Live Your Performance

Reaching our goals – selecting a suitable goal-setting system

Typically at the end of December there’s much talk of New Year’s resolutions.  Easy to feel motivated to set them, but how reliable is it?  Will we keep them?  Will we even remember our resolutions a couple of months later?  Maybe this year will be different, we tell ourselves. 

Why don’t we keep our New Year’s resolutions?

Yet we assume there is something in the nature of New Year’s resolutions themselves which is the reason why they do not materialise in practice.  However, it is not because resolutions are an inherently bad idea that we often don’t keep them.  Having goals and aspirations is important for us, but how we formulate and keep track of them has an impact on how well we perform towards accomplishing those goals.  And finding the right way to do that formulation and tracking depends on the type of thing we are trying to accomplish, so it’s helpful to review different goal setting methods and to choose one that is fit for the purpose of setting and keeping New Year’s Resolutions, as not all systems are suitable for this. 

Different goal-setting systems suit different purposes

At work and in a business context, we are often exposed to the SMART system of goal setting, with the result that we assume this is good for measuring and tracking progress towards any goal.  This approach is useful for defining measurable goals and for building a specific shared understanding of company goals and holding people accountable for them. 

SMART however, is less effective at providing the sustained motivation needed to fulfil the stated goal, which is where it falls short when applied to New Year’s resolutions.  A New Year’s resolution is typically about something important for you personally in your life, e.g. I want to be more confident speaking in public so I actually can enjoy it, I want to eat less impulsively and dial down the importance food plays in my life, I want to step beyond my current limitations in how I listen and lead my team etc.  For this type of goal, it’s helpful to use a goal-setting approach that inspires, drives motivation, builds sustainable habits and ultimately leads to new achievements. 

Where does motivation come into it?

For instance, when we think about improving our physique, we can often define this purely in terms of the number of kilos in weight that we want to lose, especially at the end of the year.  But what will help us in losing that weight and reaching the goal is about more than simply measuring weight loss numerically) – so we need a system that can measure what is important rather than making important what is easy to measure. 

What could that be?  Let’s go beyond thinking about numbers of kilos and tangibles, into the less tangible but visceral world of our imagination and visualisation, where we can imagine that ideal body we long to have, what it looks like, what it would feel like, the extra energy we could have, what that energy might do to our impression of our numerical age, etc. 

We are entering new territory by reflecting on what’s truly important to us, getting in touch with intangibles beyond where we are currently, creating a future state we feel inspired by and want to reach.  We are not predicting or projecting from our past and present into the future, but creating a desired future state.  Invention is powerful.  We are not constrained by our image of ourselves as we are now, but daring to imagine how we could be and look, in a world of new possibilities, seeing ourselves from a future vantage point that we’ve created for ourselves rather than extrapolated from known data and our past view of ourselves. 

This type of goal-setting and visualisation process requires a system that can help us dig into those deeper aspects that motivate our desire to change, including tackling things we may fear and feel uncomfortable about, like whether we will succeed in losing that weight, whether we’ll pass our exams, whether we’ll manage that recital performance without messing up the difficult passage 4 pages in, etc. 

Motto-Goals and the Zurich Resource Model (ZRM)

The Motto Goals system of Zurich Resource Model (Krause, F., and Storch, M. (2010). Ressourcen Aktivieren mit dem Unbewussten: Manual und ZRM-Bildkartei [Activating Resources with the Unconscious: Manual and ZRM Picture Inventory]. Bern: Huber) provides a comprehensive goal-setting approach for such challenges, by tapping into our emotional and sensory awareness to activate our unique innate abilities and direct them towards what is really important for us.

I would also like to acknowledge the source of Thomas H. Dyllick, Oliver Dickhäuser, Dagmar Stahlberg, Department of Psychology, University of Mannheim, Mannheim, Germany, for their research paper “Personal Metaphors as Motivational Resources: Boosting Anticipated Incentives and Feelings of Vitality Through a Personal Motto-Goal,” 2021, content from which I refer to below.

Motto-goals point to a desired attitude or mindset and set out a way to approach a certain topic (e.g., a problem), personal goal or obligation (Storch and Krause, 2017). They follow a series of goal-formation steps (Storch and Krause, 2017). As the first step, we identify something we would like to address (e.g., a task, goal or obligation).  Secondly, we are presented with a wide range of pictures and visual stimuli and are invited to select one picture which may serve as a resource for the chosen subject we want to address and which evokes a positive mood in us. In a third step, we are guided to find associations to our chosen picture which evokes a positive mood, and in a final step we are invited to formulate a motto-goal with the chosen associations.  

For example, let’s imagine someone who has a statistics exam coming up, which they are seeing as an unpleasant obligation.  They form a motto-goal calling this “studying for the statistics exam”.  Secondly they select a picture which elicits a positive mood for them (e.g. a wolf).  Thirdly, they look for free associations with the wolf picture (e.g. “trusting one’s instinct,” “trusting one’s knowledge,” “target in sight”).  Finally, when they are invited to formulate a motto-goal with their chosen associations they write “Like the wolf I have my target in sight, trusting my knowledge and instincts” as a desired mind-set for tackling their statistics exam.

This approach of arriving at a motto-goal via a multi-step reflection process provides a strong connection between us and our goal, something that helps drive motivation sustainably to work at and achieve the goal.

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