The PhD study conducted by Dr Burns on ‘Goal Achievement’ determined that there are four phases to any goal pursuit. It doesn’t matter what the goal is – learning a new task, exercising, saving money, doing a university degree – there are always four phases and we would be well served to understand the goal achievement process before learning to set goals.
If you were asked to think about something in your life that you want to achieve – going on a holiday, losing weight, saving money, having more than enough money in retirement, how do you feel when you think about the achievement of that goal? The emotions are generally positive aren’t they? What happens is we step out into the future and we fantasize about being that person and the emotions are generally quite positive.
However, what the study showed was that as we begin to get closer to the start date where we need to begin to start taking action toward the achievement of that goal, the emotions quickly change to be quite negative. We begin to realize all of the things we will need to do in order to achieve the goal like getting up at 6am 3 times a week to go to the gym, eating well, drinking 2 liters of water every day and so it becomes easier to start the goal the following month! Sound familiar?
How many goals do you have on your to do list that you haven’t even started? If we are fortunate enough to make it through the selection phase we hit the beginning phase. This too is a risk and in fact the study showed that we run the risk of quitting between 3 and 6 weeks of starting. What happens is we begin to compare ourselves to other people. We begin to realize how far we have to go and how much work is involved to reach any real level of competence. We start to compare ourselves to all of the great looking, toned people at the gym and we realize that we are a long way from being like them and we run the risk of quitting!
If we are fortunate enough to push through the beginning phase we hit the middle phase where we learn to do what we have learned to do over and over and over again. This is the boring repetitious phase. We run the risk of quitting here as well.
Finally, if we overcome the emotions in the middle phase, we hit the completion phase and this is a danger as well. Close enough is good enough. We wanted to lose 12 kilos but hey we have lost 7 so let’s celebrate with a nice pepporini pizza and glass of Sav Blanc! You do a 3-year university course and don’t take the final exam. How many goals have you started but you haven’t yet finished?
We have strengths and weaknesses in each one of these areas and so we need to identify in advance where we think we will be strong and where we think we may struggle and we need to arm ourselves with a set of strategies to get us through those difficult phases.