From the April 1998 issue of Startups

The word goal has been overused and abused. It has gotten to the point where people almost cringe when they hear it. How many people write New Year's resolutions they never even look at again? What becomes of these goals and dreams year after year?

Goal-setting and goal achievement are critical in business. In fact, having meaningful goals you're passionate about can often be the difference between business success and failure. How can you learn to make your goals work for you in more positive, powerful ways? Here are 10 tips to turn goal-setting into concrete results:

1. Put it in writing. As simple as this may seem, it makes the difference between goals that work and goals never attained. Putting your goals in writing forces you to think seriously about them and believe in them. Lenann Gardner, whose Lenann McGookey Gardner Management Consulting in Albuquerque, New Mexico, specializes in sales and marketing consulting, stresses the importance of disciplining yourself enough to simply sit down and write. "It doesn't have to be earth-shaking," Gardner says. "It's just a target, and if you make a mistake, it's just that: a mistake."

2. Challenge yourself. Your goals must be chosen honestly, and always be true to your inner self. But you also have to push beyond your previous limits to reach new heights. It's time to get out of your box and push yourself to be the person you've always wanted to be. Your goals should be specific, clearly defined, measurable and attainable. Set a deadline for reaching your goals--one that's realistic but challenging.

3. Distinguish between long-term and short-term goals. There is a big difference between long-term and short-term goals, but the two need to be related in order to get you where you want to go. Short-term goals are the building blocks for your long-term vision. Creating long-term goals enables you to consciously focus your creativity in a specific direction.

Beware of short-term goals that read like a to-do list. If that's what your short-term goals look like, then you're focusing only on what's urgent in your life rather than what's important. If this rings true for you, and you spend most of your time putting out fires, it's time to step back and gain some perspective on where you're going. Make sure every one of your short-term goals is a step toward a larger goal, not just something to keep you busy.

4. Focus on the goal, not how to get there. Keep your eyes on the target at all times. Life doesn't just happen to you; you can make sure your daily choices are steps on the path to creating the success you envision. It's easy to lose sight of even your most cherished goals when life gets in the way every single day. Figure out a way to remind yourself of your goals.

Kareem El-Heneidi, a New York City entrepreneur who has co-founded several high-tech companies, suggests posting your goals someplace where you can see them. "Write them on sticky notes or whatever works for you, just so they're visible," says El-Heneidi. "I stick themes or vision statements over my bed." Whatever method you use to focus on your goals, make sure to do it consistently.

5. Be flexible about the "how." Right from the start, you can rest assured that things are not going to turn out exactly as you've planned. Does that mean your goals are meaningless or that you shouldn't bother to plan? Of course not. If you insist on knowing how it's going to happen, success can smack you right in the face and you won't even know it. You'll be too busy waiting for it to happen the "right" way. Learn to trust your intuition, even when your head may be telling you something isn't going to work.

6. Visualize yourself in your future. As you begin to write down your goals, place yourself in the future--and make it seem real. Write down the date by which the goal will be accomplished, then stop, close your eyes and imagine that you are there. Visualize yourself as clearly as you can--what you are wearing, where you are, what you are doing. How does it feel to have accomplished that goal? Make the vision as real as you can, involving all your senses.

When you write down your goals, write in the present tense. For example, if your goal is to open a restaurant, write as if the restaurant is already successful. That is, "My restaurant, (and put in the name here), is a hit! We're booked solid every night of the week. I've been interviewed in five local newspapers and have had dozens of calls from people who want to know if I'm franchising the concept. Everywhere I go, people tell me how much they love our food!"

7. Write down your vision of your ideal life. This is your grandest vision of your life and your world as you would live it at your highest purpose and potential. Let your imagination run wild and create the biggest picture possible for yourself. Are there real-life circumstances that might keep you from your vision ("I can't afford it," "I don't have the right training")? Pretend they don't exist and see what you can come up with when your possibilities are boundless.

8. Stop beating yourself up. We've all set goals we've failed to reach. As a result, many people create enormous mental barriers when they think about goal-setting, turning goals into yet another opportunity to fear failure or blocking themselves from aiming at what they truly desire. A "failure" is only a failure when you learn nothing from it. "Businesses fail; people don't," says El-Heneidi. It's important to make that distinction.

9. Let your goals be organic. Life is change, and your goals should constantly evolve, too. Make sure you review and refine your goals regularly. Today your goal may be to grow your business, but five years from now it could be something entirely different--something you may not have even thought of yet. Changing your goals is not failure, but an acknowledgment of the flow of life.

10. Have fun. If setting and achieving your goals isn't fun, then why bother? Let your imagination carry you away to your greatest and wildest dreams, and don't limit your possibilities. Play with your goals; try being outrageous and notice how that feels. Making goal-setting a joyous activity improves your chances of achieving your goals--and setting new ones that will challenge you to reach even greater heights.

Contact Sources

Kareem El-Heneidi, (917) 971-5192, kareem@arjaywireless.com

Lenann McGookey Gardner Management Consulting, (505) 828-1788, fax: (505) 828-1777.

Judith K. Thompson is a business coach in Albuquerque, New Mexico.