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How great goal-setting can help turn your dreams into reality

Coaching has a wide range of definitions and approaches. One of the most prevalent understandings is that coaching comprises “a collaborative relationship formed between a coach and the coachee for the purpose of attaining professional or personal development outcomes which are valued by the coachee” (Spence & Grant, 2007, p. 185).

Couched within this understanding is the importance of goal-focused activity with a clearly defined outcome. A person embarks on a coaching relationship because they are working through a challenge, or a goal that they want to attain, and they are looking for support to develop effective strategies and solutions (Grant, 2013). As such, a big part of development is setting effective goals that will enable a person to plan and identify clear directions to achieve their desired change.

Beyond the practical aspects of goal-setting, research indicates that setting and evaluating your own goals play a large part in sustained motivation and ongoing action, even in the face of emerging issues (Bandura, 1998). The process of associating attainment of stated (valued) goals with self-satisfaction has a direct influence on “how much effort [a coachee]... expend[s]; how long they persevere in the face of difficulties; and their resilience to failures … [and these contribute]  to performance accomplishments” (Bandura, 1998, p. 75).

There are several characteristics to effective goals … and some common mistakes. I’m now going to briefly discuss a few of them.

Challenging but attainable

Goals need to stretch you, but still be attainable .. within your stated timeframe. So, if you have never run a step in your life and are not in the best of shape, it is unlikely, for example, that you will attain a goal of winning a marathon in a month’s time. However, if you decide you would like to run a marathon in say, 4 hours, in a year’s time, and put together a training plan with milestone goals along the way, then you are likely to achieve it. So, a long-term goal, with incremental steps (and celebrations) along the way, and with enough challenge to keep you interested, is the way to go.

Specific and within a timeframe

A mistake that is often made is to identify a goal that says we will try harder, do more of something, or improve a skill. However - how will you know you are making progress, or have achieved what you have set out to without some ‘measure’ that will enable you to evaluate how you are doing. You goals should be as tangible as possible, and specify how many, of what, and by when. Using the example above about the marathon, if, as a sub goal you decide to run the Auckland 10km race in April in under 1 and a half hours, it would be easy to know if you have or have not achieved the goal. It’s not always easy to set such specific goals, but the more specific you can be the greater your sense of progress will be.


Sometimes it’s tempting to identify what we don’t want - things (emotions, behaviours, contexts) we’d like to avoid - rather than looking at what we do want. It is, though, way easier to actively set out to do or achieve something than it is to try to avoid doing it. Again, taking the example of the marathon, compare ‘I will stop eating biscuits until after I have run the marathon’, with ‘Up to when I run the marathon I will eat at least one salad a day, except for Monday which is my day off when I will eat 1 biscuit’.

Other things to include in effective goals

As well as the three key areas discussed above, it is good to also keep in mind the following characteristics of effective goal setting so that you include:

  • clear direction to attain your desired change,

  • clarity of priorities (which will inform your ongoing decision making),

  • identification of resources available to you (including people),

  • clearly stated tasks and activities that align directly with specific aspects of your goal(s), and

  • specific links to your performance and personal development

(Southern Institute of Technology, n.d., n.p.)

Even if you set effective goals, sometimes you’ll feel as though you aren’t making progress or that other things are derailing your efforts. At times like these it is good to talk with your coach to work through responses that will help you stick with your long-term goals, while maintaining your motivation - and sanity!

Terry Pratchett in his novel The Wee Free Men sums up the importance of goals as opposed to dreams as follows: “If you trust in yourself. . .and believe in your dreams. . .and follow your star. . . you'll still get beaten by people who spent their time working hard and learning things ...” (Pratchett, 2004, p. 21). Dreams can be incredibly motivating. However, you need to sit down and work out how to turn them into them reality, and setting effective goals is part of that process.


Back in time. CC ( BY ND  ) licensed Flickr image by Hartwig HKD:


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