A coaching activity for writing approach goals
Posted on August 12, 2009 by Kurt Shuster, One of Thousands of Entrepreneurship Coaches on Noomii.
Did you know that how you write your goals makes a difference? This simple coaching activity shows you how to write goals for maximum effectiveness.
Many people are familiar with SMART goals – these are goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attractive, Realistic, and Time-framed. But there’s a whole lot more to writing goals; in fact, there’s an entire academic field – goal setting theory – that’s dedicated to studying goals and how to achieve them.
One of the most important findings from this field is that effective goals are ones that move you toward a particular objective, rather than away from something you’re trying to avoid. In a clever study of novice bowlers, Daniel Kirschenbaum of Northwestern University enrolled study participants in a “learn to bowl” class. After a few hours of their bowling lesson, the students were asked to write down lists of things they did correctly and another list of things that they did incorrectly. He then asked half of the participants to spend time reading and reflecting only on the list of “things I did right”, and asked the other participants to read and reflect only on the list of “things I did wrong”. After ruminating on their respective lists for a while, participants were then asked to bowl another game. Participants in the “things I did right” group significantly outperformed those in the “things I did wrong group”, outscoring them by an average of 11 points.
Many goals can be classified as either approach goals or avoidance goals. Approach goals are ones in which the stated objective is to move towards a desired outcome, for example “I will increase my maximum bench press weight to 280 pounds”, “I will be more talkative in social situations”, or “I will graduate from college with an A average”. Avoidance goals, in contrast, are ones in which the stated objective is to move away from an undesired state. For example, “I will not eat snacks before going to bed”; “I want to stop being so shy at parties”; “I will stop procrastinating on my thesis writing”. Researchers Andrew Elliot and Holly McGregor asked students to write down several of their most important life goals. The researchers then categorized them as either approach goals or avoidance goals. They found that students with a preference for approach goals displayed a large number of desirable outcomes relative to those students with a tendency towards avoidance goals. These outcomes included superior test performance, improved organization, reduced text anxiety, greater class engagement, and even fewer visits to the student health center. In other words, people who tended to strive for positive things to strive for were healthier and less stressed than people who tended to avoid negative things.
Notice that many goals can be classified as either approach or avoidance goals depending solely on how they are phrased. For example, the above goal “I want to be more talkative in social situations” can be thought of as the approach version of the avoidance goal “I want to stop being so shy at parties”. For this reason, a simple coaching activity that involves transforming avoidance goals into approach goals will be included in the pair coaching system. This activity is as follows:
The coach’s role in this activity will be to go through each of the coachee’s goals, and, one by one, ask the question “How can you rephrase this goal in such a way that you are moving towards a desirable state rather than moving away from an undesirable state?” The following list shows some examples of this concept:
1. Avoidance goal: “I want to stop being late for work”. Possible approach phrasing: “I will be on time for work every day”.
2. Avoidance goal: “I want to stop watching so much TV”. Possible approach phrasing: “I will read for an hour each day”.
3. Avoidance goal: “I want to stop procrastinating on my thesis”. Possible approach phrasing: “I will work on my thesis for at lease one hour each day before dinner”.
Try this simple exercise with your coachee and see if you can turn most – if not all – of their avoidance goals into approach goals. Have fun!