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Applying Business Strategies in Your Personal Life

Most people know that setting and then reaching goals is necessary for professional success. Maybe your work-related goals take the guise of achieving x-level of sales, delivering projects on deadline, or meeting other metrics. You know when you set such goals that failure is not an option. Why don't more people use this kind of strategy and determination to achieve success in their personal lives?

People rarely set goals for themselves in the areas that are most important to them, such as family, health, career, fun/adventure, marriage, and so forth. Sure, they have ideas about how they'd like things to be, but they consider dissatisfaction "just the way it is" and are content to do nothing about it.

Trust me when I tell you that the same kind of discipline and focus that have paid off in your career can help in your personal life as well. Because we at the Handel Group believe that people who are happy in their personal lives are more likely to achieve greater success professionally, this is a virtuous circle.

Let me explain.

When the Handel Group is brought into a company to coach an executive, we often delve into that individual's personal life—with their permission and total cooperation—because we believe that people who are happy in their personal lives will be much more valuable and effective at work. We often find that the patterns that inhibit people in one area of their lives are doing it in the other.

A rewarding price for bad behavior

When we find an area in someone's life that seems to need attention—or is a source of misery—one of the things we have that person do is create goals. I coached an executive who was behaving in a short and edgy fashion with both her 7-year-old daughter and some of her direct reports. We first took on the goal of improving her relationship with her child. She promised to pay her daughter a dollar for every time the executive was short and/or edgy. The daughter loved it. Within a week, my client had paid her $3. The mere fact that there was something my client had to do to track her behavior and pay more attention when she wasn't making progress made her start catching herself before she became short and edgy.

The executive decided to do the same thing at work. Instead of a dollar, she forfeited a cup of coffee to her direct reports, who love their Starbucks, whenever she was short or edgy. Focusing on this goal altered her behavior dramatically.

Part of why goal-setting is so important is that a desired result can help force you to act to meet that result. When you set a goal you previously lacked (such as having a stronger relationship with a child or with a direct report), meeting that goal demands action, attention, focus, and awareness.

In addition, when you have goals structured into your life, and a vision connected to the areas that are most important to you, you can generate happiness and excitement even before the goal is reached. A goal sets an agenda and creates a trajectory for how to think and behave. It gives you a target that is beyond what would happen automatically.

Let's say you want to set a goal but are not sure you will meet it. What do you do?

We have our clients create a set of rules (or promises) toward fulfilling the goal, then create consequences if a rule is broken. For instance, if the goal is to "have an inspiring relationship with my spouse," the rules might include "no TV until we have spent 15 minutes talking and connecting." If you break that rule and go right to the tube, a consequence could be that your spouse gets to spend $50 on anything. Any consequence you design should be just big enough to sting you, but not so big that you revert to lying so as not to pay it.

Here are some steps for setting personal goals:

1. Ask yourself if you have goals for this year. If so, do they extend to the important areas of your life? If not, write down each area of your life that you are not currently happy with and note what you promise to achieve in each area by the end of the year.

2. Make sure the goals you set push you enough to make you excited and proud of yourself.

3. Create consequences that will keep you on track.

4. Get yourself on the hook for these goals. Tell people, especially those who will be directly affected. Making the promises public will help keep you committed.

5. Revisit your goals often and rate yourself weekly on how you are doing.

6. If you succeed at any of them, enjoy the outcome, then make a new goal. I am always creating new goals for myself because they have me play big. When I'm not actively working toward a goal, life just goes on. Nothing extraordinary happens.

7. If you fail at your goal, you have a few options. Try again with stronger consequences, remove the goal, or replace it with something easier to achieve. One should never feel bad about failing on a goal, which is merely a tool to get you to where you want to be and to enjoy the process of getting there. Feeling badly about it just lets you feel sorry for yourself, so forget the pity-party and try again. Or accept that maybe it wasn't the right goal for you.

This all may seem absurdly simple and obvious. Doing it will make a huge difference. If you don't, things aren't likely to change in those areas. We are constantly surprised at how someone who is so brilliant in one area can ignore another area that brings them emotional distress. Just as with any discipline, whether going to the gym or responding to e-mails, making goals requires pushing yourself past the point of "I don't want to" or "I don't have to and you can't make me."

So take the challenge: Pick an area that's important to you, create a specific goal and a timeline, make promises that would fulfill the goal, create a consequence for not following the rules, tell people the game, and then start playing.

Beth Weissenberger is CEO and co-founder of The Handel Group, a New York-based coaching company. As head of the Executive Practice, she has worked with numerous CEOs and their teams on integration challenges, breaking down silos, and changing corporate culture.

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