Are you treating goals like a footballer or a high-performer?

‘We must have clear goals’. How many times have you heard that phrase – and how has it helped you achieve something?

The principle of having goals is now widely accepted but then why do most of us not have specific goals that will improve our lives? Answer: We are setting goals and emulating the striker du jour attempting to get ‘one in the back of the net’ in between dealing and coping with life and work.

How many times have you set a goal, and then, far from bringing a new sense of clarity it just becomes one more thing that gets swallowed up in all the other things you have to do? You’re not alone. There is a reason that many of us have stopped making New Year resolutions that so often fizzle-out with the celebratory fireworks.

Having nothing to aim for isn’t healthy either so how can we form goals that bring clarity and lead to achievement?

Clear Goals – or goals that bring clarity?

Goals are usually seen solely in terms of defining things we are going to do or need to do. The reason we seldom get the outcome we wanted is because we only focussed on a single part of the ‘goal story’.

For absolute clarity a goal also needs to define what we are not going to do as a result of selecting that goal. A goal represents a choice: “Among all the options that I could choose, this is what I actually am going to do.” Our goals in other words should define the limits of what we are going to do.

When going into a restaurant and ordering from a menu, it takes some time to decide what to order. Everything sounds so delicious. Eventually, we make our choice and place our order. When we order, in effect, we are saying: “I’m going to have the steak, and I’m not going to have the veal, the fish, the lamb, etc. etc.” Saying yes to one option is the equivalent of saying no to all the other possibilities, no matter what their attraction may be. The same principle applies to all aspects of our lives.

Yes and No – together they bring definition

In life when we say “yes” to one thing, and forget about saying “no” to all the other things. The result is that often our efforts fail to achieve the main point of a goal – to establish the limits of our field of action. Our goals should not just be statements of what we are going to do; they should be statements of what we are going to confine ourselves to doing, and be clear about what we are prepared to give up to achieve a prefered outcome.

In Betty Edwards’ excellent book “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” she describes how to draw the space round an object rather than the object itself. This is a way of helping us to see the object as it really is, and removing our preconceptions about it. It’s the same with our goals – we need to draw the space round our goals so that we can see clearly what that goal commits us to not doing.

Now let’s put this into practice.

Before the completing the exercise, define:

  • What is the intention behind pursuing your goal?
  • What consequences (positive and negative) will you experience as a result of pursuing your goal relentlessly?
  • At least three alternatives which could satisfy the intention..

...then choose which one will best serve you best.

Exercise 1: Goal Setting that Works

Take one of your existing goals and try to define it exclusively in terms of what you are not going to do, then define it in terms of exactly what you are going to do.

Now identify specifically what you desire as an outcome and link it to your senses.

What will your achievement look like, sound like, feel like, smell like, taste like?

If your goal is to learn French for your next holiday, you might write: “I will do nothing between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. - Mondays to Fridays except learn French. I will only learn French between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. - Mondays to Fridays.

I shall let nothing distract me between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. - Mondays to Fridays until after my holiday. I shall focus entirely on learning French between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. - Mondays to Fridays, the result will be how I communicate on holiday, what I will see (people pleased to witness me making the effort to speak their language) how I feel (pride), what I can hear (praise), what I can smell (French food – that I ordered in French), wine as a token of celebration (for learning French).

No distraction, such as checking my email, reading, watching television etc. will prevent me from doing anything except French in the evening” and so on...

Complete this exercise each time you set a new goal and you will stop seeing the goal as a ball in the net and begin seeing results of being clear about the intended outcome, what you will not do and what will you do to get there.   

Positive Change Partners work with organisations to embed the positive behaviours that impact the bottom line through training workshops, coaching, strategic planning and consultancy. We are based in Surrey, England and have a prestigious client base in London and throughout the UK and Europe. We also work internationally with global organisations. 

If you would like to speak with us please call 01342 837660 or email