The beginning of the year is a great time for goal-setting—not just because it gives you a reason to hit your personal “reset button,” but because it gives you plenty of time to accomplish your goals! However, your goals can easily fall by the wayside if you don’t protect them diligently.
In fact, sometimes, the very act of setting a goal seems to bring out a whole new array of obstacles that weren’t there before—as if the world itself wants you to fail. This isn’t true, of course. The universe isn’t actually against you. The obstacles were probably there all along: you just didn’t see them until you had a goal in mind.
The Theory of Constraints
I’m a fan of a popular goal management process called the “Theory of Constraints.” First described by Dr. Eli Goldratt in his 1984 book The Goal, this theory starts with the assumption that every goal you set will face certain obstacles or constraints that may prevent or limit your success. By identifying those obstacles, and then coming up with practical ways to blast through them, you improve your chances of reaching your goal.
This post by Dave Nevogt of Hubstaff offers an excellent explanation of this idea, but here’s the gist:
- Identify a goal. What do you want to accomplish?
- Identify the obstacles. What stands in the way of your goal?
- Come up with a strategy. What are tangible ways you can remove or neutralize those obstacles?
While the Theory of Constraints is often used by businesses to stay on track for their objectives, it can also be applied to personal goals, especially if your life circumstances are chaotic or stressful—such as a divorce, a career change or a family crisis. Let’s illustrate the process with an example.
Jake is a newly single father living in the San Francisco Bay Area. At work, he’s facing long hours running a growing technology start-up, juggling the stresses of hiring and training of new staff. At home, he has two small children to raise and a contentious divorce to resolve. His goals for 2017 might be simply stated: Get through the next year with as much grace as possible, while minimizing stress and continuing to grow his business.
Obviously, Jake is going to have a lot of resistance in reaching his goals. Let’s list some possible potential obstacles:
- Complications with the divorce settlement
- Natural stresses and “growing pains” surrounding a new business
- Not giving enough time and attention to his kids
- Grief over the divorce, which can be crippling at times
Once Jake has identified these obstacles, he can create a constructive plan to eliminate or minimize them. For example:
- He can offer some strategic compromises to streamline the divorce.
- He can hire a personal assistant to help with the daily grind of the business.
- With the free-time he gets thanks to his personal assistant, he can schedule more time with the children.
- He can meet with a therapist, if he is feeling alone and anxious.
You can see how this strategic approach can work on multiple fronts, simultaneously: By following these steps, Jake can address both his personal needs and his effectiveness at work.
While circumstances may feel overwhelming during times of crisis, they don’t have to stop you from reaching your goals. Remember that a big step towards achieving your target is to simply remove the obstacles preventing forward movement.
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