26 July 2006

Goal Setting Principles for Practical Problem-Solving

In my previous post, we discussed an ST article on life coaching. Many people in Singapore would be somewhat suspicious of the life coaching concept. Some tools & techniques of "life coaching" can indeed seem quite strange, almost mystical in nature, and therefore difficult for the uninitiated to accept.

However, many other ideas routinely applied in the "life coaching" movement are very practical and commonsensical, and furthermore, potentially very effective (if only people would get in the habit of using them). In particular, I'd like to say a bit more about the principles of setting and achieving goals. Earlier, I wrote this:
Personal goal-setting and goal-achieving, by the way, has been refined to a fine art, in the universe of life coaching, self-help and self-improvement.

It comes with an extensive package of methodologies - for example, clarifying your values, having a personal mission statement, defining goals in a quantifiable way, creating a plan of action, establishing deadlines, taking action, monitoring progress, gathering resources, identifying roadblocks etc (but with variations, of course).
As I said, the methodologies come in different packagings. A basic framework could be something like this:

1. Identify the goal, write it down and know why you're setting it.
2. Break the goal into smaller sub-goals, each with a deadline.
3. List all the steps you need to take, in order to achieve each subgoal.
4. Identify the most important steps to be taken at each point in time.
5. Take action, focusing on the most important steps first.
6. Record your progress, review & adjust periodically.
7. When you run into a difficulty, treat its solution as a subgoal to be achieved, and repeat steps 3 to 6.

It is as simple as that. And of course, not as simple as that.

I think that the most common reason why people don't achieve their goals is that they stumble at Step 1. They may only have vague notions of what they really want to do, have or be. But when the notions are vague, they don't know what to do next or can't find the motivation, and so they never get going. And frankly, identifying what you really want is not at all such a simple thing.

Step 2 is the second-most common reason why people fail to achieve their goals. If you do not break down your goal (eg a goal to graduate with 1st Class Honours in 2009), the goal will seem very difficult and intimidating, and therefore you give up. Or it may seem very distant, so you do not even feel like trying.

But if you systematically break it down into smaller subgoals and then focus on the most important next step at each point in time, the goal becomes much more manageable. For example, the immediate subgoal may be to do well in next week's test. If you break it down further, the next step may be nothing more than to concentrate on one chapter of your textbook tonight. Not so frightening or impossible or faraway, after all.

Finally, you don't need a perfect plan. You just need something to get you going. That's because as time goes on, things will happen and you'll be adjusting your plan (Step 6) anyway.

Sometimes, people refrain from setting big, ambitious, long-term goals (eg to become CFO of a large MNC in seven years' time) because the amount of sustained effort required over that period of time seems daunting. The usual "life coach" answer to that is - the time will pass anyway. In seven years' time, you'll (probably) still be alive, and kicking, and working somewhere. Since you'd still be working, you might as well aim to be working in whatever kind of job you consider to be "successful" or "satisying".

Oh, don't forget to have fun along the way.

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Anonymous said...

Hi, Mr Wang,

I think some of us stumble somewhere between Steps 5 and 6. After having taken the first step(s), one stops. Either one gets distracted, or the steam runs out, somewhere along the line.

I came across some research sometime ago which says that the average 'attention span' a person has on a project is 17 weeks.

After 17 weeks, if you're still on it, I guess chances are, you're on the home run.

I am now into my 5th week of blogging.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Good luck for the next 12 weeks!

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Btw, 17 weeks is about four months. There is a guy, Michael Heppell, who advocates setting goals with 90-day time frames (approx 3 months). Maybe this is his way of maximising chances of success, before the attention span runs out.

Anonymous said...

If it's so simple, how come Potong Pasir still can't get the $180 million of upgrading?

Anonymous said...

Good stuff!

Mr Wang, would you consider yourself a pretty driven person? I think I remember you saying something to that effect in a post of yours.

I'm curious, what drives you?

Joseph Chiang said...

thanks for sharing that. i'll try to use that as a template to achieving some goals i've set.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

I'm an INTJ - basically we INTJs are driven by an endless urge to effect change and improve things. Today it could be our filing system; tomorrow it could be a government policy or our pay package; next week we may decide to achieve enlightenment, haha.

Problems only stimulate INTJs --the impossible takes a little longer, but not much."

The Tarot Apprentice said...

Achieveing Enlightenment ain't a bad aim!

I think that we need "plan B' as well. An example, Mr A wanted to work in a particular that requires a relavent degree to get himself the job. But Mr A couldn't get into the local uni, and the part time degree proves too much to bear.

So...Mr A needs a "plan B".

But to sidetrack a little, I think people of my age often become disillusion, because it seems like working has come to a stagnant, and whether to throw in more money to further studies or not.

Future looks glim?


Anonymous said...

have you ever written anything about multi level marketting in S'pore? I was wondering if you may have anything to say about it

Heavenly Sword said...

Hi Mr Wang, let's say I aim to be creative (but I have my own constraints - e.g. maybe I just ain't v creative, i dunno). Creativity is v elusive. Can it be 'planned' and engineered? In the creative field (e.g. art, book publishing, etc), it's v hard to Know in advance what one is going to produce. The uncertainty of efficiency is there; one can hardly foresee/visualize his pipeline of creative works. And that uncertainty can be quite scary and overwhelming. I dunno if I'm making sense...Hope to get some insights from you. :]

Anonymous said...

Some useful tools can be picked up from David Allen's GTD. For instance

* for step 1, it is important for motivational purposes to visualize what it feels like to have achieved your goal

* get into the habit of asking "whats the next action?" for all your projects, big or small.

* really subdivide. Err on the side of making each step as simple as possible. That way it is easy to do the next action.

I am going to try to implement these and other elements. I think the general principles in these goal-setting and implementation schemes are fine, but I am not sure if going to a life coach to execute them is the answer.

Besides, how do you know if a life coach really knows what she's talking about?

She cannot show you physical results from her own body, unlike, say, a Personal Trainer.

angry doc said...

I suppose then every life-coach you meet will tell you that his/her career goal is to become a life-coach. :)

Anonymous said...

hmmm, Porcorosso is supposed to be an INTJ as well but he could never made a plan to save his life ... the only plan he made turned out very, very badly.

Anonymous said...

I don't know about life coaches. Aren't these people all around you? Your friends, family - people who can dish it to you when you need it.
But I suppose something might be said about being professionally trained to help people who are stuck - though in that case you might want to be looking for a psychiatrist instead.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Heavenly Sword:

As you might remember, I am also involved in the creative arts. You are right to say that the creative spark does not come on cue; but then I think the goal-setting simply has to focus on what you CAN realistically expect yourself to do.

For example, you can set a goal of spending at least X hours a week on your art - or taking a course within the next 6 months, something like that.

There is still no guarantee that you will therefore produce a masterpiece, but you increase your chances. Without this deliberate conscious planning, you might very well spend a lot less than X hours on your art, and therefore the chances of success are further lowered.


I like David Allen's GTD too. The master list concept is key. I think GTD works best in general for people who already feel very overwhelmed by demands.



Noooooo ..... you can't be. You look like an ENTP.



It is not necessarily about people who are stuck. It is also very much about people who want to power ahead. You must appreciate that life coaching springs from sports coaching, and the top Olympic athletes (peak performers) nowadays have coaching that goes beyond practising on the field or training in the gym. For example, they use NLP, hypnosis and visualisation methods etc, which are also part of the life coaching movement.

Anonymous said...

Yes i agree.

The 1000 mile journey begins with the first step.

Joseph Chiang said...

i realize most of the times, the biggest stumbling block is money. i was reading a book by richard branson and it is pretty inspiring, but then i think i would have done what he had done if i have half of his wealth.

le radical galoisien said...

Haiz. So procedural.

Setting goals is good, but then Aristotle already has written many a good treatise on achieving happiness and problem-solving.

Try Nicomachean Ethics for starters. Ultimately he says everything leads up to a higher good, a "eudaimonia".

The Ancient Greeks resolved this 2300 years ago.

Heavenly Sword said...

Thanks, Mr Wang, for unblocking my acupoints; the internal energies flow well again. :)

I'm going to be systematic about this from now on and 'engineer creativity' at an individual level! I now think it can be done. :] (Macro-level I'm not so sure...but I'm going to try a micro-level one)

Anonymous said...

joe: Branson started out as a hippie bum with one record store. He built everything else from there.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Brian Tracy started out as a high school dropout; dishwasher; farm worker; sailor and construction laborer. Now he is one of the world's biggest names in the self-improvement/life coaching/"be better in everything" business; with books; videos; CDs; seminars etc selling all over the world.

It's tempting to dismiss his ideas as hype, but then you are confronted with the reality of his own personal success, from some terribly stark beginnings.

Here he talks about one of his "life coaching" programs: