Goals: setting and celebrating

You know those aphorisms we hear throughout our careers which eventually seem so cliché that we ignore them? I’m unignoring this one:

Celebrate the small things.

The why behind celebrating the small stuff is this: It is surprisingly difficult to feel good when a goal has been met. Why is that? One of the things that sometimes happens for me is simply not remembering my goal- and just remembering the dream. What’s the difference? The dream is the fantasy version of success—the when-I-accomplish-this, that scene in my head will unfold in real life. The goal is a specific end. So, I have had to re-learn how to set goals.

There is a balance in goal setting. Why limit myself with what others deem as “realistic”? On the other hand, if my goals are unattainable, setting one will just lead to disappointment and self-flagellation. The art is to keep all my dreams alive but make goals that are steps on the way. And recognize the difference.

Step one: Write the goal down. Another cliché, I know, but worthy of attention. So I’ll say it again.

Write it down.

Then I won’t argue with myself that I didn’t reach that goal and it won’t morph. Goals have a nasty habit of expanding and shrinking with confidence and insecurity. If it is written down, I can be more objective about it.

Then, I evaluate that goal. My first question is how much is this in my control? For example, I can set a goal to finish an online course by X date. That is totally within my control. But when I have a goal to get $X in sales, only part of that is in my control. I can implement a strategy to achieve that or focus on learning how to recognize what works and what doesn’t, but at the end of the day, I am not in control of a customer choosing to make a purchase. That’s tricky. That type of goal needs to be broken down further.

At least one part of that goal must be something I can control, such as a commitment to implementing a strategy by a certain date or series of dates. The other part of the goal can be based on past success: I can reasonably expect to continue $X in sales if I keep doing what I have been doing, and how can I improve that a little bit? Next is the goal I started with, which is usually based on doing something new or different.

Now we are getting to the meat of why it is important to celebrate the small stuff. Repeated failure is an affront to the ego. On the other hand, the lack of failure is an indication of no experimentation. That is playing it safe. Start-ups don’t get to the next level by playing it safe. I’ve realized it is imperative to celebrate wins, big and small, so I can withstand the failures.

Here is what I do to assure that I both fail and succeed. I make my goals multi-tiered by including at least;

  • one part that is totally in my control, my task goal/s
  • one part that is an improvement over historical results*, my incremental goal
  • one part that is the result I’m after (usually the one I started with—the end goal)
  • and lastly, and most recently, the challenge goal.

The end goal should be measurable and specific with a date. Then I work backwards and schedule the tasks on my calendar.

The dream can be turned into a long-term goal –– the BHAG, or Big Hairy Audacious Goal.**  This prevents me from getting in my own way. If the dream turns into a fantasy, I won’t believe in it. Make it real and dream big at the same time. The challenge goal moves in this direction.

Then with this in hand, when the date arrives, it’s time to evaluate. If I set those goals well, I will have achieved at least one part and failed at least one part. Now comes the celebration of achievements! I also celebrate what I learned from the failures and celebrate the fact that I honestly pushed myself.

I’m finding it very important to stay in the celebration phase a little bit longer. Remember it. Feel it fully. Tell the people who would genuinely be happy for me.

And then I write it down.

Tell me yours—I’ll celebrate with you!


*For more on incremental improvements, I love Atomic Habits by James Clear

**For more on BHAG, read this: https://www.investopedia.com/terms/b/big-hairy-audacious-goal-bhag.asp