30 Aug

3-Stage Goals

Three steps to one goal

How many times have you set a goal…and just missed it?

For a lot of us, “just missing it” is tantamount to failure. For recovering perfectionists like myself, it’s all too easy to see success in terms of black and white, and the goals that get us there as pass/fail tests.

How do we change that?

Expand your definition of success

As I said to Elizabeth Sosnow in the comments here a few weeks back, it’s often more helpful to measure the distance we’ve traveled than the distance we’ve yet to go. The first is real accomplishment; the second still unknown.

That “miles traveled” measure can be enormously helpful when we’ve lost sight of a big goal, or feel overwhelmed by the time ordistance it’ll take to get there. But it can be even more helpful when we build it in from the get-go.

Set three stages

As good as the SMART methodology is for setting goals and objectives, it doesn’t account for the unknown. But we can. By setting three stages of success we account for the inevitable ups and downs of life, of things beyond our control.

The Aspirational

This is probably the one you set first, particularly since most of us like to aim high and go for the “stretch.” It’s the butt-kicking one, the one you know you could achieve, IF you really buckle down and devote the time, energy, and resources you need to…AND if the universe cooperates, which it often doesn’t.

It’s the one that feels just out of reach, but you know it’s possible with focus and hard work.

Grow our LinkedIn Group to 250 members (a 25% increase) by the end of the year.
Lose 30 pounds by the end of the year. (~2 pounds a week)

The Achievable

This is the one that, if we look at past performance, is likely where we’ll end up. Since your Aspirational goal or objective requires significant additional resources (if only in effort and concentration), set this one based on what you can do, given no or modest additional investment. Working backwards from the Aspirational stage, adjust the timeframe, or the measurement…or both.

Grow our LinkedIn Group to 220 members (a 10% increase) by the end of the year.
Lose 15 pounds by the end of the year. (~1 pound a week)

The Acceptable

This is the one you’d be happy with—and consider an achievement of note—even if everything that could go wrong did. I.e., it accounts for the abnormal course of reality: Unexpected budget cuts, employee absences, competitor moves, leadership (and priority) transitions, etc. Holidays, in-laws, surprise parties, bad days/weeks/months at work (or no work), life events, etc.

Grow our LinkedIn Group to 220 members in six months.
Lose 5 pounds by the end of the year. (a little less than ~1/2 pound a week)


By setting three stages up front we suddenly turn a single measure of success into a range. We acknowledge what might hold us back AND, at the same time, take away our excuses for not moving towards our goals despite the obstacles we might face.

Three stages, one target…more success.

See how it works? Would it work for you?

(And if you’re looking for a way to keep on track while pursuing your goals? Our friend Chris Brogan suggests we keep asking questions, in a post that inspired this one.)