A Systematic Approach to Unlocking Your Power to Achieve Goals
By Margaret Zanel
Partner, Strategy & Leadership, Wentworth Strategy Group
Over many years of experience working with executives, I’ve noticed that one crucial skill separates those who are successful personally and professionally and those who are not: the ability to set and achieve goals.
Many people and companies set goals, but far few follow through and actually achieve them. How many goals have you set and not followed through on? If you can think of a laundry list of unachieved goals and missed opportunities, you’re not alone. There are very few of us who don’t start off a new year with a set of aspirations that go unachieved. Typically, people and companies set general goals but are challenged by the process of planning and taking the practical actions needed to achieve them. Many don’t know where to start, how to commit, or how to follow through.
In contrast, I’ve noticed that those who actually achieve their goals follow a similar process, no matter if the goals are related to professional or personal advancement. As an experienced professional and an executive coach, I am very familiar with this process. This process has the power to positively affect your life by unlocking your power to achieve goals through visualization and a practical day-to-day system.
Since I was a child, I have been goal-oriented. My parents were immigrants who gave up everything to pursue their goal of a better life in Canada, and they inspire my drive to this day. I use goals to measure my progress in life, relationships, and my career. From graduating with the first MBA in my family to starting my career at a Silicon Valley tech start-up to launching a successful corporate career to founding consulting and coaching practices — there has been one common element to my success. My personal and professional journey has been underpinned by a disciplined approach to setting and achieving my goals.
Here is my practical system for goal achievement:
Focus on your passion and purpose
Set aspirational goals
Move the ball forward every day
Rinse and repeat
1. Focus on your passion and purpose
You can dramatically increase your probability of achieving your goals if your goals are aligned with your passion and purpose. As Tony Robbins says, “Where the focus goes, your energy flows.” Similarly, in his famous TED Talk, Simon Sinek encourages everyone to “start with why.”
How do you find your passion and purpose? Start by taking an inventory of what’s important to you, what you love to spend your time on, what naturally attracts your energy and attention, and what you find yourself dreaming about. Ask yourself questions such as: What are you good at, and where do you want to go? Where do you want to put your energy and talents? What gets you excited and where do you want to focus my energy every day?
I noticed business and leadership attracted my energy from an early stage. In university, I realized I loved strategy, marketing, and business growth. One day I saw a woman walking through the cafeteria carrying a briefcase and wearing a suit. Her confidence, strength, and poise were radiating. In an instant, I knew one day I wanted to be like her. That image imprinted on my mind because in the 1980s, there were few female business role models. This moment ignited my passion to pursue a business career, advance myself as a leader, and support others to achieve their visions as well.
Have you noticed any moments like this in your own life?
2. Set aspirational goals
Decades of research show that goal-setting is the key to achievement. According to goal experts Drs. Locke and Latham, you can optimize goal-setting and achievement with these practical tips:
Set specific goals: Use numbers, dates, and times to anchor goals in your mind. For example, I want to lose 10 pounds in the next 6 months.
Set goldilocks goals: If a goal is too easy or too hard, you won’t be motivated to complete it. Set goals that stretch you, but are still achievable.
Get real-world feedback: It’s easy to convince ourselves that we’re making progress when we aren’t. Say your goals out loud and get real-world feedback on your progress to reduce bias.
One of the first goals I actively set was to become financially independent. After seeing my mother endure financial hardship when she divorced my father, I vowed I to always be able to take care of myself. I told a close friend I wanted to achieve certain financial milestones by the end of each decade. I internalized those milestones and imprinted them in my brain. I started at just a $25K/year salary. By using real-world feedback and actionable goals, I achieved my MBA, advanced my career, and achieved the financial goals I set, decade after decade.
3. Visualize achievement
One of the most underutilized business tools is visualization. In the sports and performance worlds, visualization is well respected as the key to success. Tiger Woods began practicing visualization techniques at just 13 years old and went on to become the youngest player to win 50 tournaments on the PGA Tour.
The science is clear: visualization creates new neural pathways and trains our brains to believe that we have already achieved the act we are visualizing. Visualization taps into the subconscious mind and opens the mind to the opportunities that the universe gives you. As a result, you see things you never did before. That’s why you see notable individuals like Tony Robbins using and discussing these techniques.
I am a big proponent of visualization, in my coaching practice and my own life. With my clients, we work through the development of an “evergreen vision board” in order to create the focus they need to unleash their passions and achieve their personal and professional purpose. Personally, I use visualization to advance my goals and have been doing so for over 20 years. To implement visualization in your own life, try visualization meditations, vision boards, and exercises where you visualize your ideal state.
4. Move the ball forward every day
Goal achievement requires intention. You must commit to act every day. Many people articulate their goals but very few actively action them.
More often than not, people set big long-term goals and then get too paralyzed to even start. The key is to chunk it down into small achievable steps and celebrate the wins as you move ahead. Mark Twain succinctly sums up this magic: “The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small, manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.”
In his famous book Getting Things Done, productivity expert David Allen provides tips for moving the ball forward every day:
Break large projects into multiple steps, e.g.:
Determine a theme for the blog post
Create blog outline
Write the blog
Edit the blog
Publish the blog
Plan steps using specific information
e.g., create a blog post outline on Friday at 12:00 pm
Block time in your calendar to perform each step
5. Rinse and Repeat
It’s not enough to use this system once. Setting and achieving goals isn’t a one-time process. You must practice doing this over and over again because personal and professional advancement are long term commitments. You must intentionally move yourself forward. The people who succeed are disciplined in their approach.
In James Clear’s acclaimed book Atomic Habits, he wrote a quote that deeply resonated with me: “Goals are good for setting a direction. But systems are best making progress.” I love this quote because it sums up one of the most powerful ways you can advance yourself both personally and professionally: set and actually achieve your goals.
The system I have described here has changed my life and advanced the lives of others around me. Try it for yourself: focus on your passion and purpose, set aspirational goals, visualize achievement, move the ball forward every day, and rinse and repeat. It will change your life.
Ready to learn more about how to advance your goals, personally and professionally? I would be delighted to speak with you directly and get started on the process! Contact me at: email@example.com