“Don’t waste your time with writing resolutions this New Year. Instead, focus on something else: resolve. A resolution is something you make. Resolve is something you have. In other words, commit. Choose a process, not a set of audacious goals you’ll never meet.” ~ Jeff Goins


For those of you who have ever flown a kite, you understand how integral the string is to get the kite flying. Leave it too loose, and you won’t get your kite in the air. Pull it too tight, and you’ll bring the kite down. The tension must be just right on the string to create the resistance needed to lift the kite and make it soar. So too is the case with setting goals. Set a target that lacks challenge and you’ll likely lose interest and become bored. Set a goal that is unachievable and you will soon lack the motivation for reaching it.  The goal you choose has to be just right; not too easy but challenging enough to keep you interested. Reach goals are motivating because they require more effort to attain and be satisfied than do easy goals. Feelings of success happen when people see that they can grow and meet challenges by pursuing and reaching goals that are relevant and meaningful.


When people contact me for coaching because of their inability to reach their goal, it’s because they haven’t defined their path forward and set “SMART” objectives. Research shows that setting clear goals and making progress toward reaching them is motivating. It’s not the achievement of the long-term goal; it’s the process of working toward it that is a primary source of motivation – which, in turn, provides the internal incentive to keep going. The acronym, SMART, is attributed to management expert,  Peter Drucker. The acronym stands for:

  • Specific – What do I want to accomplish? Why is this goal important? Who is involved? What resources do I need?
  • Measurable – How will I know when it is accomplished? What will success look like?
  • Attainable – Is it realistic? How can I accomplish this goal?
  • Relevant – Is it worthwhile? Is this the right time? Does the goal match my other responsibilities/needs? Am I the right person to reach this goal? Is it applicable in the current environment
  • Time-bound – In what timeframe do I expect to achieve this outcome? What I can I do today? What can I do six weeks from now? Six months from now?


Unlike traditional planning where you develop a set of steps from beginning to end, backward planning is designed to help you gain a different perspective and, perhaps, identify various milestones as a result. Here’s how it works:

# 1: Write down your ultimate goal. What specifically do you want to achieve, and by what date?

Example: “By January 1, 2018, I will be the marketing director for a start-up technology company.”

# 2: Ask yourself what milestone you need to accomplish to achieve your goal. What do you have to do, and by when, so that can reach your final objective?

Example: “I will identify a mentor in the industry who will help make introductions and validate that my personal branding will resonate with high-tech CEOs by June 1, 2018.”

# 3: Work backward some more. What do you need to complete before that second-to-last goal?

Example: “By March 1, 2018, I will create a resume, outlining my successes as a marketing manager, and complete a course in social media marketing.”

# 4: Work back again. What do you need to do to make sure you reach the previous step? Example: ” I will speak on an industry panel talking about trends in high-tech marketing by January 1, 2018.”

# 5: Continue to work back, in the same way, until you identify the very first milestone that you need to accomplish.

Planning backward gives you a much fuller appreciation of what it may take to achieve success. After all, the more alternatives you have, the better your final plan will likely be. It forces you to think from an entirely new perspective, and not overlook steps you might otherwise miss if you only use a forward-looking approach.

Wherever you decide to start on your journey, remember this – change takes time. Regardless of the behavior, you’re trying to change i.e. not reading emails at night, letting go of your inner critic, setting a goal of leaving your current job, ingrained patterns will pull you off course. That’s the way the brain works. If in your desire to create change in your life, you pick too many things to work on at once, you will likely be setting yourself up for failure. Instead, choose one or two goals that are the most important to you and be patient with yourself.

This post was written by Susan Peppercorn, career coach and author of the forthcoming book, Ditch Your Inner Critic at Work: Letting Go of Perfection to Thrive in Your Career. 



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