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Monday, January 2, 2012

On Setting Goals

This time of year, people write New Year's Resolutions. Vague statements that make you feel better but really aren't much use. There is no way to measure progress, no specifics of how you will accomplish your lofty ambition.

-I resolve to be a better writer this year-

Nice, but how am I going to accomplish that? Goals give you specific targets with measurable steps to achieving the desired result.

-Goal: publish four stories this year-

 Big problem with that goal. Is it measurable? Yes. Is it achievable? Yes. But it depends on someone else, not just me.

Several years ago, I participated in Woodbadge, the adult leadership training course put on by the Boy Scouts of America. Great program. If you're involved with scouting in any way, I highly recommend this course. It takes a week, or two weekends, but it's worth it. At the end of the course, each participant set five goals related to their scouting position. When the goals were achieved, you were awarded your beads. The hardest part of setting the goals was making sure they weren't dependent on someone else.

For example, a scoutmaster might set the goal to have all of his scouts at first class by the end of six months. Nice goal, but it depends on the boys earning the rank. A better goal would be to provide the activities, classes, and opportunities the boys need in order to earn their first class during the next six months. Achieving your goal no longer depends on someone else. You are the scoutmaster, you can organize the necessary classes and campouts the boys need. Whether they take advantage of it and earn the rank is up to them. But you can still achieve your goal.

Back to my goal: Publish four stories this year. Unless I choose to self-publish, I have no control over when or whether my stories will be published. A better goal would be write and submit at least four stories this year. Is it measurable? Yes. Is it achievable by just me? Yes. Does it depend on someone else? No.

Another problem with many resolutions and goals is that they are vague. Vague is hard to measure.

-I resolve to lose weight this year-

Most of us make that one, but do we set up any goals to figure out how we are going to shed those pounds?

-Goal: I will eat healthier-

Pretty vague. Specifics are easier because we can see exactly what we need to do and it is measurable. Eating healthier is hard to measure without some kind of comparison or scale.

-Goal: I will eat at least 10 grams of fiber a day for the next two months-
-Goal: I will only eat one small dessert per day, except Sunday-

Are these specific and measurable? Yes. Will they help me lose weight? Maybe, if I add enough other good goals to my list. Once I achieve these goals, I can make new ones. They can be simple and short or long and complicated as long as they are specific, measurable, and don't depend on somebody else. Breaking a big goal into smaller ones is also easier, go with baby steps instead of one giant leap.

-Goal: my husband will lose ten pounds this month-

Nope, can't set that one. I can't lose weight for my husband and I can't make him lose the weight. He can set that goal, but I can't. I could set the goal that I will cook low-fat, healthy meals this month and not make the gooey desserts he loves. It's something I can control and I can measure.

Good luck with whatever you resolve this year. May 2012 be a great year for all of us. And may you reach the goals you set.

Just for the record, one of my goals is to set up a recipe index for this blog so I can find what I've posted.