Written by:  Elissa Wurf

With the beginning of a new year generally come resolutions – and lots of them.  Statistics suggest that most resolutions are abandoned within a very short time, some within the first week of January.  And in some cases, that’s probably fine.  But there are times when we should set goals we actually intend to achieve.

Lucky for us, there is a whole body of research that offers good information on how to make achieving goals more likely.  In this post, we’ll discuss various types of goals and their characteristics.  In a future post, we’ll discuss tactics that help you achieve those goals.

First of all, different types of goals may need different approaches.  A common framework for ideal goals is generally purported to be the SMART goals framework, developed by GE in the 1980s, which stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound (given a deadline).

While having goals be specific, measurable, and time-bound has not been questioned, some recent work puts a twist on the “realistic and achievable” ideals for goals, suggesting instead that ideal goals need to be motivating and exciting.  If one is a marathon runner, setting a goal of running a 5K race is certainly realistic and achievable, but it’s not very exciting.  Michael Hyatt suggests good goals should be in the “discomfort zone,” in between our “comfort zone” and our “panic zone.”

Mark Murphy presents another framework for goal setting – good goals are “HARD,” which stands for Heartfelt, Animated, Required, and Difficult.

Another mental framework that may be helpful in setting goals is distinguishing “hard” and “easy” goals.  We may want to pursue both types of goals, but we may go about them in different ways.  If the goal is easy, intrinsic motivators – those that are internal, revolving around personal satisfaction and accomplishment – are more effective.  But if the goal is hard, you may need extrinsic motivators – those that are external, such as money, titles, and social acclaim.

Importantly, once part of a goal is achieved and it becomes easier, be sure to switch to intrinsic motivators, because using extrinsic motivators to try to motivate behavior that is easy actually tends to have the opposite effect.  Consider this example – children were rewarded with certificates for free pizza for reading books.  For the children who liked to read, the reward actually led to them reading less, while the kids who ordinarily didn’t read ended up reading more.

Setting good goals is a very important first step to achieving them.  But even with good goals, one can still fall off track.  In our next post, we’ll discuss tactics for helping you achieve the good goals you’ve set.