New Year Revelations; How to set good goals

A new beginning is how many of us see the first few days of the new year. I have never been one for the “one-minute-to-midnight mania” counting down the last ten seconds before Big Ben chimes, the firework displays, the faux friendship to all mankind that lasts all of a couple of minutes before that next glass of acidic cheap Prosecco. Nor have I ever been tempted by the advice of the “media” to get some new year resolutions in place yada yada yada, just like Naomi, or Becks, or any other celeb so I can be “just like them”! 

But …….. I freely admit, and can now reveal …… that much of any success I have experienced in career, business or personal life has been down to some careful, structured and systematic planning.

It all began just over 30 years ago, I was just over 40 years old and attending a seminar on that elusive topic …. Time Planning! In the opening few minutes the coach asked us all to imagine that he could turn the 24 hour clock into one of 25 hours, thereby giving us all an extra hour each day, so, what would we do with that hour? After a while he sought answers from us individually which included, read a book, sleep, go to the gym etc etc. At my turn I replied “I’d spend it with my two young children”, to which he immediately replied “No you wouldn’t, you’re lying, you’d waste it, you’d fritter it away, you spend longer at work, you’d forget ……”. He really did attack me!

However, across the next hour or so he helped us to explore our work and personal life patterns of the past month, how we’d kept some meetings but cancelled others, often over-promised and under-delivered on some things, how patterns of priority emerged (often sub consciously) as we tried to please a select few often at the expense of others, how some things and people were “time stealers”, and how often we seemed unable to say “no”! We ended that first day with all of us feeling like shit!

On the second day however the coach ” put us back together again” and amongst the mindset and tools he gave us there is one I will share with you now Behavioural Goal Setting. This is different from achievement or outcome goal setting because it outlines things for us to DO such as our own actions or behaviours, rather than things we are trying to achieve as an end point which often is outside our personal control. Simple enough, but the real simplicity of the approach was to target one’s behavioural goal into 5 categories:

  1. Financial Goals
  2. Career Goals
  3. Personal Goals
  4. Family Goals
  5. Benevolent Goals

Financial Goals are naturally related to money and contain the actions you want to take (not results you want to achieve) that will improve your financial situation. This could include things like opening a savings account and putting away a small and sustainable amount of money each month, creating a new housekeeping budget, putting all coins in your purse below 50p pieces into a jar at the end of each week. These are all actions to take personally that would still be driven by an outcome goal such as saving up for a holiday, but this goal must NOT be out of reach such that you give up. For example, many years ago Dr C and I desperately wanted to take our children to Kathmandu to meet their Nepalese grandparents, but we didn’t have “ready money”, so we opened a holiday savings account, put £10 per month into it, threw coins into a jar weekly, added extra money when we had it, and watched in astonishment as our children put pennies in too. It took 2 years! We did it and Nepal was our first foreign trip, first time on an aeroplane, a month long holiday of a lifetime. We had no spending money, just enough for air fares! On a more recent note we prepared for retirement by regular investments into pension plans and other investments with no idea what we could achieve. We just changed behaviour!

Career Goals are often born out of ambition or frustration, sometimes both. We may dislike our specific jobs for many reasons, poor conditions, low wages, no opportunity, no development, bad boss etc and ultimately want to leave, but the worst thing you can do is to set an outcome goal such as “Find a new job by end of year” for example. Better to do some real thinking around what sort of job or new career you want, followed by actions that YOU need to take in order to put yourself in a position to get or be offered a new job. It could be something as simple and specific as weekly job searches in specific places, writing a certain number of letters or applications each week ….. certainly if you want to leave the whole company. On the other hand you might recognise that you need new knowledge or skill or a different qualification. So, work out how to get that skill or qualification then go and get it. These are the actions for YOU to put in your career goals towards the new job you seek. A personal example: At 40 I felt like I was stagnating in my HR/Personnel career and wanted to do something more strategic in a company more service oriented that manufacturing. I had a PhD and MSc in chemistry but realised I needed more specific specialisation so enrolled in the Open University for a degree in Psychology. It took four years, but during that time I specialised in Organisation Psychology, read books, academic papers, met experts in the subject, started to “observe and analyse” my existing pharmaceutical company, and retrospectively analysed the Steelmaking and computer companies I’d worked for. When the degree was finished I spotted a new job with a financial services company, applied for it and was successful. I followed my goal setting formula like this for a further 12 years working strategically on the boards of two more financial services companies, before running my own consultancy for 5 years and retiring early. Every year I set behavioural goals for the things I wanted to learn or to experience, then actioned them. The outcomes took care of themselves.

Personal Goals: These behavioural goals are mostly about “self” and what you want to “be” or to “become”. During the period I have already described, my personal goals were mostly about Buddhism, fitness, and mountaineering …. and they were all loosely connected as I did a lot of mountaineering in the Nepal Himalaya. The behaviours about Buddhism centred on learning about the history and life of Buddha, following the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path, and of course improving my meditation practice. Fitness and mountaineering went together because following an endurance training regime was essential to mountaineering at altitudes above 20,000ft in a Himalayan wilderness of rock, snow and ice. Not once did I set a goal of “summiting” a certain peak, that would have been an outcome goal and setting myself up for failure. Each year I would set a goal of “exploring” a couple of new peaks, summiting was a bonus and which sometimes took 3 attempts! I worked out a fitness programme to prepare for a couple of expeditions each year and stuck to them. Looking back over that period I think it was the most exhilarating of my life and yet failures were as predominant as successes. Buddhism played a major part with mindfulness helping me to always focus on the mountain experience, win or lose, succeed or fail!

My approach to Family Goals and Benevolent Goals followed the same pattern and involved thinking very carefully about what behaviours could be or needed to be changed to improve a situation. I started to make appointments with my children, yes you read that right! Nothing got in my way of leaving the office early every Wednesday to meet everyone at the local spa for 2-3 hours, including post swim burgers, or Sunday afternoon sport, or Saturday morning nature walks. My wife and I raised thousands for Cancer Research, volunteered for a homeless charity, and ran our own education charity in Kathmandu for 10 years. Nothing had specific outcome targets or goals, just a list of behaviours or things we would do across the year planned the first week of January each year.

I suppose you want to know if we achieved anything? Well, what do you think? Post your answers below!

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4 replies

  1. You have both achieved so much and much of it is due to well-thought-out planning and of course hard work. I also taught similar goal-setting techniques when I facilitated life skills workshops for youth at risk and unemployed individuals. If followed through, they worked. Have a great 2023!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Clearly you and Dr C have achieved much and I am grateful you have shared some of the techniques you used to do so. Well done, Dr B. I’m looking forward to reading you throughout the year to come.

    Liked by 1 person


  1. New Year Revelations; How to set good goals – Little Wine Basket
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