The Importance of Specific Goal Setting
Whenever we set a goal we want to make sure that it's done in a very specific manner. The brain loves detailed directions. It's just like when you ask someone for the way to the airport and imagine they tell you something like: "Oh, just go west til you hit it." How satisfying of an answer would that be to you? Would you like more to hear something like: "From here just follow the street you are on until you hit the highway, go west on the highway and after about 5 miles you will see the airport to your right, follow the signs to the terminal." Could you assume that the second description would guarantee you much greater success? I sure think so. And that's exactly how it is with the brain. By being really specific we are so much more apt to get what we really want. Imagine the person who wants to weigh 140 pounds would say: "I just want to loose a bunch of pounds", how guaranteed is it for them to actually end up at 140 pounds? By saying: "I want to weigh 140 pounds" the person has an achievable and measurable goal.
Make sure that your outcome is measurable. A goal like: "I want to make more money this year" is so vague and does not really give the brain a definite direction. By saying: "This year I am going to double my net income" or even better: "This year I am going to have $ 100.000 net income" we give the brain a clear and distinct goal to focus on.
I remember learning this lesson the hard way. I had been wanting a new car for a while and kept saying things like: "I just want a new car." My wish came true when we had to evict one of our tenants and they abandoned a beat up car (with a beehive in it) in our parking lot. Was that the car I wanted? My husband is still laughing about that and sometimes when I am being too vague with my language he teases me: "Is that the car you want?" So, you better make sure that you specify exactly what you want.
Besides your outcome being measurable also make sure it's achievable. Notice that it is the appropriate chunk size for you to deal with. "I want to be healthy" is too general and vague, it is too large of a chunk to bite off at once. Think of all the many little chunks that make up the larger one. With the example of health, some of the smaller pieces that make up general health are diet, exercise, sleeping patterns, meditation, etc. By concentrating on just one aspect at a time you give your brain a lot greater chance to integrate that one pattern before moving on to the next. That is how we create lasting change. Lets go back to our friend wanting to start their own business. That's one huge chunk they are biting off right there. What could be some smaller goals that will naturally lead to fulfilling their dream of owning a business. Do they need education, funding, or a business plan. What is the greatest priority? What makes sense to do first. For example it does make sense to have the business plan first to then be able to create the budget.
Think of your own outcome now. Is it defined enough for you to be sure of your next steps?
State your outcome in positive towards to terms, "I want to be calm when my kids whine" versus "I don't want to be aggressive anymore when my kids whine", because to the brain there is no such thing as a negation. The brain takes all concepts literally and all it hears is "I want to be aggressive when my kids whine." Again, any time when we say what we don't want we actually tell our brain that we do want it. Just like "I don't want to smoke", the brain only hears "I want to smoke". Even "I want to stop smoking" needs still a little fine tuning, because at this point the brain only knows what we want to stop doing, it does not know yet what we want to do instead. Sometimes that's a little tough to find the positive towards to language to describe what it is we want. And, it is so important that we take that step, because remember, the brain needs specific directions to take you where you want to go. When I work with people who want to change their smoking habits I encourage them to think on the lines of "I am finding many ways of expressing my freedom" or "I am easily relaxing and breathing deeply". Use creative ongoing present tense language like "I am creating, I am achieving, I am attracting ...". This puts your outcome in motion right now.
If your outcome includes other people make sure that you are in charge of your outcome. "I want my kids to behave" or "I want my boss to respect me" are statements that put our power in other people's hands. People who are stuck with such outcomes have a tougher time changing themselves because they believe it's up to the other person to make the change. Ask yourself: "What can I do to change the situation?" "How can I communicate with my kids in a way that they want to behave?" or "How can I respect myself more that it automatically reflects in my boss's behavior towards me?" By bringing the outcome back to yourself you are claiming your own power to change. And by you changing, the environment around you automatically changes too.
I once worked with a man, lets call him John, who could not stand his in laws because of their frequent visits to his and his wife's home. He desperately wanted them to change and he could not see his own part in the story. Once we started thinking about what goal John could set for himself in regards to this situation, he decided to be very warm and welcoming to his in laws and still maintain appropriate boundaries. It's needless to say that the parental visits became less frequent. A huge insight helped John to make peace with his in laws and it came when we were exploring the in laws positive intent for their behavior. John started to understand that their frequent visits were a sign of their love and support for their daughter and her husband. I remember John's smile when the realization hit him and a wave of love for his in laws came over him.
All right now, we already took some great steps in the direction of the fulfillment of your outcome. So, in summary:
Notice where you are at, what situation you want to change.
What is your positive intent for what you currently have.
What do you want instead.
Make sure your outcome is measurable and achievable, that it's the appropriate chunk size.
Use positive, towards to language when stating your outcome.
Make sure the outcome is something you can do, even if it includes other people.