Goal Setting and Planning

Planning for Goal Achievement.

Planning for Goal Achievement.

This post provides guidelines on how to set goals in a manner that provides a plan of action to go along with your goals. The first half of the post explains the inspiration and genesis of the guide, while the second half is a bullet-point styled guide. The introductory portion of the post provides an explanation of the resources on which my recommendations are based. This background information will provide you with greater clarity as you read through the later outline; however, if you are disinclined to read paragraphs, and your attention is already waning, scroll a little further down and you will find an outline for “Developing Your Plan of Action.”
As the nutrition coordinator for a farmers market, I am responsible for developing the educational materials people receive alongside their produce. A few weeks ago, I had the following bright idea: “I should develop a handout on goal-setting in order to encourage shoppers to forge their own paths to a healthy future.” One Google search prompted a tumble down the rabbit hole of behavior change psychology.
How do individuals break bad habits? How do they successfully solidify new ones? How long does it take? Is there a specific process that can be followed? There are A LOT of opinions out there. Such is the magic of the internet!
Some opinions are better reasoned and structured than others. The blog posts with a bullet-point or ranked list of the “top” strategies were interesting, but too varied and not practically useful. The “SMART” goal-setting strategy was repeated ad nauseam, but I find this strategy is greatly lacking. It does not provide much in the way of planning for goal achievement. [The SMART acronym stands for "Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-based," or some similar variant. This isn't bad advice for a goal, but then what? Let's say you have decided, "I want to lose 10 lbs in 2 months." Okay, great, what's your plan of action?]
Fogg Behavior Model
The most amazing resource I found was the Fogg Behavior Model, developed by B.J. Fogg, a Stanford University professor. His system of describing behavrior rests on three components: ability, motivation, and triggers. I’ve largely utilized his model to develop my recommendations. It’s pretty genius and you can check it out for yourself here: http://www.behaviormodel.org/ or http://www.behaviorwizard.org/wp/behavior-grid/. Dr. Fogg solidified my respect when I discovered that he offers an explanation of his theory and methods for FREE. No self-help book, expensive classes, or lecture tours earning him millions, just FREE thoughtful, well-organized materials distilling behavioral psychology into a straightforward model for achieving goals.
Additional Elements from “Nudge”
I think the one element missing from Dr. Fogg’s model, is the importance of feedback. Another resource delving into human behavior, which I’ve recently had the pleasure of reading, is the book “Nudge” by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein. The full title is “Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness.” The book largely deals with how governments and companies can GENTLY push individual behavior in a positive direction [with a gentle enough hand that individual autonomy is not trampled]; however, in order to tackle this topic, it must first describe human behavior, thus there are a few insights applicable to individual-directed behavior change.
There are a few ideas you can use to “nudge” yourself in a positive direction. One of the topics described was the idea of salience, or how prominent or conspicuous something is. The term is used to refer to economic incentives, but is easily applied to any behavior which results in a reward of some kind. The general maxim is “the more frequent the positive feedback, the more likely the behavior with be repeated.” With regards behavior change and goal-setting, it is assumed the behavior is desired due to a reward or benefit; unfortunately, for many behaviors, the reward is not immediate. This is unquestionably true for health behaviors, thus it is imperative to devise ways to get feedback for secondary or tertiary goals, in the absence of immediate feedback for primary goals.
Developing Your Plan of Action
Brainstorming and Selection
Step One: Brainstorming
  1. Make a LONG list of potential ways to accomplish your goal. This should be an extraordinarily long list. Voluminous enough to span several pages. The longer, the better!
    • You’ll only be starting with 1 or 2 methods, but you’ll need plenty of options to fall back on. Sometimes the methods you considered are harder to implement than you thought. Sometimes the methods don’t produce the results you were anticipating. It is a forgone conclusion that your plan will not be perfect from the very beginning, so you might as well prepare additional options now. This will make tweaking your plan a breeze.
  2. Rank each item on your list in terms of perceived effectiveness.
    • Consider each item’s effectiveness in a vaccuum. Don’t consider motivation, ability, time, or anything else. Simply evaluate effectiveness. The other criteria come in later. [It's very possible you'll be wrong, painfully discovering this through trial and error, so leave this open to revision.]
  3. Rank each item on your list in terms of perceived difficulty.
    • This is the category where you consider ability, time, physical exertion, etc. [This score should also be open to evaluation and revision. You may discover that your initial estimates were incorrect. You may also build your ability, thereby reducing the difficulty.]
  4. Rank each item on your list in terms of feedback frequency. Feedback frequency is a measure of the length of time before results are seen. The more quickly [frequently] you receive feedback, the better!
    • Individuals thrive on prompt, frequent feedback. The more quickly you get feedback- that what you are doing is working- the more likely you are to continue.
    • Remember to consider both the primary and secondary goal when evaluating feedback frequency. The list you are compiling is a list of secondary goals, aimed at accomplishing your primary goal. Don’t just rank how quickly you’ll get evidence that your primary goal is being achieved, consider how to track the success of your secondary goal. [Is there a way to increase feedback frequency by looking at tertiary goals?]
    • Tracking may seem like a hassle, but the more things you track, the more potential to get feedback that you’re kicking ass, which ultimately results in greater motivation, leading to… SUCCESS!
Step Two: Decisions, Decisions
You’ll need to settle on a small number of actions to undertake. It’s unreasonable to expect you can modify 20 behaviors immediately. So, how many behaviors and which behaviors do you start with? Start small [1 or 2] and build from there.
  1. Everyone thrives on prompt feedback. Is there an item on your list with HIGH effectiveness, LOW difficulty, and quick feedback?
    Start on it IMMEDIATELY!
  2. Take a look at the items at the top of the quick feedback list. Are there any items with high effectiveness where you might be able to reduce the difficulty? Alternatively, are there any items with high effectiveness where you could increase the frequency of feedback? These would be a great place to start!
Check back soon for my next post! I’ll delve into strategies for reducing goal difficulty and increasing feedback frequency in the next part of the series.
Part of a Series: The Goal Scoring System
Part 1: Goal Setting and Planning – Intro to Goal Scoring System
Part 2: Enhancing Secondary Goal Scores
Prequel: “Get Your Mind Right!”


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