Just as pickled ginger is a palate cleanser in Japanese cuisine, the beginning of the new year serves as a cleanser for people's goals. Whether it was a weight loss goal, a financial goal, or a career goal, the new year equals a fresh start.
While there's plenty of time left to make substantial progress this year, it's a good idea to get a head start toward 2019 by beginning the preparation process. And this starts with thinking about your goals.
However, as shared in a Harvard Business Review column, a common mistake to be avoided is setting easy goals. As you start the process of planning your 2019 goals this weekend, don't set any easy goals.
The downside of easy goals
In Volume 149 of the November 2018 issue of Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, researchers compared "status quo" goals to "improvement goals". Think of the status quo as relatively maintaining a similar level of performance and improvement goals as achieving higher baseline numbers by varying degrees across the board.
In one study, a couple hundred participants were split into five groups. One was for status quo and the other four were all improvement groups that were further broken down into small, moderate, large, or very large improvements over the current baseline.
To their surprise, participants rated their status quo goal as more difficult compared to the small and moderate goals. However, the large and very large improvements were rated more difficult compared to status quo group.
Why challenging (but moderate) goals are the sweet spot
A big part of accomplishing goals and achieving new feats revolves around your mindset. In that study, the moderate goals were looked at as more favorable due to the gap between their current reality and where they wanted to be seeming small. When you're pursuing a goal, having optimism is a prerequisite before anything else (after all, you have to actually feel like you can do it).
By also setting challenging goals, you're forced to act with more urgency, intentionality, and courage which further helps you develop.
To help you build buy-in with yourself along with confidence about pushing yourself more, here are some questions to help you systematically break down your moderately challenging goal.
- If you could have it any way that you want it one year from now, how would it look and feel (be descriptive)?
- List 5-7 reasons why you want the goal (it's imperative to get to the core root of your why).
- What are 3-5 skills that will be needed to accomplish the goal?
- What needs to be accomplished during the first six months?
- How about January (the first 31 days are critical)?
As you go about your goals, you'll stick to the status quo until the pain of that outweighs the pain of changing and growing. Run far away from safe and easy goals, but also concurrently, don't get too far ahead of yourself by chasing insanely difficult goals because you'll end up in "fantasy land" where nothing gets accomplished.
Instead, find a home in the middle ground. You'll know you're in the middle ground when you feel pressure but aren't overwhelmed about what needs to be done next.
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