Jan 262015
My theme word last year.

My theme word last year.

Inspired by Marcia Francois, the Organising Queen, I have been selecting a theme word each year for the past several years. I find the theme word concept is a great way to stay focused. If you just list all the goals you have for the year, you end up with an overwhelming list of different ideas. If you take another look at that list and try to focus in on just one word or theme that runs through all of those goals, it really does help to clarify what you are trying to accomplish.

Last year, I chose the theme word “traction” for my personal goals. To me, this word meant:

  • getting unstuck from unhealthy or unproductive behaviors
  • continuing to try new ideas until you find an effective solution for your problem
  • eliminating complacency and remaining aware of opportunities for improvement even in areas where you are performing well
  • forging into unknown, messy and complex situations
  • moving noticeably forward, whether by an inch or a mile

So, how did I do on my “traction” goals? I didn’t achieve everything I wanted to, particularly when it came to my physical environment organization goals and my blogging goals, but in many areas, I can celebrate success!

  • I completed 44 days of clean eating last spring, dropping 14 pounds. I learned to cook in an entirely new way, began to change my taste buds and have managed to continue my diet throughout the year in a modified way (more on this to come).
  • We completed another cross-country trip to visit family spending 18 days on the road with 3 children! We all had a ball and it is still on my to do list to give you a trip log of our adventures.
  • We achieved one of our milestone personal financial goals this year and have made significant progress in working toward our next goals (which will take decades to achieve).
  • Our homeschool curriculum this year is the most challenging we have attempted with more subjects and another child to preschool. So far, it is going very well.
  • We celebrated the holidays from October through December in grand style, from homemade Halloween costumes to a homecooked Thanksgiving and many activities for Christmas.
  • I did most of the above while pregnant and had to fit in numerous doctor appointments into an already crowded schedule!

It is a healthy and positive habit to take a moment to celebrate your successes. Even if you didn’t achieve exactly what you set out to do last year, did you make progress in other ways? Did you gain a key insight? Did you make key preliminary steps toward achieving your goals? Did life take an unexpected turn for you and you ended up having to completely revise your goals and go in a different direction?

Take time to congratulate yourself. Life is hard and we all deserve to feel that we are making “traction” in our own unique ways.

In my next post, my theme word for 2015.

 Posted by on January 26, 2015 General Tagged with: , , ,
Jan 122012

"Woman looking at her reflection in mirror," (1918) by Frederic Dorr Steele. From the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

If you have been reading the last two posts, by this point, you probably have a list of goals, a list of “why” motivators and a list of “how” implementation steps. But this probably still doesn’t feel like a complete “plan” and some of the ideas may seem out of reach.

Revisiting some of my own past advice on goaling, I came across the Robert Mager Goal Analysis post.  The key idea that strikes me here is making your goal people-based. Mr. Mager’s concept is simple:

“[T]hink of someone who already has achieved your goal, someone who represents your goal, and write down the things he says and the things he does that cause you to be willing to pin that goal label on him. . . . If you can not think of anyone who represents your goal, you have a problem. . . . If . . . you . . . can not think of someone who represents the state or condition described by the goal, you need to think of what a person might be like if he represented your goal. You are skating on thin ice, though, because when you think of hypothetical people, there is the danger that your expectations will be forever unattainable.”

–Robert Mager, Goal Analysis

While I like this concept, it may be a concept that works better in business, where one “customer service representative” or “market analyst” may be the same as the next in terms of access to company resources, compensation and working hours. When I try to apply this to my personal life goals it gets complicated quickly.

For example, let’s say you have an ambitious list of personal tasks for your home organization. Think of a person who represents your goal. Depending on your personality, you are either thinking, “Martha Stewart” or “ ____ from across the street.” If you are aiming for weight loss, do you have a supermodel or celebrity in mind or someone from the local gym? Robert Mager reminds us that if we find someone in our similar situation who has achieved everything we want to achieve, chances are our goals are rooted somewhere in reality.

Some will find Robert Mager’s strategy disagreeable in this respect. For example, if you asked Amy Chua when she was making the decision to pursue her tiger parenting method to find another American family with two full-time working parents with two daughters who were both excellent musicians, fluent in Chinese and had perfect grades, she probably couldn’t find one! Sometimes you have to push the boundaries of possible to achieve something new.

Others will find this strategy disagreeable because it invites envy and competition among friends. Envying someone we don’t know and have never met is different than wanting to become the person you run into all the time. Some people find the realistic target a depressing reminder of all their shortcomings.

As I look around at people I know, there is an inevitable connection between money and organization. The more money you have the easier it is to hire a cleaning service, remodel, buy a new car, get your hair done at the salon, throw things out because you know you can always buy more, etc. Sometimes I wonder if wanting to “be more organized” is really a part of us saying, “I wish I had more money to _____.”

Another problem I am running into finding a role model for my goals is finding someone in a similar situation. There are always key differences when comparing people no matter how similar many of the circumstances seem.

Also, when it comes to our personal lives, there are a lot of hidden details that make direct comparisons difficult. The best we can do is say, “Assuming that ___ has a life similar to mine, he/she probably gets all that done by _______.”

Looking again at Amy Chua, for example. When she committed to her tiger mother strategy, she looked around at other mothers on her block and decided that she couldn’t do everything they were doing and still achieve her goal. So, she cut out sleepovers and playdates and school plays and other “fun” things for her children. She also cut out a lot of free time for herself, dedicating it instead to attending music lessons with her daughters, arranging for Chinese tutors, and, I suspect, losing sleep as well.

Ah…the reality check. Not the most fun part of the goaling process. It is far more exciting to imagine a life without boundaries. But if you really want to achieve your goal, you have to check in with reality.

Ruly Challenge: Take your current goal(s) and apply the people-based test to them. Who do you know who has roughly similar life circumstances to you? How are you different or similar to these people? If you imagine that one of these people wanted to achieve your same goal(s), how would he/she do it?

Do you find it helpful to imagine a real-life person when drafting your goals? What benefits or downsides do you see to this method? Please share in the comments.

 Posted by on January 12, 2012 General Tagged with: , , ,
Jan 112010

This month’s Ruly Bookshelf choice is a vintage book: “Goal Analysis” by Robert F. Mager, copyright 1972.  When I was thinking about what book to choose on goal setting, I realized that goal setting is one of those timeless topics where having the latest technology doesn’t confer many advantages. So I wanted to see how it was done years ago and see if anything has changed.  (Please note, however, that there is a newer, 1997 revised edition of “Goal Analysis” as well.)

Buying used books is a delightful experience. They are usually not all that expensive and put you in contact with a variety of small business owners who hand pack and ship the books to you, often with a brief note of thanks. This personal touch to bookbuying is absent in most of today’s purchases. My copy of “Goal Analysis” came from Wonder Book which I found using the search engine at AbeBooks.

The focus of “Goal Analysis,” is how to take a vague conceptual goal (like “be more organized”) and translate it into actionable items. Mr. Mager proposes a 5-step process:

  1. Write down the goal.
  2. Write down the things you would want someone to say or do to cause you to agree that the person represents the goal.
  3. Sort and refine your list.
  4. Write a complete statement describing the performance(s) you want to see.
  5. Test what you have written with the question, “If someone performed all of the items on my list, would I agree that the person had achieved the goal?”

Two of the most important concepts I learned from this book were to ensure that goals are people-based and stated in positive terms.

“[T]hink of someone who already has achieved your goal, someone who represents your goal, and write down the things he says and the things he does that cause you to be willing to pin that goal label on him. . . . If you can not think of anyone who represents your goal, you have a problem. . . . If . . . you . . . can not think of someone who represents the state or condition described by the goal, you need to think of what a person might be like if he represented your goal. You are skating on thin ice, though, because when you think of hypothetical people, there is the danger that your expectations will be forever unattainable.”

Somehow we have really gotten away from this simple concept of basing goals on real people. When I set goals for myself, I often fall into the hypothetical person trap, as I think many people and employers do. We have to remind ourselves that the goal we are setting has to be capable of being achieved by someone. If no person ever fully achieves the goal, it is unmotivating. Wouldn’t you rather be in a position where you have a set of challenging goals that you ultimately achieve and then set new even more challenging goals for yourself rather than endlessly strive toward vague, ultimately unachievable goals?

Perhaps one of the reasons we tend to use hypothetical people in our goal setting is that when we think of actual people who have achieved the goal, we tend to remember their deficiencies as frequently as their achievements. For example, one might say, “Like Bob, but more ___.” or “Like Jane, but not ____.” Mr. Mager’s message seems to be to focus in on only the good aspects and say, “Like Bob and Jane.” Doing this would require an acceptance that each person is going to have something that is not perfect about them but that so long as the person is achieving the ultimate goal, the imperfections are OK.

Mr. Mager’s positivity extends to the goal writing itself.

“[A]pproach [goal writing] from the positive by writing down the performances you do want to see to convince you your goal is achieved, and this is the approach to take whenever you can. When you find yourself unable to make progress, however, you might aproach from the negative by writing down performances you don’t want to see. . . “

Mr. Mager gives several examples in the book of consulting work he did with various clients to get them to define what they meant by objectives such as “good tone of service” or “show concern for patient welfare.” Often, it was easier for the groups to remember and define the behaviors they didn’t want to see rather than the ones they did want to see. In my example of “be more organized,” for example, you might define it negatively as:

  • “Doesn’t forget important appointments.”
  • “Doesn’t spend a lot of time looking for things.”

Mr. Mager then coached his clients to turn those negative statements into positive statements. In the process, often his clients found that the initial goal statement was really referring to another concept entirely. So, for example, while the nurses were initially trying to “show concern for patient welfare,” ultimately they decided to “prevent patient embarrassment.”

Some other tips and good quotes from Mr. Mager:

“Check the goal to make sure it describes an outcome rather than a process . . . That is, make the statement say, “have a favorable attitude toward carbuncles,” rather than “learn to have a favorable attitude toward carbuncles.”

“[Y]ou may find goals that are administrative rather than instructional–goals that can only be achieved by an institution, not an individual. . . . For example, an item such as “reduce absenteeism” is not something a student or trainee can do anything about. It is an administrative goal. You may wish to change the item to “have no unexcused absences,” because that is characteristic of an individual.”

“If you know you can’t observe the performances that are the meaning of your goal, just try to refrain from judging people in terms of that goal. . . . [A]bove all, try to remember that it is a highly questionable practice to label someone as having achieved or not achieved a goal state when you don’t even know what you would take as evidence of achievement.”

When I think of Mr. Mager’s process and tips I am reminded of an episode of Oprah from a few years back where Oprah was taking questions from the audience. A woman stood up and said, “Oh, Oprah, I find you so inspiring and amazing.” “Thank you,” Oprah said, “Why?” The woman was taken aback and stammered something like, “Oh, for a lot of reasons. I just do.” Oprah then told the woman that she often receives compliments but that she would like to know the specific things she does that people think are amazing and wonderful. I also find Oprah amazing and wonderful but if you ask me to define why, the list seems so silly and doesn’t capture the full conception of who Oprah is: “Because she reinvigorated book reading in this country,” “Because she has a great sense of humor,” “Because she takes on challenging issues,” “Because she relates to people in a sincere and thought-provoking way.”

Mr. Mager would say that this list of “trivial” items is exactly what goal analysis is about. As people, we are not grand conceptions, we are specific, achievable goals.

The test of triviality is in the consequence of not achieving the performance. . . .[I]f there is a consequence then the performance is not trivial . . . .”

So, for example, if Oprah did not “take on challenging issues” would she still be Oprah? Probably not.

“Goal Analysis” is a quick read and is particularly relevant for anyone who manages or coaches people. In the last chapter, Mr. Mager provides a method for charting goal achievement, including a way to plot the performance of numerous people toward the achievement of common goals, which would be a highly useful tool for anyone conducting performance evaluations.

Have you ever had to define an undefinable goal? Are you currently subject to undefinable goals in your employment? How would you define why Oprah is so great? Please share in the comments. As a reminder, anyone posting a comment in January, can receive a Ruly thank you note by sending me your mailing address at info@beruly.com.

 Posted by on January 11, 2010 Ruly Bookshelf Tagged with: , , , ,