One of the core skills most coaches build is goal setting. It seems relatively straight forward, yet most of us and our clients find it hard to achieve the goals we've set, so let's take a good look at why that is and what we can do about it.

It’s the last week of January and most New Year Resolutions are out the window by now. Why do so many of us break our promises and what strategies can help us get back on track?

The most common model for goal-setting is represented by the acronym SMART – specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-based. When it comes to coaching, there are a few more elements that will make or break the goal: for example looking for a positive outcome and knowing your why. 

One element that is usually stressed is that the goal should be positive; for instance, instead of saying “I will lose 20 pounds,” one might say, “I will have a stable, healthy weight of 12 stone.” As your will and motivation start to dwindle mid-January it’s important to have something to look forward to, instead of focusing on resenting the present. It’s equally important to keep in mind the reason why you are undertaking the goal in the first place. 

Here are some strategies that might work for you – or your clients. 

• The Challenge of Measurement 

“Specific” and “measurable” basically go together, and in certain areas measuring is easy: money, weight, blood pressure, etc. Measuring other goals is more difficult because they are subjective – creativity, relaxation, or assertiveness, for instance. In some instances, a subjective scale works fine.

For example, on a scale of 0 -10 how relaxed you feel? It’s very easy to put a number to a feeling. If the client finds it hard to come up with a subjective measurement, another alternative is to ask what behaviours would reflect the attainment of their desired state.

We can ask, “What would you see and what would you hear if you were at your desired level of creativity?” Depending on their chosen fields, clients may use indicators such as number of words written, number of paintings generated or number of new ideas generated, etc.

 It turns out that our teachers were on to something when they gave out gold stars or created charts using little rockets on a bulletin board to show our typing speed increasing. For a lot of people, charting or otherwise recording their progress is highly motivational. It’s also a good way to monitor whether or not the measures they are taking are working.

• What is Achievable and Realistic?

Usually “achievable” is defined as something that somebody else has been able to do, which raises the question of whether pre-Roger Bannister running the four-minute mile would have been considered an unachievable goal.

“Realistic” relates to whether it’s something that you can reasonably expect to be able to do. That sounds fine until you remember George Bernard Shaw’s quote: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

This is not to say that it’s a mistake to consider whether a goal is doable, just that setting the bar too low will de-motivate anybody who has a grand vision. Of course, a grand vision is sometimes a delusion but in general, it's a good idea to encourage these visions as long as they can be broken down into manageable chunks.

• Making The Client A Hero

One effective strategy is to formulate the goal as a hero’s journey using the model developed by the late Joseph Campbell in his book, The Hero With A Thousand Faces. He discovered that many myths have elements in common and he reduced it to what he called the monomyth.

The fact is that there is something heroic about deciding what you want from life and then going for it, whether that’s in the area of health, career, family, community, education, or spiritual. If we can frame the goal in that way, especially from the beginning, it can be highly motivational.

 • Why Deadlines Sometimes Are The Death Of Goals

A familiar quote in the self-development field is, “A goal without a deadline is only a wish.” In reality, this can be a two-edged sword. Deadlines can work fine when what needs to be done is totally under the control of the person setting the goal.

For example, if you want to reach a certain healthy weight you may decide to achieve this by eating certain things and exercising for a particular time every day, and the deadline for reaching the target weight may be a month from now. As long as you have been accurate in gauging the effects of the new diet and exercise, and as long as you stick to the programme, the odds that you will attain the goal are very good. You may have a problem about following it through, but they won’t be caused by the deadline.

The solution to deadline problems is to set the only deadline that matters: when the goal is reached. We can set deadlines for our efforts, but the ultimate deadline is: “whenever we’ve done whatever it takes to get done.”

• Eliminating Failure As An Option

Naturally, this doesn’t mean that we just keep on doing what we’ve been doing, because if it’s not working then continuing to do it is not progress. We need to be smart and make our only deadline the achievement of the goal, we may end up changing strategies several times before we reach it.

When one method doesn’t work it’s not a failure, it’s a learning experience. The only way we can fail is to stop trying.

Get some ideas and tips.... 

Long-term strategies are the way to work on goals, but sometimes some additional tools and ideas can give you a boost to move forward and even help you adjust your main strategy. Here are some tips and tricks from  TCA Trainers, successful coaches in their own right to help you with your goals!

What goals are you working on this year? We’d love to know, let us know in the comments below.


2021 has begun – A time for reflection but also a time for projection

Would you like to make a positive and lasting difference to others? Would you like to have a coaching business you can run from the comfort of your own home?

We are launching our free 2021 Introduction to Life Coaching webinars. They are interactive, informative and designed to help you understand if training to be a life coach is for you. 

Take positive action, project forward and plan for a year to remember for all the right reasons. Choose from available dates here.



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