Goal setting: does getting specific make a difference?

Throwback Thursday is a fun one for me. Revisiting past experiences and thoughts by sifting through entries written over the years. This one takes me back seven years…

Sept 12, 2006
Believe vs. Belong
When I lived at home, I used to make a list at the beginning of every school year, complete with my hopes and goals for the months following. I would fold it up and place it at the very bottom of my desk drawer. Come early June, my list would surface and I would go through it, making checks next to those I had accomplished.sept-12,-2006b
These lists I remember well. One for each year of high school. It’s interesting to see habits in a younger self that are still in place today: the making of lists, attempts at self-betterment, and marking progress. The lists I made throughout high school seem simple…pushing for a specific race time in cross country or track, trying out for plays and musicals, wanting to be asked to the homecoming dance, aiming for a particular GPA, and vying for my first kiss [which I did receive my junior year. In a school play as I played the role of a Jamaican maid named Mimosa. Oi.]

It is interesting to observe this entry, because I wrote it while I was in college, and it seems that, as I’ve grown, my goals have become more general compared to those I made in high school: practice hospitality, be active, make things with my hands…

While I’m beyond the confines of secondary school, I can’t help but wonder whether being specific in the making of goals would make a difference in my achievement of them. What do you think? Does being specific make a difference?

10 Comments on Goal setting: does getting specific make a difference?

  1. Jenny
    September 12. 2013 at 7:16 pm.09. (217 days ago)

    That’s a toughie. I think being specific does make it much more likely that you achieve the goal – and probably more quickly; however, being lofty or a bit vague makes it more likely that your goal can evolve into something even cooler than you had originally planned.

    Reply
    • laurabeth
      September 17. 2013 at 7:16 pm.09. (212 days ago)

      This reminds me of the expediency vs. virtue concept you’ve mentioned before. It’s almost like specific goals are in line with expediency and the malleable, long-term goals are in the virtue camp.

      Reply
  2. Lily
    September 12. 2013 at 7:16 pm.09. (217 days ago)

    I used to be in Direct Sales and my trainer related a story about a study done that involved college graduates who wrote down their goals compared to a group that didn’t. A few years later, all the ones who had written their goals down had achieved them but the ones in the other group hadn’t.

    So I wrote down my sales goals and met every one of them.

    Thanks for reminding me of this. I haven’t done it in a long time. I need to get back into that habit.

    Love your journal entries, btw. They’re so cool to go back and read! You’ve inspired me to hunt down my old journals. :)

    Reply
    • laurabeth
      September 17. 2013 at 7:16 pm.09. (212 days ago)

      Such a treat to connect with fellow journal keepers! Enjoy delving into your own. And thank you for sharing about your own experience in goal setting. I like hearing about how others reach achievement.

      Reply
  3. Madeleine
    September 13. 2013 at 7:16 am.09. (217 days ago)

    Maybe your grasp of a concept is simply better when you’re older so you don’t feel the need to be so specific about a goal, to know you’ve achieved it. You used to have a very specific idea of what you wanted but now you have a more overall idea of self-betterment. What if you did an outline of goals with small lists under each heading like “Item 1: Be more generous” and then “Item 1 sub-item A: donate 1 hour of time to helping a friend. Item 1 sub-item B: Make dinner for someone else.” You know, and then it can go on from there like “Item 1 sub-item B, Action Plan 1- lentil soup. Russian Nesting Doll-style!

    Reply
    • laurabeth
      September 17. 2013 at 7:16 am.09. (213 days ago)

      I love, love, LOVE your connection to the Russian nesting doll, Madeleine. Brilliance, I say!

      Reply
  4. Stacey @ Likes to Smile
    September 13. 2013 at 7:16 pm.09. (216 days ago)

    I think it’s easier to achieve specific goals because the goal is well-defined and your brain has done more work imagining what you want. A mentor once commented to me that in some instances, our brain has to think about things for a long time before being ready to do it and commit. For instance (this was his example): let’s say you are lethargic and thinking about wanting to become active. Perhaps you think about this for months. And then one day the brain goes, “you know, I could go to the gym just 3 times a week for 30 minutes.” And suddenly, it’s as if the brain has decided to help you get what you want. So you go 3 times for 30 mins and then it becomes 35 minutes and then 40. But I think it’s the specificity of the planning that makes the goal turn from a thought into something you can achieve.
    Stacey @ Likes to Smile recently posted…Smiling Over ShoesMy Profile

    Reply
    • laurabeth
      September 17. 2013 at 7:16 am.09. (213 days ago)

      I think there is a lot of truth in what you said about the specificity of planning making a goal “turn from a thought into something you can achieve.” I am fascinated by your mentor’s statement: “our brain has to think about things for a long time before being ready to do it and commit.” It makes a lot of sense, and this is something I’m going to let marinate.

      Reply
  5. meganleighbolte
    September 27. 2013 at 7:16 pm.09. (202 days ago)

    I love the detail regarding your first kiss!! A fun snippet. I think details are, overall, a good thing when it comes to creating goals. Maybe it’s because my mind works best with images, but when I have a very particular idea of an end result, it’s easier for me to see myself accomplishing it. Vague goals tend to immobilize me. I know know where to begin because I can’t envision where I want to end up. At the same time, however, goals that are too specific can be dangerous. We can be blind to real progress simply because our achievement looks different from the image we held too fast to in our mind. Everything in moderation, right?

    Reply
    • laurabeth
      January 12. 2014 at 7:16 am.01. (96 days ago)

      Moderation, indeed. I appreciate hearing your commentary on visualization. I had a running coach, once, who used visualization as a large part of our training. You’re on to something good!

      Reply

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