It is difficult to make a plan to improve yourself if you lack the motivation to move forward. Learn how you can motivate yourself using an easy win and how to pick a stretch goal, right here, right now!
Putting together a personal development plan can seem daunting. It can feel overwhelming to put together a list of personal priorities for the future when the present feels uncertain. How do I know who I want to be six months or a year from now when I am trying to keep myself afloat right now?
I know this from personal experience.
In the two years, I have had to adjust how I thought about my own personal and professional development. No longer relying on an employer paying for my professional development, or asking me to complete a self-assessment once a year, or even having anyone give me feedback on the work I am doing, I have had to figure out what to do next all on my own.
Coupled with trying to kick-start a new business, manage a never-ending job search, and learning to pivot my skills in the middle of a pandemic – well, it’s a wonder I can look past the next hour much less the next month or more.
But I believe we all have the capacity to at least think about the here and now. We can one thing, something, that will propel us forward to meet our goals. This post will be part of a series: in this post, I will address how to identify an easy win and a stretch goal to work on, right here, right now.
Lesson Learned: We Need an Easy Win as Motivation
I spent the better part of this week trying to think of examples of when I worked on projects that required an easy win to keep me motivated. I had a few topics that kept popping up that I would consider. But I kept coming back to when I was a doctoral student who had to write one hundred original pages of text for my dissertation.
Now I recognize that most people in their lifetimes won’t attempt a doctoral program, but the tips and tricks I learned, and the overall lesson I learned, can apply to every other situation in our lives where we can feel blocked.
Like most big projects, I thought of every single reason I could think of about why I would never finish the paper:
- I wasn’t good enough to start or end the paper on-time.
- No plan was going to help me meet my goal.
- I picked a topic that was too large.
There were days I would be too paralyzed to do anything, even though I was trained on the skills to accomplish the dissertation. Plus I was supported by people who knew me, and I had professional advisors to guide me when I had questions. But still I was mentally stuck.
Until I told myself, one day, that I wasn’t going to write more than 10 pages for the week. That was all I need to do for five days. If I could write 2 pages per day, I would have 10 pages done and ready for my advisor to read for the next class. Well, I could write two pages quite easily – and even break it down further to one page before lunch and one page after lunch!
Making My Goals Public
I have found that people keep their goals private, for whatever reason. Maybe it’s from fear of sharing their potential failure? Or perhaps it is from an innate sense of competition? I have learned that sharing my goals keeps me accountable. So I began to document my writing adventures on Facebook.
I would document when I wrote 15 pages instead of 10, or how I just needed to write ONE page more. Breaking up 100 pages into one easy win after another made the overall writing project manageable. Those first few easy wins made the really challenging research and findings sections feel easier to write, because I had already done half or more of the writing.
Since finishing the dissertation, I have used the same easy-win approach for nearly every project I have worked on:
- I wrote my first book based on blog posts I wrote for a year.
- The first online courses I created were pulled from 10 years of presentation materials I had created.
- My first in-person presentations were based on current friends and colleague relationships.
Each easy win helped me figure out how to move on to bigger, more complicated goals. These goals – called stretch goals – are more complex and need a different approach to complete. But an easy win was enough motivation to know I could do it.
Lesson Learned: A Stretch Goal Should Motivate Us for the Future
When the college where I used to work closed suddenly, I made the flippant comment “Oh I should write a book about this.” Because the event felt novel and nothing had been written from the perspective that I had. But where do you start such an ambitious project? What does it even take to write a book on your own? How do you manage the different aspects, like editing and formatting? The idea seemed doable, but well outside my skillset.
Sim B. Sitkin , C. Chet Miller, and Kelly E. See, in Harvard Business Review, describe a stretch goal as a goal that involves radical expectations that go beyond current capabilities and performance. Working differently, not simply working harder, is required. The authors also suggest that “when facing radically out-of-the-box opportunities or threats, you can’t just rely on intuition. You need clear guidelines for assessing and addressing risk. You have to know when stretch goals do and do not make sense, and when to employ them rather than set more achievable objectives.”
The best way to describe a stretch goal is having an outcome in mind but not knowing how to accomplish all the components…at least, at first. When I used to train student organization leaders, I would use the first trips to the moon as stretch goals. Private and public sector organizations had to develop the technology, piece by piece, before the flights could be accomplished. And even then they were still imperfect machines for decades!
My stretch goal was writing a book. And starting my own company. Plus learning how to create online course content. Generally, everything I have had to learn in the last two years!
How to Know if a Stretch Goal is Appropriate
Creating stretch goals isn’t for everyone, because they require some level of guesswork and unknown resources. And for people who need to produce results or have strong deadlines, a stretch goal may be something to hold off on doing until there are more resources, more time, less specific outcomes, or less doubt involved.
How do you know if a stretch goal is appropriate for you? Sims, Miller and Lee created a graphic to help you know if a stretch goal is right for you, right now. Consider how successful you have been recently – if you have been and have unlimited resources available, then you’re the perfect candidate! If not, or you don’t have unlimited resources, you may need to still use an easy-win approach or reduce your losses.
Stretch goals can still have outcomes and a timeline, but there might be new things that need to be learned. A good example is when I had to create new online courses using an online learning management tool. I had never used one before and needed to learn the technology before I could complete the courses. Trial and error were necessary to learn what would work – and what didn’t work. My unlimited resource was time – since everyone was home working, I had more time to invest in this activity.
My next stretch goal is developing a coaching model from scratch. I have the tools to do it. I have the time. Still have no idea how to do it. But now I have a new stretch goal.
Focus on a Goal, Right Here, Right Now
The best way to move past a mental block to starting a new goal is to pick one task you can accomplish with an easy win. Using the SMART goal model, you can pick something:
- S: make the goal specific – if it’s a big task, pick one part or facet first.
- M: make the goal measurable – how will you know its accomplished? What’s the metric?
- A: how do you make the goal attainable – what resources do you have or need to make it work?
- R: how is this goal relevant to achieving the bigger goal?
- T: how often do you plan to track or update the status of your goal?
Using a system like the SMART goal model can help motivate you – make the goal public among friends or placed somewhere you can view it easily, like a bulletin board or on a calendar. Goals without accountability are simply wishes. If you put your time, effort and energy into one task, you can keep better track, plus you can see the bigger picture piece by piece.
Personally, I have had to acknowledge that being overwhelmed by what I don’t know has trapped me into inaction. It is very un-motivating to know you don’t know how to move forward. By making each bigger goal smaller, manageable pieces, I have found my own success. And right here, right now, that is all that matters.
Career Coaching for the Mid-Level Career Professional
I have worked with entry-level and mid-level career professionals for nearly ten years, helping them reconsider their strengths and ways to learn new skills. Let me know if there is anything I can do to support you as you develop this new skill.
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