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How to measure seemingly immeasurable goals

As a coach, working with clients to establish impactful goals is central to the work we do together. The goal becomes the guiding target for the action items that come out of our sessions.

Even as someone who spends a lot of time discussing goals, I’m far from a purist when it comes to longstanding goal-setting advice. Sure, some goals do (and should) fit neatly within a measurable framework. They tick all the boxes in your favorite goal-setting acronym.

“I will increase my sales by 25% in the first quarter!”

“I will decrease my meeting attendance time from 25 hours per week to less than 12 hours per week.”

Those are great goals. But not every worthwhile target is so easily associated with a number or a dollar amount. In fact, some of our most important targets are related to emotions, feelings of well-being, and our inner thoughts. How many of these goals go unspoken because they don't seem to honor the most popular goal-setting advice?

“I want to feel less stressed.”

“I want to be more confident.”

“I want to lead with more empathy.”

Are these bad goals simply because they are more difficult to measure? I don’t believe so. In my experience, those seemingly immeasurable goals can drive toward the most impactful transformation for individuals and teams.

Start by naming the need or desire that matters most and then create a measuring stick of some sort. You do need to be able to look back and evaluate if you’ve met your target or made meaningful progress. This will help you maintain focus and provide an anchoring point to return to when you get off track.

Here are a few ways to measure those seemingly hard-to-quantify goals.

Create a self-evaluation

There is a lot of flexibility with this one. Come up with a few questions you’ll use to evaluate yourself at key touchpoints. Identify a few items that will serve as evidence of meaningful change in the direction of your goal.

Perhaps your goal is to become a more empathetic leader. You may choose to create a scorecard to fill out after meetings with your team. Did you check in on how they are doing? Did you ask questions? Did you acknowledge the challenges you know the team is up against? Answering these questions will provide you with a good sense of the progress you are making and will keep your target front of mind.

Plot progress on a scale using a number line

On a sheet of paper, draw a straight line. Write “0” on one end and “10” on the other. Determine what the numbers will mean for your specific scale. (Is 10 best or worst?) Write the current date next to where you would plot yourself today and continue to plot your progress over the course of a few weeks.

Maybe your goal is to feel more confident. On a scale from 1 to 10, how confident do you feel? Plot your daily confidence level by placing the current date next to the appropriate place on the number line. To get even more out of the exercise, jot down noteworthy things that happened that day that could have raised or lowered your confidence. As you actively work to build your confidence, the number line will provide you with a visual of your felt progress and help you identify what works and what doesn’t.

Keep a journal of qualitative information

If you’d like your self-evaluation to contain more detail, consider keeping a journal. This can be done on its own or in combination with another strategy. Maintain a daily journal focused on logging your progress toward your goal. After some time has passed, go back and read older entries. Compare them with your latest entries. Take note of observations. Where did you see improvement? Where did you see setbacks? What micro targets can you set for the next stretch, in light of what you observed reading your journal entries?

Conduct pre- and post-surveys

We all have blind spots. Sometimes it helps to get the perspective of another person. Identify a trusted person or two who have a clear line of sight into what you are trying to improve. Survey them when you first create your goal and again at specific intervals. Their feedback will give you a clear sense of your progress. Their input will provide you with a good indication of your progress. This approach is especially useful for goals that pertain to how our behaviors impact others and less useful for goals that are driven by our personal feelings or perceptions.

Set micro “Get me there” actions

In many cases, your larger goal seems immeasurable, but there are many easily quantifiable habits and actions that will likely get you there. Focus on measuring your micro-targets, knowing they will move you toward reaching your primary goal.

Perhaps your goal is to achieve better work-life flow, and you aren’t comfortable assigning rigid hours to what that looks like. Micro “get me there” actions include the small habits you’ll build to achieve your desired flow. Are you joining family dinners most nights? Are you getting at least 8 hours of sleep per night? Are you and your spouse going on your monthly date night? Are you taking a lunch break? If you pick the right micro-actions or habits to get you where you’d like to be, you’ll be able to easily track your progress as you work toward the overall intent of your goal.

Don't let that often-helpful-yet-sometimes-pesky little goal-setting acronym move your focus away from the most important outcomes you need to work toward. Don't be afraid to get creative with how you measure progress on your personal goals. Many things about being human are felt more than they are quantified.


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