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Book review: Hard goals

Hard Goals: The Secret To Getting Where You Are to Where You Want To Be

By Mark Murphy

McGraw-Hill

$32.95

Remember all those goals you set back in January? The plans you developed, the projects you started and the teams you joined?

So how’d that work out for you?

With any luck, some of those goals got met, some of your projects panned out and some of your teams got the job done. But chances are, you fell short of the mark on other goals. There were projects that went off the rails and teams that imploded or spent a whole lot of time doing a whole lot of nothing.

So let’s save ourselves the pain and aggravation in 2011. Before we commit to a goal, sign on with a team or join up for a project, we need to ask ourselves a simple and revealing question and we need to be completely honest in our answer.  

Why do we care about the goal?

If the goal means nothing to you, if the goal only means something to your boss or the boss of your boss, or if you’ll only doing it because you’ve been conscripted or feel obligated, know that your project is all but doomed to fail and your goal won’t be met. And there is no project management software, no time-management training, no team-building exercises, no weekly meetings, no monthly reports and no war rooms covered with whiteboards and inspirational posters that will save you and your team from failing.

What you need first and foremost is what author Murphy calls a HARD goal. That’s an acronym for a goal that’s heartfelt, animated, required and difficult.

“Implementing a goal gets a lot easier when that goal is HARD,” says Murphy. “If your goal is powerful enough, implementation won’t be such a big problem. Executing a goal you don’t care about – that doesn’t stimulate your heart or mind – really requires a superhuman effort.”

Heartfelt is about developing a deep-seated attachment to your goal on intrinsic, personal and extrinsic levels. As Murphy points out, if you don’t care about your goal then what’s going to motivate you to try and achieve them and soldier on in the face of adversity. You’ll be far more motivated by doing something you love doing or by doing something for someone you care about.

Animated is about knowing exactly what you’ll see, hear and feel at the precise moment you achieve your goal. That future state is a movie constantly playing in your head in technicolour and surround sound.  “If we can imagine something, see it, or picture it, we’re a lot more likely to process, understand and embrace it,” says Murphy. So make your goal visible. Draw a picture. Describe your goal using concrete words that paint a picture.

Required is about pushing past procrastination, the number one killer of HARD goals. It’s about changing how you view and value future payoffs so they become more attractive than sticking with the status quo. Instead of dwelling on the sacrifices to be made, focus instead on how your goal will make life easier and better.

And difficult is about pushing past what’s easy, getting out of our comfort zones and living up to our innate potential to do extraordinary things.  “In the real world, raw talent isn’t the predominate determinant of success,” says Murphy. “What matters way more is desire, hardiness, work ethic and a striving to tackle big and difficult challenges.” Difficult goals force us to pay attention and stay engaged.

Murphy claims that people who set HARD goals feel up to 75 per cent more fulfilled than people who set weaker and easier goals. Yet a study by Murphy’s company of more than 4,100 workers found that just over 15 per cent of them believed their goals for the year were going to help them achieve great things. And just 13 per cent though their goals would help them maximize their potential.

A big art of the problem is our predilection for SMART goals.  Instead of HARD goals, we opt for goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-limited. As Murphy points out, achievable and realistic goals are diametrically opposed to brain-engaging difficult goals that challenge us to take a leap of faith.

“And even a factor like specific, which sounds OK, can suck the life out of a goal,” says Murphy. Focusing on numbers makes it hard to animate a goal or establish a heartfelt connection. “Numbers are nice and easy measuring sticks to see how much progress you’ve made toward achieving the goal. But they’re means to an end, not the end itself. It’s the goal in your picture that really represents your end.

“Some people and organizations get so hung up on making sure their goal-setting forms are filled out correctly that they neglect to answer the single most important question. Is this goal worth it? And then, if it is worth it – if it’s a goal worthy of the challenges and opportunities we face – we need to ask, how do we sear this goal into our minds, make it so critical to our very existence that no matter what obstacles we encounter we will not falter in our pursuit of this goal?”

So let’s all make a resolution that in 2011 all our goals at work, in the community and on the home front will be heartfelt, animated, required and difficult.

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