When Pat Rafter was a 10-year-old tennis hopeful in Brisbane, he saw the names Rod Laver, John Newcombe and other tennis greats on a plaque at the courts where he played. He decided that one day his name would be on that plaque.
In the lead up to the Olympics in this sport-obsessed nation, we are confronted with the image of athletes who push themselves to achieve their personal goals. What motivates these high performers is not always transparent, however, we do know that they share some common characteristics and strategies. They have a compelling vision that they focus on regularly, they know that achieving goals is hard work, and they are willing to do something every day to achieve their goals. Regardless of how they feel about it they are willing to do whatever it takes to achieve their goals. These high performers also have a team of experts supporting them and a trusted coach to help them stay on track with their goals and to enable them to perform against all odds.
Performing Against All Odds
Women in business are also often performing against all odds. Research has shown that 75% of people who set goals fail to achieve them.1 This is consistent with statistics that show 75% of new businesses fail in the first three years.2 Against these odds, we can gain much by using the successful strategies of high-performing athletes. Setting and achieving goals can be a lonely business for women in their own business. How successful would we be if we could focus on our goals, take regular easy steps towards our goals, use goal achievement skills on a daily basis so that we could grow our business, gain balance and become high performers in our own lives? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every goal we set for ourselves was something we just did automatically, like brushing our teeth or getting out of bed in the morning? Let’s look at some of the strategies high performers use for making achieving goals a daily habit.
Make Your Goals Compelling
Goals need to be inspiring and compelling to motivate people to take the required action to reach them. When dreaming, it is important to dream big. When setting a goal let your imagination take flight. What is it you really want? It’s the difference between saying “I will increase my turnover by 65% next year” to imagining yourself stepping up in front of a group of people to accept the Australian Businesswoman of the Year Award in 2001, reading about your achievement on the front page of The Australian newspaper’s business section, taking calls of congratulations from friends the next day, wearing that new dress you’ve had your eye on and celebrating with your partner at your favourite restaurant that evening. By all means get emotional about your goal. Research has proven that emotions are major motivators in the achievement of goals.3
Make Your Goals Achievable
Now that you have visualised the dream, it is important to break it down into a goal that is achievable within your time frame. Most people do not have trouble setting goals, we have long lists of what we want, what is more difficult is setting goals that are achievable. Your dream can become a reality if you plan for it. A good beginning is to make sure your goal is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time related (SMART). Be realistic about the time frame, research has shown that most people underestimate the time it takes to achieve a goal.4 It is vital to be honest about what you aim to achieve.
Plan to Take the Small Steps
Now set a strategy for achieving the goal. The strategy is the “how” of goal achievement. Be willing to make sacrifices to get what you want. Break your dream into manageable short-term goals. Short-term goals help people to stay motivated. Motivation increases as the distance from the goal (or sub-goal) decreases. Do something towards your goal every day. Acknowledge the milestones you achieve. Any step towards your goal is positive, no matter how small. Taking small steps can make the process seem easy as indeed, the ability to take small steps, consistently is the only attribute required for successful goal achievement.5
Focus on your Goals Regularly – Stay focused
Plan to spend the first 10 minutes, half hour or hour of every day working towards achieving your goal. Make it a priority. Cathy Freeman doesn’t miss the track because a friend drops in for a coffee. Don’t allow yourself to get sidetracked or to throw in the towel when the going gets tough.
Try different techniques to stay focused. These may include: regularly looking at a photo or picture of you achieving your goal; having a friend call you to remind you of your goal regularly; talking about it often; writing affirmations; and engaging in regular visualisation. Regular visualisation has been found to produce intentions towards the desired goal.6 One very powerful way to use this technique is by writing a movie script of you working towards achieving your goal. Just 10 minutes a day writing about taking a step or completing a milestone towards your goal can be extremely compelling. Include the visuals of what the scene looks like, the other actors in the script, the dialogue and the emotions. This is a wonderful and fun way of preparing yourself for the experience. Whatever the technique, pick what works for you and use it often.
Expect the Tough Times
The difficulty is that achieving goals is hard work, somehow we think it should be a fun and pleasurable experience. Because of this belief, most people are not prepared to put in the hard work. When the going gets tough due to boredom, challenges or lack of resources, most people abandon the goals they have set.
You can short-circuit the desire to give up by recognising that reaching your goal may be difficult, painful, unpleasant and involve some sacrifice. Think about exercising three mornings a week. It’s easy when the sun is out, when you exercise with a friend, when you can see the results you’re getting etc. Now think about getting up early on a cold, rainy morning when your friend has called to say she can’t make it. Your muscles are stiff and you have a headache from over-indulging at a cocktail party the night before. Are you still willing to get out of bed and put your running shoes on? The movie script technique can also be used to anticipate any difficulties that may arise and allow you to mentally rehearse the coping strategies you can use when you are faced with challenges.
Stop blaming – blaming is very draining. Take full responsibility for your part in creating the situation and learn from it so that it won’t happen again next time. If you slip at one stage of your goal, re-plan it and restart. Act before you lose valuable momentum.
Rally Your Expert Team
Be willing to do whatever it takes to get the support you need. No one does it all alone. High-performing athletes have a team of expert support staff to help them get to the Olympics – physios, nutritionists, doctors, massage therapists, trainers, coaches, publicists, sponsors and a supportive network of family, friends and fans. If we plan to be high performers in our business and our life we need to rally our own expert team. On a page make a list of everyone you can imagine who could help you achieve your goal, rule a line and on the other side of the page write down what it is you need from each of these people. Include a time frame for when you will ask for their help. Use the support of those you trust, respect and admire to help you reach your goals. Get a coach or join a goal achievement group to add to the strength of your expert team.
*1 Burns, S., Goal Achiever”s Program, 2000
*2 Lonier, T., Working Solo (2nd edition), 1998, John Wiley and Sons
*3 Ford, M.E., Motivating Humans: goals emotions and personal agency beliefs, 1992, Sage, Newbury Park California,
*4 Buehler,R., Griffin, D. and Ross, M., Exploring the Planning Fallacy, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1994, Vol. 6, No. 3
*5 Burns, S., Goal Achiever”s Program 2000, class video tape
*6 Anderson, C.A., Imagination and Expectation: The Effects of Imagining Behavioural Scripts on Personal Intentions, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 1983, Vol. 45, No 2, 293-305
Acknowledgement goes to Stephanie Burns for her pivotal work in this area and for many of the ideas that have been incorporated into Sally’s approach to goal achievement.