Setting the right goals
New year's resolutions are on everyone's mind at this time of year, but Heidi Grant, author of Nine Things Successful People Do Differently, warns that lofty aspirations can stifle you.
‘We set goals that are a bit abstract and really ambitious. It's not a bad idea [on the one hand] – you generally don't exceed your goals, so if you set relatively modest goals then that's all you'll ever achieve. But we take this too far and set too many ambitious goals simultaneously, without being realistic about the time and energy we have at our disposal. And you shouldn't look at your goals in isolation, because often goals are in conflict with one another. If I want to develop myself in all kinds of ways, chances are I'm taking time away from developing myself in another.
‘We have to look at the big picture, as well as be willing to revise goals. We set them with the information we have at hand, and as we pursue them we may realise that this is harder than we thought, but we resist revising the goal; the urge is either to push forward and beat yourself up or walk away altogether.
‘People talk about writing your goals down like it's a magical thing. It is not. There is no evidence that the act of writing down a goal makes you any more likely to reach it. But what is true is that forcing yourself to specify that [goal] by writing it down is really helpful. It forces us to get clear on what we mean, to recognise the conflicts.’
Anyone in the cycling world will be familiar with ‘marginal gains’ – a term popularised by Team GB's erstwhile Olympic coach Dave Brailsford to refer to tiny, 1% gains across individual measurements that altogether amount to success. The name sounds catchy and new but it's an age-old philosophy: setting a series of smaller goals is likely more foresighted, productive and achievable than a handful of grand objectives.
This is especially true when running your own business. ‘As a small company, we set short-term goals,’ says Ben Taylor, co-founder of British knitwear brand Country of Origin.
‘Obviously we work towards growing the business, but there has never been discussion of “We're going to raise X amount of cash and exit in year five”. That's not how we operate. We'll look at the year ahead and set goals that way: whether it's sales goals or how many campaigns we want to do. And that organically amounts to growth.’
Progress is progress, no matter how you look at it, but attainability and sustainability are the real markers of success.
This article was first published in Courier issue 38, December/January 2021. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.