. It’s not just about you. You need to ask yourself whether you have the necessary resources to accomplish the task. Researchers Brown, Jones, and Leigh (2005) found that goals affected performance only when role overload (excess work without the necessary resources to accomplish a task) was low. You can be a superstar with self-efficacy and ability but if there are situational constraints (e.g., insufficient resources) – you may find yourself coming up short on your goals. Consider whether there are ways to overcome situational barriers to your success and incorporate them into your plan.
Feeling motivated to change? You can do it! Set yourself up for success – start goal setting using CRAFT goals.
Need More Support?
Successful goal setting can be challenging, particularly on the heels of an extremely challenging year. If you’re having trouble getting started, or want extra support with goal setting this year, reach out to Dr. Joti Samra, R.Psych & Associates to get up a consultation with a counsellor.
Dr. Melanie Badali, R.Psych. is a Leadership and Workplace Consultant with MyWorkplaceHealth. Dr. Badali helps leaders clarify their vision and put their values into action using effective psychological strategies.
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