This is the fifth chapter of nine included in my free, full version program, Goals! An Interactive Guide . The other chapters will be added in blog entries for future use.
Goals! An Interactive Guide  Chapters:
Chapter One: Why Set Goals? 
Chapter Two: Decide Exactly What You Want 
Chapter Three: Create an Unstoppable Drive 
Chapter Four: Get Organized 
Chapter Five: Stay Flexible
Chapter Six: Overcoming Obstacles
Chapter Seven: Review Your Progress
Chapter Eight: Velocity-Based Goal Setting
Chapter Nine: Operate From the Highest Level
Goal setting is often criticized for being inflexible. Some have even argued that goal setting shouldn’t be used in highly volatile and rapidly changing projects where the need to be flexible is critical. While any tool can be impaired under these situations, goal setting is still an invaluable tool to ensuring results. Because rapidly changing areas are less stable, goal-setting can also be a powerful tool to cut away the irrelevant and to stay on task. Flexibility can be maintained in a goal-setting environment, and even improved, provided the right steps are taken.
Flexibility with our goals can be greatly enhanced by a number of means without sacrificing focus. Whether you are running a project with rapidly changing circumstances or are simply starting a goal on a subject that you don’t have a lot of experience with, flexibility is critical. By using these methods we can easily maneuver in the rapid changes, while allowing our goals to keep us on task.
Focus on Critical Goals
A big hindrance to flexibility is in the problem of simply setting the wrong goals. By setting goals for things that are not critical to your desired result, you needlessly limit your options. For example, if your goal was to lose a certain amount of weight, you might set a goal to go biking for an hour every day. But this goal can be limiting if you discover that going to an aerobics class would be better. Now you are biking every day when you would rather go to the class because your goal cut off that option.
Identify what goals are critical to the outcome you desire. These goals will be your final goals. If your goal is to earn $1000 per week from your consulting business, then your income goal is a final goal. If you decide that the best way to do this would be to add two new clients, this goal would be a planning goal. Planning goals are a means to an end. If you later decide that by improving your value and increasing your commission from the clients you already have would be more profitable, scrap the planning goal. Planning goals only represent what you feel is the best path for you to take at this time. Eliminate them if you feel there is reasonable evidence that another path would be superior.
Being able to decide whether you should stick with your current path or go down another one is a difficult choice. There is no hard or fast rule that you can use to decide where to travel when you meet such a junction. In many cases staying with your goal can keep you from chasing fantasies with no real substance. In other cases choosing a new path can greatly reduce the effort required to get to your goal.
In cases where it is difficult to decide what route to go, you must use what Steven Covey calls, “Integrity in the moment of choice.” By utilizing both your intuitive and rational reasoning capabilities you need to trust your judgement and go with the route that seems best. You might not have enough information to fully ascertain which decision will be the most effective. Being able to form a decision on partial information can be difficult, but it is a necessary skill to build.
Don’t Become Attached to the Path
Almost as dangerous as the person who wildly jumps from one aim to another without seeing anything through is the person who stubbornly refuses to take a path that differs from their preset guide. Becoming attached to the path we are currently can be a side effect of goal setting. Since you have already set out how we are going to achieve what we desire, opportunities and changes could be viewed as threats. It is also easy to feel that because you had created a strong commitment to a goal, you must keep the goal even if the information it was set upon has changed. Goals are tools, not rules. If achieving a goal won’t serve you anymore, dump it.
There is only one thing you need to commit to, and that is the result you desire. Everything between that point and where you stand today should be left flexible wherever possible. To get attached to the path you have previously defined ignores the changing reality of life.
The goals I set to produce the project you see today when through massive changes as I received new information. The only goal I committed to was on when I had decided to get it finished and released. Everything between changed so rapidly that I would rarely get to the end of one goal before having to switch directions and set a few more. Commitment to the final goal gave me the boundaries to ensure a final result. Flexibility with the goal in between gave me the range to do the most effective job possible within those boundaries.
Planning is an Active Process
Planning isn’t over when you write your first copy and start acting on your goal. Planning isn’t finished until you’ve produced the result. If you lack experience in an area, chances are your plans will need to change rapidly to adapt to the changes in circumstance. If your tendency is to write an initial plan, store it in a binder somewhere and then follow the plan to the letter, it is going to take you a long time to learn from your mistakes and fumbles.
Planning needs to be something you do and redo constantly. Some goals will be relatively stable and unaffected by change where others will require constant planning. A goal to lose a certain amount of weight or to stick with a diet usually only requires minor adjustments as new information comes in slowly. Creating a product such as this was a perfect example of a situation where plans would change rapidly as new information was made available.
Whenever you get new information that effects your goal, take out your plan and review it. Is your plan still valid? Is there elements that might need adjustment? How might this new information create obstacles or opportunities for reaching your final goal? Don’t let your plan sit and collect dust. Update it and review it constantly.
Your plan should always tell you what action needs to be taken right now. If the action listed by your plan does not represent what is the best route, then you need to rework your plan. Creating a plan and then ignoring it and following your intuition is a waste of time. By constantly updating and reviewing your plan you can ensure it is usable even in the face of rapid change. For complex goals like starting a business, developing a project or running an organization, plans frequently need updating to reflect the changes in situation. Often simply not having enough experience can mean constantly adjusting your plan as you are learning.
Take a Breather
Throwing your life into imbalance may allow you to achieve a goal more easily at first, but it is highly unstable. Sacrificing your relationships, health or enjoyment of life to pursue your career will ultimately create so much negative stress that you will burn out. By taking brief rest periods along the pursuit of a major goal you can help maintain this balance. Taking rest periods also allows you a period of calmness where you have the time to think deeply about your goals and your progress. I have found that these rest periods often give me creative insights that dramatically increase my progress that I simply couldn’t see while I was working non-stop on my goal.
My suggestion is to take a day off per week. This can work very effectively for whatever highly involved achievement goals you have. Obviously, taking a week off from your diet is going to make a habit change more difficult, but this can work well with goals that consume much of your time, such as career related goals. For ambitious people, taking this day off could seem like a huge threat to their productivity. I noticed, however, that this one day tends to be my most profitable day of all in terms of the value it gives back.
When you are working on a goal, it is easy to develop tunnel vision. This happens when you get so caught up in the minutia of pursuing our goals that you forget the reasons and motivations for why you set them in the first place. Taking a day off each week allows you to broaden your focus, re-examine your plan and recharge your reserves of motivation, enthusiasm and mental energy.
Really inspiring goals can often make it hard to not work for an entire day. That is a good sign, it means you’ve chosen a truly compelling goal and you are passionate about pursuing it. But it is important to discipline yourself to take this break. Without having the opportunity to recharge, you may be working more hours, but your mental processes will become cog-like as you lose creativity and flexibility.
Even if taking an entire day off is impossible for you, allocating a half day or even a few hours is crucial. This period is not just to relax but to recharge yourself to prevent burnout. Bodybuilders know that recovery time is important if they want to build muscle mass. Going to the gym constantly doesn’t give their muscles enough time to recover and slows their progress. Similarly, avoiding recovery time dulls your ability to be effective and creative.
Take a Breather from Goals Entirely!
After you’ve achieved some of your big goals, taking a short breather from setting goals entirely is a good idea. Just as taking a day off in between short goals can give you added perspective, taking off time after achieving a big goal can give you time to really re-examine your entire life. Without taking these breathers it is far easier to climb to the top of the ladder only to realize it was leaning against the wrong building. Although examinations of your life shouldn’t just happen between your big goals, being temporarily free of all goals can give you time to really examine where you would like to direct and control your life.
Goals are powerful tools to help you overcome challenges and get what you desire. Life doesn’t always require goals, however. After achieving goals, chances are you will have grown quite a bit. When this happens, it is probably advisable to loosen up on your habit of goal setting and spend more time in curious exploration. During this phase search your life for new opportunities and re-examine the purpose and meaning you already draw from it.
Setting and achieving goals are great tools for creating rapid personal growth once you’ve found a direction you feel you need to aim for. Just remember to spend time afterwards examining where you should best set that aim. Personal growth has the fascinating ability to expand our view of life and the world. Goals can help us achieve that growth, but they are useless unless you look out at that view you have created for yourself.
Goal setting can be hard work that requires a lot of focus. In that pursuit of focus, flexibility can be lost unless you take steps to prevent it. Committing yourself to only your final goals and leaving our paths open is the first step. Continuous planning and adjustment can ensure that your map is always matching the territory. Finally by taking schedules breaks, both while taking goals and when we’ve accomplished our goals you can give your minds and bodies time to recover while fostering creative insights to save effort in the work ahead. Flexible goal-setting isn’t a myth and it something you can strive towards with every goal you set.