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Four Goal-Setting Questions

Goal-Setting QuestionsFour Goal-Setting Questions

Here are four critical goal-setting questions to ask:

              What do you want?

              When do you want it?

              What are you willing to give up getting it?

Yes, I know that is only three questions, and no I don’t have a problem with math. But the fourth question, if uncovered at this stage, would not allow you to properly focus on the first three. Be patient.

How many times have we been told to set goals? We know about SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time Sensitive). It’s not enough to want a new pair of tennis shoes. Rather, you want a new pair of size 9, blue, Nike running shoes with white laces–and you want those shoes by 5p.m. this Friday. My daughter just got a pair of those shoes so I thought that it would be a good example. It’s also a lot more specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time sensitive than, say, curing world hunger or eradicating polio.

So, we have answers to the first two questions: A new pair of size 9, blue, Nike running shoes with white laces (What do you want?) and this Friday (When do you want it?). Now, what are you willing to give up getting those shoes? Time, money, or going without the Starbucks’ venti skinny caramel triple shot latte for the next three months? Really, what are you willing to give up? Maybe your goal needs for you to get “out of balance” for a period of time. This takes a sacrifice that could eat into family time or add a few strokes to your handicap. You have to decide but decide you must. This stage and the next stage (that elusive fourth question) are critical to the goal-setting process.

I worked with a guy for a while who would make phone calls to customers and keep track of every sale for the day.  He would not stop making calls until he hit his commission goal for that day. He knew what he wanted (commissions), when he wanted it (by the end of the day), and what he was willing to give up (he literally would not leave his office until he hit the goal).  Sometimes he was still dialing well after the others in the office had left for the evening.

Did he always meet his goal? Certainly not. But every day he made sacrifices in the pursuit, and he didn’t let fear of failure stop or slow him. And that is where we get the fourth question:

              Are you willing to fail?

Let’s return to our goal–the Nike shoes. It’s a SMART goal, but is it a smart goal for you? The key to goal-setting is that you really have to stretch to reach the goal. I used to have a coffee cup that said, “What would you attempt today if you knew that you could not fail?” Real goals–big hairy audacious goals (BHAGs)–mean failure could happen. You don’t meet the sales goal for the year, the new cancer drug is a bust, and you got 20,000 feet up Mt Everest but had to turn around due to a storm. Still, you tried. And while the goal may not have been achieved, you stretched yourself in the process. You learned more about what you’re capable of, and that will serve you well and bring you confidence in the future.

Be willing to fail.


Related Posts:

How to Achieve Your GOAL, not goals

Common Goal Barriers

About the Author

Calvin has nearly three decades of executive and leadership experience. He is a former Air Force officer where he directed the Air Force Oil Analysis Program, the B-1 Bomber flight simulator modification program, and the design and integration of the Advanced Cruise Missile Variant. His executive leadership includes Director of the Rochester Merrill Lynch office and Vice President of Investment Services at Think Mutual Bank. Calvin Guyer Full Bio

  • Cathleen Colella

    I like the analogy.  Sometimes we have to be reminded of the simple components to goal achievement.   Cathy Colella

  • Harry Che

    advice on goal setting.

    You may want to check out, a very nicely built
    web app designed for tracking goals and todo lists, and supports time
    tracking too. It’s clear, focused, easy to navigate, worth a try.

  • Jgierasch

    I’m planning my back to school meeting for administrators in our school district which typically includes some type of planning for our yearly goals. The last two sentences really are more so what I want them to think about.

    I’m thinking about using the article as the kick-off. Thanks.

    • Calvin Guyer

      Thank you for the feedback. I am glad that you find this information useful for your team. Let us know how we can help you to further develop your team!

  • Robin Ross

    Nothing like a good stretch goal to remind us that we are still alive and growing!  I like to ask myself, what is the worst that can happen?  Usually, the consequences of failure aren’t very scary, particularly when compared to the rewards of achieving our goal.  Take aim and stretch smart!  

  • Kate Harthan

    I need that coffee cup… a saying to tape to the mirror for now, anyway. The questions about being willing to give something else up to get it is especially important– if you aren’t patient and refuse to give up another form of consideration for the shoes, you’ll end up putting it on a credit card and thinking you’ll pay it off later. No wonder the average American family has about $25,000 worth of debt, not including mortgages…

    • Calvin Guyer

      Sorry for the slow response–thank you for the feedback. Let me know if we can help you or your team.

  • FoundationDirector

    Well said Cal… A good way to start a Monday morning.  One of my old bosses always reminded us that the worst that could happen is that you didn’t meet the goal, but you were better off trying!

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