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Posted 06/05/24

How to create goals that won’t go in the bin.

You love the light, buzzy, butterfly-y feeling of coming up with a goal, but struggle to make them happen…

By this point, you’ve failed at so many goals, you don’t bother setting them and are starting to feel stuck…

You’ve got a great goal in mind but you’re not feeling confident that it’s ready to get going on…

Goals are fun, aren’t they? There’s nothing better than living with a goal inside you, that you haven’t told anyone about yet (because that would break the spell!). But we’ve all got different relationships with goals, which determine how likely we are to be able to achieve them. While some people make it look easy, for others it’s more complicated. If that’s you, I’m here to help.

I’m Beth Stallwood – coach, consultant, speaker, podcast host, author and creator of all things WorkJoy. In this guide, I’m sharing how to set and get goals, as well as hurdles to look out for along the way.

How to use this guide

You can’t rush goal-setting. You need to let things marinate a little (or a lot). So I recommend reading this guide straight through, then printing off the downloads (yes, there are not one but two!), working on the reflection questions and taking the time to craft a goal that really works for you. Slow and steady, people 🐢.

Contents:

Why do so many goals end up in the bin? 
Three kinds of goals you might recognise
What are goals really about
How to: Set better goals
How to: craft your goal
Know this: hurdles happen
Limiting beliefs and how to beat them
WorkJoy Community story: the power of ‘Yet’
Next steps: Choose your own WorkJoy journey
Spread the WorkJoy


WHY DO SO MANY GOALS END UP IN THE BIN?

Goals can be tricky things, often hard to define and sometimes challenging to see through. I’ve had my fair share of goals end up in the bin, and rather than the joy of achievement, I’ve ended up feeling like my progress has stalled. I’m sure you can relate. But before we dig into this very big and juicy topic, I think it’s helpful to consider why it is that so many goals drift off to the great goal-bin in the sky. 

When it comes to goals, it’s common to hit a hurdle you didn’t foresee – life sure does have a habit of getting in the way of our plans doesn’t it? You may also find that on the way to achieving your goal, you kind of lose interest. This suggests that you might have s

et a goal you didn’t really feel connected to, or that you wanted it for the wrong reasons. It may be that the goal was too big or hard to achieve, or too small and unmotivating (in other words, you made the wrong type of goal). With this in mind, let’s look at three kinds of goals that are often destined for the bin before we even get going on them. 

Here’s a little extract from my conversation about putting the hard yards into your goals with the brilliant Denise Nurse! 

“Nobody is perfect and nobody gets anywhere without putting the hard yards in or putting the work in. It builds a good muscle in you. It builds confidence in yourself. When you haven’t done the work, you’re not always sure. I should say this for those with impostor syndrome – you’re not always sure that you really deserve whatever it is or that you don’t have the confidence in your abilities. But when you’ve done that training, you know, you got up every morning and you went for that run and you earned your marathon, then that’s something within you. That’s an inner strength and resilience that is worth more than the goal of running the marathon. 

Listen to the full episode here.

THREE KINDS OF GOALS YOU MIGHT RECOGNISE

I know you have goals (because you’re here – hi again! 🙋). The question is, what kind of goals do you have? And, more importantly, are these goals serving you? Here are three types I see pretty often at the beginning of a coaching journey with someone. 

Daydream goals
Sometimes goals are the daydream type, akin to the ‘if I win the lottery’ conversations. Although they may be fantasy, they are worth indulging in, to explore that version of what you want in your life, without any limitations. However, as Dumbledore once famously said, ‘It doesn’t do to dwell in dreams, Harry, and forget to live.’ 

Resolutions
New-Year’s-resolution-type goals often have a health or wellbeing slant to them (created amidst the food coma of festive over-indulging). They’re the ones that have your full energy to start with, yet by 17 January when it’s raining and dark at 6am, your ‘I’m going to cycle to work every single day’ goal has been thrown in the bin.

‘Should’ goals
You may have goals that you think you should work towards, because your education, society, or traditions have been convincing you where you ‘should’ be ‘by now’ on the standard path – from work, to relationships, to families, to how much you should be earning and what type of holidays you go on. If you’re should-ing all over yourself it’s probably time to re- think, re-craft, and re-define the goals that matter to you.

Reflection questions:

Of the three kinds of goals above, which one do you find yourself making the most?  How have these kinds of goals helped you? And how have they hindered you?

Before we move on to defining goals a little more, it’s worth thinking for a second about work goals. Work-based objectives, OKRs (objectives and key results) or KPIs (key performance indicators) are a fact of life for some of us. When approached at the right pace and intensity, they can be highly motivating. But if they come thick and fast, or you feel unsupported in achieving them, they sap a lot of energy. So if you’re struggling to find the motivation for goal-setting in your personal life, it’s worth reviewing what’s on your plate at work, and adjusting accordingly if possible. 

WHAT ARE GOALS REALLY ABOUT?

At the heart of a goal is a desire to change, whether that’s reforming habits, building a new skill, or achieving an outcome. Goal-setting and goal-getting is the process of going from one state and into a new one. Before you even consider what the goal itself is, it can be helpful to consider two things:

  1. The level of change desired (from minor to major)
  2. The level of energy, engagement and experimentation (my three Es) you are prepared to put into making the change happen

Let’s take a look at my four Rs, and how they relate to the two considerations above.

Resolutions
– Steadfast and inflexible
– Often from the ‘should’ bucket
– Likelihood of long-term change minimal

Revolution

– Big change
– Can be enforced or chosen
– Focus on speed
– Will be hard work

Revelation
– Change in thinking or mindset
– Requires little action
– Change is likely to be in your approach rather than the outcome

Evolution
– Minor to major change
– Broken into small actions over time
– Focus on growth
– Can be flexed to fit real life

Reflection questions:

Do any of the four Rs feel recognisable to you as types of goals you’ve set in the past?
How did they work for you?
What type of goal might you want to focus your attention on next?
HOW TO: SET BETTER GOALS

To be able to get your goals, it helps to set them well, and your upfront investment will equal better outcomes and a more enjoyable expedition. You’ll likely have some thoughts about where you want to focus your attention and experience some change. Keep this in mind as you work through the PROUD assessment – checking and challenging if you really want it.

The PROUD assessment

Take an idea you feel strongly about that you’d like to flesh out in more detail. With this idea, work through the reflection questions from the PROUD list below.

PROUDReflection questions
Purpose and passionWhat is the purpose of the goal?How does it link to your bigger plans, your life and your values? Does it align to your passion, the things you love to do and that bring you joy inside and outside of work?
Revolutionary and realisticWhat change is going to come when you achieve this goal?How will that change influence your life and your work?Is the goal a daydream or is there some reality to it?Have you shrunk it too much because it’s too big or too far from reach? Have you made it so big you feel it’s impossible?
Opportunity and optionsWhat opportunities, resources, and people are out there to help you along the way? How could you seek these things out?What are the different routes and options for you now?How could you decide which route to try first?What about option B, C, D?
Unique and upliftingWhat is it about the goal that is personal for you? (as opposed to tagging along with someone else’s goal or taking an opinion on what you should do as instruction)Does the idea of working on the goal light you up?Can you feel the desire to make it happen growing?
Destination and determinationWhat will be different in your world – both when you’ve achieved it and in the steps along the way?What are you prepared to put in to make it happen? What might you need to learn and develop?What boundaries might you need to set or adapt to make it happen? 

Once you’ve considered the questions above, ask yourself, ‘Is this a goal I am serious about pursuing?’ If the answer’s no, pick something else you’re interested in and work through the steps again. This process will help you rule out goals that aren’t what you really want! If it’s a resounding yes – get it defined!

FREE DOWNLOAD

Fancy this assessment on a handy PDF, with space to write?

Download my goal-setting template here.

CRAFTING YOUR GOAL

According to research by Dr Gail Matthews1 you are more likely to achieve a goal by writing it down. Make sure it’s:

  • Simple – anyone should be able to read it and know what you’re aiming to do
  • Positive – what you want the outcome to be rather than what you want to move away from
  • Timed – a deadline or milestone for next action will help to focus the mind

If you’re feeling creative, drawing or painting goals can be inspirational, as can creating poems or little ditties about them. Once your work of art is crafted, put it somewhere you will see it every day (front of a notebook, your desktop or your fridge door) so that it stays front of mind. You’ll be amazed how many wonderful things seem to happen when you purposefully set your intention and allow your subconscious to do the work.

KNOW THIS: HURDLES HAPPEN

Living in the real world, you know that there are things that get in your way, thwarting your progress. Pre-empting some of the hurdles may help you to find ways to work around these challenges. Other hurdles may be totally unpredictable, a side swipe that you couldn’t prepare for. Trying to prepare for those is a fool’s errand, so let’s focus on what you know may get in your way.

Reflection questions:

What can you envisage getting in your way?
How might these things impact you achieving your goal?
Will they make it harder?
Might it take longer?
Could they totally derail you?
When might these things crop up? Is it a timing thing?
Is it situational?
Who is in control of these things? Other people? You?
Which hurdles are genuine issues and which hurdles have you put up for yourself?


For the genuine issues, those practical or logistical challenges, there is often a simple or obvious solution to work through. Perhaps you need to engage some supporters to help work through them – it’s so much better when working through problems together. The challenges that may be harder to overcome are those hurdles in your mind

LIMITING BELIEFS AND HOW TO BEAT THEM

So often, it is your own limiting beliefs and not a practical issue or situation that really gets in your way. Much of your thinking is driven by your experiences, your fears, and unhelpful stories that tell us that everyone else is awesome and you’re just faking it. To get a grip on some of your limiting beliefs, try completing these sentences:

When you’re at your best, feeling brilliant, supported, and demonstrating your capability – the stories you tell yourself are…
e.g., I am strong, I am capable, I’m great at…, I can do anything I put my mind to…

When you’re at your middle ground, feeling fine, pootling along, and doing okay – the stories you tell yourself are…
e.g., I’m pretty good at…, I know I can cope, I’ve been through challenges before…

When you’re at your worst, feeling insecure, unsure, unsupported, and lacking confidence – the stories you tell yourself are…
e.g., Everyone else is better than me, I am not good enough, people will laugh at me…

It’s likely you’ll notice some limiting beliefs. Some of these may come from the ‘when I’m at my worst’ category but watch out for the ‘when I’m at my best’ category too. Both ends of the spectrum can have us out of kilter with reality!

Dr Carol Dweck2 suggests that a solution to being stuck in a fixed mindset, with limiting beliefs, is to add the word ‘Yet’ to a sentence. The ‘yet’ allows you to open your thinking to future possibilities even if it seems impossible now. ‘Yet’ has the power to move you towards action. Try this five-step approach to help you move from a limiting belief to a more joyful place, where you have created an integrated habit.

StepsExample
Step 1: Limiting beliefI’m too busy to fit learning into my life
Step 2: The power of yetI haven’t found ways to fit learning into my life yet
Step 3: Move towards actionI am experimenting with how I fit learning into my life
Step 4: Recognizing learningI have found ways to fit learning into my life
Step 5: Integrated habitLearning is part of my life
Reflection questions:

What limiting beliefs would you like to bust?
How could you use ‘Yet’ to help you move to a more purposeful place?
FREE DOWNLOAD

Download my five-step limiting belief-busting template here.
WORKJOY COMMUNITY STORY: THE POWER OF ‘YET’
I’m a nurse specialist in the NHS. During the pandemic everything changed for me, I was redeployed to a more clinical area, and it all felt very chaotic. When things normalised, I felt like I didn’t know who I was at work anymore. I’d lost my way. I had the opportunity to move from a Band 6 to a Band 7 role but didn’t know how to establish myself as the senior person in the team. My goal was to get back in the zone of my work identity.

The WorkJoy focus on growth mindset was really powerful for me. I saw how many excuses I was making for myself and worked through them. The job I came from had a difficult team dynamic and I felt I carried that with me into this role. So, I wrote a letter to my old managers then shredded it. I always forget about that because I’ve let it go. It’s completely gone!

The best thing I learned was the word ‘Yet’. This little word really empowered me to ask questions of senior staff members and consultants. It’s not that I don’t want to know something, it’s that I haven’t had the chance to learn it yet. It’s become a key principle in my management style. Above our desk at work I wrote, ‘Team, we don’t know about this YET’. Now, we learn something new each week because we write it on the board. Something about the word just chills me out.
” 
NEXT STEPS: CHOOSE YOUR OWN WORKJOY JOURNEY

Goals are slippery things. Hold on too tight and you can squeeze the joy from them. But fail to define them or tackle your limiting beliefs around them, and they’ll likely never be achieved. I hope this article has given you some practical tools and advice. Here’s what you can do now. 

1. Grab a copy of my book, WorkJoy: a toolkit for a better working life, to learn how to align your habits to the goal you’ve just crafted (and a lot more besides). 

2. Book a chat
If you’ve got a big goal and need some guidance (plus a tonne of accountability) to get it done, book a 1-1 coaching call with me

3. Listen up
My WorkJoy Jam podcast archive is full of guests chatting about goals, motivation, limiting beliefs, habits and more. A great way to stay motivated. 

3. Tackle chronic WorkGloom
If you’re so lost in the fug of WorkGloom that goals are the last thing on your mind, my 21-day GloomBusters audio guide pops a five-minute audio into your WhatsApp every day for three weeks. Highly do-able. 

Spread the WorkJoy

Know someone who’s struggling to set and get goals right now? How about someone whose fabulousness is being pooped on by limiting beliefs? Why not send them this link?


Cover Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

  1.  A. Feinstein, Why you should be writing down your goals. Forbes (8 April 2014). Available from: www.forbes.com/sites/ellevate/2014/04/08/ why-you-should-be-writing-down-your-goals/?sh=390f0cd3397c [accessed 7 September 2022]. 
    ↩︎
  2.   C.S. Dweck, Mindset: Changing the way you think to fulfil your potential (2017). ↩︎

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