As the first month of a new year comes to an end entrepreneurs are already feeling let down by their own inaction. Most specifically, they've already strayed away from working on the goals they've set for their business. There are many reasons for the all-too-common procrastination and distraction that haunts goal-setters, but none so daunting that they cannot be overcome.

This study isolated three key steps you can take to ensure greater odds of success as you set your business goals. The last step is the key to success, the study says, with the group that performed this step showing a 33 percent greater success rate than the other four groups.

Psychology professor, Dr. Gail Matthews recruited 267 people from varying backgrounds to participate in this study on how goal achievement in the workplace is influenced by three key actions: writing goals, committing to goal-directed actions, and lastly, creating accountability for those actions. Broken into five groups, the participants were all asked to begin by identifying their goals.

All of the groups were then asked to rate each goal according to difficulty, importance, the extent to which they had the skills and resources to accomplish the goal, their commitment and motivation. They were also asked whether or not they had pursued the goal before (and if so, their prior success). Group one was told to simply think about their goals, they didn't write them down.

Groups two through five took progressively greater initiatives to support their efforts. The group that completed, not one or two, but all of the steps reached the highest success rate (identified as either having accomplished their goals or getting at least halfway there). Results grew from a 43 percent success rate in group one and escalated to 76 percent of those in group five.

The three steps below are what Matthews' groups did to achieve their goals, with group five implementing all of them to achieve the greatest success rate. They only added one simple step to master the process. 

Write your goals down. Otherwise, your brain won't cooperate.

Sometimes my clients tell me they've been thinking about a certain goal for a long time. Thinking about your goals is a good way to generate an idea, but if you think too long you will trick your brain into believing it's done. Also, your brain needs to be disassociated from a goal or problem in order to identify a logical strategy or solution. Some people find success in writing a goal down, some do better if they create a process map or a creative visual representation. Either direction will increase the likelihood of success.

Commit to the goal by creating action steps.

When you identify a goal, but not the process by which you will achieve it, it's less likely that you'll get to your desired outcome. In another study on combining the outcome with the process, Zimmerman et al. trained group participants to throw darts.

His first group was told to aim for the highest score possible.

Group two was told to use a specific process to get a high score: bring their arm back, adjust the angle of the throw, and have a firm grip on the dart.

Group three was told to take the same steps. Once they mastered the skill, they were asked to switch their focus to the outcome (a high score). This group, whose members focused on the process first, then the outcome, far outperformed the other two groups.

Write down your goals, followed by a well-planned process, or the steps you'll take, to achieve the goals. Even if the steps seem obvious, having them in a list form will improve and expedite the outcome.

Build in high levels of accountability.

Group four was asked to tell a friend about their goals with the intention of creating further commitment and some accountability. This group performed better, but not nearly as well as group five.

To generate the outcome they wanted, group five added one important step: they wrote a weekly progress report and sent it to the person they told about their goals.

"My study provides empirical evidence for the effectiveness of three coaching tools: accountability, commitment, and writing down one's goals," Matthews said. It's that final step of reporting their progress that gave group 5 the boost they needed to get things done. 

In my experience, merely informing a friend or peer of your intentions isn't useful in terms of creating accountability. It may work for a week or two but interest tends to fizzle. Hire a great coach instead. 

Yet another study by the American Psychological Association, supports this evidence. Its findings show that checking on your progress frequently actually increases the likelihood that you will succeed. When you work with a coach, regular meetings will facilitate this key step.

What's your plan? Here's one final suggestion. Keep an active to-do list and avoid adding your big goals to this list. Being constantly reminded of that big goal hanging over your head can be overwhelming, adding to the tendency to procrastinate. Instead, move a couple of the action steps associated with the larger goal over to your daily or weekly list. And of course, report to your coach on a regular basis.

Published on: Jan 28, 2019
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