A few tips on goal-setting

December 31, 2012

Experience, Self-discipline

goalsFor the last few days, I’ve been conducting an Annual Review of my work in 2012 and planning for 2013. We all know it’s important to set goals. But what good is a goal if you can’t measure it?

I’ve actually done quite a bit of research on this subject. In my past life as a corporate manager, I led a multi-year, international project helping our subsidiaries set strategic goals for their businesses and, maybe most importantly, effectively measure progress toward those goals.

Yes, this measurement stuff can get nerdy and mind-numbing pretty fast. So I’ll just share a couple of big ideas that we all can use to reach our goals in the new year.

Set a goal

It’s okay for a goal to be kinda general as long as its measures are specific. Let’s use physical fitness as an example. Perhaps your goal for 2013 is to “get fit.” A great goal to have but what does “fit” look like? How do you know when you’ve arrived? And how do you know during the year if you are making progress? That’s where measures come in.

Activities vs. Outcomes

This is the key to it all. You must measure activities and outcomes. Of all the research I’ve read, if you only understand this distinction, you’ll have made a huge leap forward in good goal-setting.

Activities are things you do, probably on a regular basis, to progress toward a goal. Outcomes tell you if you are actually progressing and how quickly. Here is my real-life example of my own “get fit” goal:


To build my body and improve my fitness

Activity Measures

  1. Continue to attend strength-training classes 2x per week
  2. Add a weekly yoga class
  3. Exercise 5x per week

You can see that these are certainly specific and measurable. I can easily track week-by-week to see if I’m doing the activities that will get me to my goal. But are these measures enough? Are they telling me whether I am reaching my goal of getting fit? No. Alone, these are not enough. I need to add outcome measures.

Outcome Measures

  1. Be able to do 20 regular pushups
  2. Maintain body weight below ____lbs.
  3. Be able to wear my (particular pair of) jeans comfortably

Now, I’m not claiming these are perfect measures of fitness but they demonstrate the difference between outcomes and activities. Outcome measures give me a picture of what “fit” looks like. See how the activities support the outcomes?

My strength-training should be making me stronger. If it’s working, I should be able to do more and more pushups. If I can’t do more pushups (outcome), but I am doing the strength training (activity), then I have the knowledge that I need to increase the intensity of my training. If I only had the activity measure, I would think I was doing everything right, yet not actually progressing toward my goal.

Happy New Year

I hope this wasn’t too nerdy because I think it’s really important. And I’m happy to be able to share it on the last day of 2012. When we set goals and fail to achieve them, it can be demoralizing and paralyze us from working toward other things we want.

With the right measurement strategy, we can know we’re making progress. Even if I only get to 10 pushups, I’ll know how much I improved myself over the year.

Pretend it’s this time next year. What did you achieve and how are you different?


Image: lululemon

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5 Comments on “A few tips on goal-setting”

  1. Rob Young Says:

    Love it as usual Gretchen. How about adding a third dimension to your goals – why you want to achieve them. So in your example, do you want to improve your fitness to look hot, to run a marathon, to keep up with a toddler (that’s me) or some other reason. IF you add a reason behind your goal, it can help you keep plugging at those activities…


  2. thaddaeusmoody Says:

    Nice post Gretchen! I have noticed that even in the corporate world some people hesitate to measure outcomes. It seems it is much easier to check off the list of your completed tasks than to take the risk of looking at your results. Good luck with your goals in 2013.


  3. debbiekc Says:

    Thanks for publishing “All Fives”, and for these strategies to stay on track. Happy NY



  1. How to make your resolutions stickier | All Fives - January 15, 2013

    […] wrote recently about measuring our goals, after which a smart commenter (and friend, Rob) reminded me that we […]

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