How often have you been exhorted to set your goals down in writing? How often have you done it? How often have you immediately forgotten about them once you’ve completed the writing exercise?
Most of us have experienced the frustration of setting goals only see them fade away into nothingness. We never reach them. More than likely, we never think seriously about them after we’ve ‘established’ them. They make us feel good for a while but they’re really not something ‘that’s going to happen.’
That experience naturally leads us to ask whether goal setting is even an exercise worth our time and effort. Research by Dr. Peter Gollwitzer, Professor of Psychology at
Setting goals in and of themselves will lead nowhere but to frustration and feeling guilt for not reaching them. Simply setting goals is fruitless because by themselves they result in no positive action. They simply state a wish, not a concrete objective.
In order for goals to be met, they must be accompanied by a definite, realistic action plan to reach them. In other words, knowing what your goal is will get you nowhere if you don’t know how you’re going to make it happen. Furthermore, according to Dr. Gollwitzer’s research, the very act of creating a detailed plan of action helps bring about the realization of the goal.
Allow me to quote a relatively lengthy summary passage of his research as presented in an article of his, “Metacognition in Action: the Importance of Implementation Intentions,” as published in Personality and Social Psychology Review. (Bold added for emphasis)
“When people furnish their goal intentions (“I intend to attain the goal X”) with implementation intentions (“I will initiate the goal-directed response y when situation z arises”), the initiation of goal-directed responses becomes automated. As this type of automaticity stems from a single act of will, it is referred to as strategic automaticity. We report various studies demonstrating that the strategic automaticity leads to immediate and efficient responding, which does not need a conscious intent. In addition, the situational cues specified in implementation intentions seem to be easily detected and readily attended to. Further research indicates that the strategic automaticity induced by implementation intentions also helps resist temptation and fight bad habits.”
In other words, the act of creating a detailed, step-by-step action plan generates “immediate and effective responding” to the situation to implement the plan without the need of “conscious intent.” If your plan is well thought-out, detailed and actionable (that is not vague or theoretical, but concrete), your mind will initiate the next steps necessary to work toward attaining your goal.
Other research by Dr. Gollwitzer indicates actionable goal planning is the primary differentiator between top producers and average and below average salespeople and managers.
There is no magic to becoming a top producer or a top manager. The key is knowing where you want to go and how you’re going to get there—in detailed, realistic, actionable steps.