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Goal Setting Is a Mind Game

Goals that are challenging and specific are the primary indicator of future growth.

Goals that motivate, which are the only true goals, require a certain mindset. They must be both significant and have a heart and soul commitment. This requires a person to take the risk of failing at achieving something that’s very important to them. For a lot of people, this is extremely uncomfortable. As a result, if they do set goals, they are fairly easy to attain; there’s no real buy-in, and little, if anything changes.

Two of the most renowned researchers on goal-setting, Edwin Locke of the University of Maryland and Gary Latham of the University of Toronto, have been studying the goal-setting/getting process for nearly four decades. The following is just a quick peak into their findings, but very revealing:

  • Setting challenging, specific goals creates the motivation necessary to put forth the highest level of effort.
  • Setting challenging, specific goals produces the highest results.
  • Making a “public commitment” of your challenging, specific goals serves to strengthen personal commitment.

Goal setting is a mind game. It’s a game that everyone can play, if they dare. But how you frame your goals is critical. Locke and Latham refer to this type of framing as approaching success versus avoiding failure. In other words, your mind game begins with how you frame your challenging goals. If you focus on your eventual success, step-by-step, you’re more likely to visualize your goals and they become part of your DNA. Whereas, if your focus is on avoiding failure, there’s a much higher probability that you’ll simply opt out of the goal setting/getting game.

So here’s a challenge for you this year: Make a commitment to win the goal setting/getting game on both a personal and professional level. How? By setting specific and challenging personal and professional goals.

Here’s how this works. On the personal side, rather than saying, “I’m going to lose weight and get into shape this year,” you get specific; “This year, I’m going to lose 40 pounds, hire a personal trainer, and go to the gym five days a week.” Obviously, the latter goal-setting example will be more of a challenge. You’ve set a specific target that is complete with a specific action plan to follow. If this is a true goal, that means you’re totally committed, you will put forth the highest level of effort. You will be highly motivated throughout the year. Therefore, whether you lose 37 pounds or your desired 40 pounds, your fitness results will be much greater than a less challenging and non-specific goal.

Regarding your professional goals, rather than saying, “We’re looking for a 15 percent growth rate this year.” You get specific; the goal, instead, is to acquire $35 million in new assets and 20 new clients. The highest level of effort will be required to get anywhere near this big goal. But because there are serious growth goals, you’ll fully activate your motivational forces, and will do what is necessary to achieve them. Goals that are challenging and specific are the primary indicator of future growth.

Matt Oechsli is author of Building a Successful 21st Century Financial Practice: Attracting, Servicing & Retaining Affluent

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