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In First Things First Stephen Covey advocated the Context Goal, where each of your goals is planned in the context of your various roles and your personal values. The specific drafting of goals, he suggested, should be done using the What, Why and How ‘method’.

To illustrate how to set goals using the Covey method, let me take you through a process.

You have a general idea about where you intend to go, but no sense of the detail. This is the secret of effective goal setting – not the simple identification of the goal, but four other factors of EXTREME importance!

The factors are:

  • Specificity – What
  • Motivation – Why
  • Method – How
  • Action! – Now

Specificity – how specific is your goal? Is it ‘lose weight’ or ‘by the 31st of December 2010 I will weigh 13st 7lbs’? Is it, ‘own a sports car’ or is it ‘By my 40th birthday I will own a black Reliant Scimitar S5a with beige leather trim’?

Do you see the difference? Which is likely to focus your attention the most – a generality or a specific, timed and even visible objective? That’s the first secret – being as specific as possible.

The human mind has a faculty called the Reticular Activating System (RAS). This system alerts the unconscious mind to things that are important. As cavemen it would shout ‘TEETH’ when something crept up behind us. Now, it identifies things of importance in less direct ways. For example, ever bought a new car and then noticed how many other people had the same model? I know that since my wife and daughter both bought Citroen Xsara Picassos there are MILLIONS of them on the roads and I keep waving to complete strangers.

The purpose of specificity is to make the image of the goals’ attainment so important to your subconscious that it spots the opportunities to make progress towards your goal for you, rather than wait for you to see them consciously. Be specific where you can, and be as specific as you can. (BTW, that is the core rationale behind Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret. That’ll be £10 again, please.)

Motivation – why do you want to achieve this goal? What about it keeps you interested? What will it mean to you as you work towards it and when you achieve it? How will you feel? How will life be? What values will be met? Is it part of your ultimate vision?

Silly questions? I think not. Goals that get carried through are goals with meaning. It’s the goals that fail that are a reflection, I would argue, of the fact that you never really wanted to achieve them in the first place.

For example: how do you feel about goals that are set for you? I suspect they get a grudging ‘I will do enough to be seen to be doing enough’ response.

Why? Because someone set them for you, that’s why. You have no investment in getting the objectives met. You don’t see the benefit, to you, of doing the work that someone else feels is important. That’s not a bad thing, it’s just natural. When you were in school some subjects grabbed you and some did not. As you developed your interests and hobbies, you became passionate about some things and were disinterested in others.

So when setting your goals, decide why it is you want to achieve them. Create a passionate desire to get what you want by imagining what it will be like when you have it.

Method – having decided what you passionately want, in specific detail, the next phase is planning HOW you are going to get it. There are a number of ways to do this, as we will discuss later.

Action – get off your backside and MAKE THINGS HAPPEN. Don’t expect things to fall into your lap. They might if you wait long enough, but time is wasted in the wait. Don’t spend all your time ‘getting ready’. Having made a list of things to do in the Method (how to) stage, the idea is to DO those things. I know I have fallen victim of ‘perpetual planning’ in the past, making long lists of things to do and then procrastinating like heck until, finally, they get done. And then I regret the missed opportunities that resulted from my not being ready because of that waiting. Do It Now! Whenever possible.

Re-examine your goals and run them through this process.