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How to Set and Achieve Your Goals

Even though we face it constantly, change can be difficult to deal with. To make things even more difficult, we are often our own worst enemies when trying to make changes to our lives, especially, and paradoxically, when it comes to our own goals.

In GovLoop’s recent online training, “How to Set Achievable Goals,” Gideon Culman, president and founder of K Street Coaching, broke down the steps to a goal-setting process known as Immunity to Change, inspired by a book of the same title. Here’s a recap of the strategies involved in Immunity to Change, along with some extra wisdom provided by Culman.

Go for goals that matter to you

While it may seem a bit obvious, the first step in the process is to decide on a goal or commitment that you would like to pursue. For his walkthrough of the exercise, Culman used the example of a commitment to empowering one’s staff.

When asked during the training what he thinks is an appropriate number of goals to set, Culman said he thinks the answer differs from person to person. Rather than stressing about a number, Culman encouraged listeners to consider pursuing a number of goals that are both doable and challenging to them.

Most importantly, though, Culman emphasized that we should avoid setting goals that are unimportant to us if we actually want to make progress toward them. “If you’re pursuing goals that don’t really matter to you”, Culman said, “you’re just spinning your wheels”.

Reflect on where you get in your own way

For the next step, Culman said, “What we want to do is take a look at all the behavior we engage in, whether consciously or unconsciously, that undermines our goal.” For example, Culman said that even though we have a goal of empowering our staff, we might nag our team members too frequently. On the other hand, we could also avoid checking in with them when necessary.

Although it is possible to perform this analysis by ourselves, it can also be helpful to discuss our work habits with a coworker. Culman said that the biggest factor here is our relationship with those involved, how supportive they are, and how vulnerable we are willing to be. Having a confidant that can help you untangle some of these behaviors is extremely helpful, Culman said.

Recognize a competing commitment

While many exercises encourage us to reflect on our own negative behavior, Immunity to Change is special because it takes the process a step further and considers the reasoning behind our actions. For instance, underlying our nagging is a commitment to ensure that important work gets done. By beneath our habit of not checking in is the desire to give staff breathing room.

Culman said that the simplest way to accomplish this step is to ask ourselves, why would this behavior make sense? “We are walking, talking bundles of paradox and that’s what this exercise lays bare.” But “the assertion here is that you would not be doing these things unless they in some way made sense to you.”

Eliminate the big assumption

The final step in the process is to identify the big assumption that is responsible for the competing commitment.

For his example, Culman said that the big assumption behind the competing commitment of ensuring the work gets done is that if we don’t nag our team, we won’t make deadlines. For the competing commitment to give our staff breathing room, the assumption is that if we check in too frequently, our staff will resent us for being overbearing.

The best way to decrease the influence of these assumptions is to, “pull them out into the sunlight and see if they live,” he said. To do this, Culman recommends setting up small, safe-to-fail experiments to prove to ourselves that these assumptions are irrational. For instance, challenge yourself not to nag your team for one workday.

“What you want is just a little bit of evidence that [the assumption] is not necessarily true,” Culman said. Once you’ve proven this to yourself, you can begin to unlearn the bad habits that were preventing you from achieving your goal.

For more content, career resources and training, be sure to check out our NextGen Summit in 2020. GovLoop, Young Government Leaders and hundreds of public servants will come together on Wednesday, July 22-23, 2020, at the Marriott Marquis Downtown DC Hotel for two days of training and leadership opportunities, innovating and networking. Will we see you there? 


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Avatar photo Mark Hensch

Zack, these are great tips! I especially like the one about goals that matter to you. It’s definitely helped me to know what I’m passionate about before launching a new goal.