As an executive and team coach, I help individuals and teams set goals every day.
1. Polish your crystal ball.
The first thing to develop is your ability to see the future. Having a powerful imagination that gives you a clear vision of yourself in your future success will drive motivation and inspiration. Great goal setters spend time carefully envisioning themselves in the future having already achieved this success.
Visualizing future success sets up a cognitive dissonance in your mind. And since the mind doesn't like it when thinking doesn't match reality, it begins to take action to change reality, driving our unconscious thinking towards reaching your goals sooner.
2. Get good at planning.
Great goal setters know how to think through the steps needed to reach their objectives. They see the tasks that need to be performed and the order they need to be performed in. Good plans create a path to success by connecting the dots between where you are now and where you want to be.
But don't get attached the plan itself. As Eisenhower once said, "plans are worthless, but planning is everything." Great planners know that the value comes from the process of thinking through your options, developing a good strategy, and assessing risks. Highly successful people take action, get feedback, develop insights, and then re-plan quickly.
3. Just do it.
If you want to achieve your goals, you can't spend all day looking at your navel. Yes, you need to think and plan, but even more importantly, you need to take action. Action not only moves you forward, but it also gives you feedback.
I often use the analogy of when you first turn on your phone's GPS and it's confused about which direction you're facing. While you could wait there and let it think, the quickest solution is to just take a few steps forward and it will quickly adjust your position on the map.
The same goes for working on your goals. Sometimes, you just need to do a few things and then see if you're making progress, or if you need to turn around and go in the opposite direction.
4. Master the juke.
Great running backs learn how to juke to avoid tackles by dogging, weaving, and spinning to avoid defenders. They know that trying to square up and bash through them will not usually be successful and will almost always hurt.
The same is true for those who are highly productive. When faced with an obstacle, these high achievers don't put their head down and drive into it with brute force. They find a way to avoid it and move around it. Even if the obstacle adds a little time or wasn't the path they originally planned, they know that maintaining forward progress is more important than sticking to a plan that isn't working.
5. Discover your inner zen.
In the late 1970s while researching why artists get so absorbed in their work to the point of not eating for days, psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi discovered that these people entered a physical-mental state of hyper performance which he named flow.
He discovered that anyone can get into this highly productive state. And when they do, they can achieve up to ten-times their normal level of performance. Not only that, but people report having a euphoric experience of blissful satisfaction where time passes without notice.
Finding your flow state is critical to being productive. Choose the right day of the week, time of day, environment, and frame of mind to make yourself hyper productive. For some it's a nature retreat, and for others it's a noisy coffee shop. Experiment to discover what works for you.
6. You can do anything you want, just not everything you want.
The fact is, we all have real limits on time and energy. We can't work on everything at once. Great achievers know that it is better to focus on one priority at a time and drive it to completion before changing course.
It's good to have a few different projects going so you can switch gears when you're stuck or frustrated, but keep this variation to a limited few. And don't try to multitask between them. Bigger blocks of dedicated time will allow you to get deeper and tackle bigger, more complex challenges.
While there are other skills that will improve your ability to set and achieve great things, these six are your core building blocks for success. And like most skills, there is always room for improvement. Getting better at goal setting is a lifelong pursuit.