While New Years is the traditional time for Americans to set goals, there is never a bad time to improve your life. In fact, fall may be the perfect time to set goals so that you have time to get into good habits and tweak your goals before New Year’s. That way, you can start 2023 in a way to make it your best year ever.
“Whether you think that you can or think that you can’t — you’re right”
Looking back on your history of goal-setting and follow-through, you may be disappointed. After a few weeks or months, we tend to let our well-intentioned resolutions fall by the wayside.
You may be tempted to blame yourself for lacking willpower. In reality, most goals are abandoned not for a lack of personal willpower, but because the goal was not structured correctly. It’s important to dream big, but lofty goals can be overwhelming.
Heidi Grant, a social psychologist, recently contributed an article on goal setting to the Harvard Business Review. She makes the case that the success of goal-setting relies on two things. First, a well-defined goal is framed using growth-mindset trigger words. Second, the goal should have progress markers and pivot points built into it from the beginning.
Using Growth-Mindset Trigger Words
If you have school-aged children, you’re sure to have heard the term “growth-mindset”. Students everywhere are encouraged to have a growth-mindset. But what does that mean?
One way to understand what it means to have growth-mindset is to contrast it with its opposite: a fixed mindset. Carol Dweck, a Stanford professor and author of the book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, explains: “in a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success — without effort.”
A growth-mindset encourages effort to improve. For example, a 2nd grader who has done poorly in math class in the past is not “bad at math”. Rather, he “is not excelling in math yet”.
Examples of growth-mindset words to use in your goals are: grow, develop, improve, become, progress. A lawyer may set a goal “to collect $100,000 in legal fees in the next 12 months”. He could rephrase that goal in growth-mindset language by saying his goal is “to develop relationships with new and existing clients so that they entrust me with $100,000 of legal work over the next 12 months.” The development of the relationships and the building of trust is the point, rather than the actual fees.
Incorporating Progress Markers and Pivot Points
If the past two years have taught us anything, it’s that the world can change overnight, in unexpected ways. Sometimes, changes in our own lives, in our industry or in the wider world change our goals. It is better to move on from an outdated goal and set a new one than to stay stuck on something that doesn’t make sense anymore.
Setting dates for assessing progress toward our goals serves two purposes: it is a convenient way to break larger goals up into smaller, more accessible goals, and makes us periodically reassess our small and larger goals.
Say your resolution is to finish a marathon on a date 6 months in the future. You could set re-assessment points at 2, 4 and 5 months. After 2 months, you may aim to complete a 5K, and after 4 months a 10K. If you are not able to complete the 10K after 4 months of training, you may say to yourself one of two things:
- “I have enjoyed making progress, but I do not think I’ll be ready for the marathon as I planned, and I will delay my big goal by a few months”; or
- “I have not enjoyed running and I no longer want to complete a marathon. I’m going to set a new fitness goal to work towards.
So, next time you’re setting personal or professional goals, remember to use growth-mindset language and establish dates for reassessment. Change is very possible if you change your typical approach to goal-setting.