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How To Set Goals: Embracing Bright Line Rules for Effective Goal Setting

personal development
How To Set Goals: Embracing Bright Line Rules for Effective Goal Setting

This is a Top Tips for setting goals. Well, it’s about a strategy called Bright Line Rules that can sit alongside them and help you to accomplish your goals.

Bright-line rules are one of the best goal-setting ideas out there and will help you set goals that work. I actually think bright line rules should be a central tenet of goal setting theory. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me tell you how I found out about them.

Ages ago I was working on habit change with a client and they’d had some great results improving work routines. Just by implementing a few standard change strategies I shared with them they had absolutely smashed three of their biggest professional goals.

At the end of one session they announced they had a new goal. They wanted to cut out sugar.

They felt they had a really bad sugar habit and urgently needed to remove it. It turned out that they had been building up to this one goal for a while and now we'd had some success with their business goals they were ready to cut it out from their life completely.

Knowing next to nothing about sugar I felt that this was possibly out of my skill set and that I should read up on the subject. I found myself wondering if sugar was an addictive substance or if my insurance covered any sort of sugar withdrawal induced medical situation.


Goal Setting

I bought a few books about the white stuff and dove in. One was The Sweet Poison Quit Plan by David Gillespie. The title kind of gives away the author’s feelings about the substance. He has, to put it mildly, a real downer on sugar.

Interestingly, he wasn’t a doctor or a nutritionist but a corporate lawyer, which gave him an out of the box, sideways view on the topic. 

Once he’d made his case and established that sugar was a proper villain he addressed the problem of why so many people find it so very hard to kick. It seems that cutting back on sugar is one of the most difficult goals to pursue.


Well, the conclusion he arrived at was that all of the diet plans and advice from nutritionists were too complex.

Complex ideas are confusing to fully understand, tricky to remember and too difficult to implement. People need simple rules that they can follow. They need simple, measurable goals and an easy to follow plan in order to achieve effective health improvements.

At this point he changed into his single breasted, notched lapel lawyer suit, opened his briefcase and introduced exhibit A: 

Setting Clear Guidelines for Goals, m’lud.


How To Set Goals

Bright-line rules “occur when, given some objective facts, the outcome is known and predictable every single time, no matter what else is happening.”

He explains that we “experience bright-line rules every day. For example, the law says that if you exceed the speed limit, you have committed an offence. There are no special circumstances to take into account. All the enforcer needs to know is the speed limit and your speed.”

In a thirty mile an hour stretch, if you’re driving at thirty miles an hour or less you’re not breaking the law. That's the limit.

If you drive at thirty one miles an hour, however, you’re breaking the law. There’s no in between.

Fine. So far, so lawyer like. But what’s any of this got to do with sugar? Or habits or new year's resolutions or tips to set goals?


Personal Goals For Personal Growth

Well, his beef with the doctors and nutritionists and authors of diet books is that they don’t use bright-line rules. The guidance they offer is very wishy washy, like advising that you should only eat sugar in moderation. 

From a bright-line perspective that’s no good at all because moderation is not a clearly defined state. As an overall goal it's hard to achieve because everyone’s definition of ‘moderation’ can be different.

Through the book he shares a load of bright-line rules for cutting out sugar, a clear demonstration of setting and achieving goals for a healthier lifestyle. He considers specific, potentially confusing situations like visiting a fast food joint. 

“The danger in takeaway food lies largely in the condiments, the desserts and the drinks. 

Here are a few simple rules for takeaway:

  • Stay away from the drinks fridge – there’s nothing to see here (unless you feel like paying a lot for water).
  • Don’t even think about the ice-cream fridge.
  • Don’t buy sauces to go with the meal and if the sauce usually comes on board (such as with a hamburger), ask for your meal to be made without sauce.”

See how clearly these bright line rules align with setting and achieving effective goals? 

This is really important because having clear goals and a clear plan helps to set a clear path for the next steps you need to take. Is that clear enough?


Setting Clear Guidelines To Make Your Goals Achievable

He makes it very black and white. 

These fast food rules might or might not be useful for you but I’m not sharing them for dietary success. I’m bringing them to your attention to highlight that black and white quality of how they work.

There’s no leeway involved. He identifies the red flags and then gives you simple rules to follow so you can avoid them. You’re either following the rules or you’re not.

When we set new year resolutions, or goals at any time, too often we don’t make them clear enough. It doesn't matter if they're larger goals or smaller goals, personal goals or team goals - if they're not goals that are specific then we're going to struggle to reach them.  

We set ourselves certain goals like:

- I’m going to exercise more

- I’m going to eat healthier

- I’m going to earn more

- I’m going to get more clients

It's so easy to fall into the trap of thinking that by setting these goals we'll make some decent progress. But you already know what I'm going to say don't you?

They're not the right goals. Setting goals helps, sure but this is not smart goal setting.

I sometimes get asked "Why is goal setting important? Can't I just get on with it?"

Well, these examples above should explain why. These type of goals are far too wishy washy. Where are the key performance indicators? There's nothing to go on is there? 

If you actually want to achieve your goals then your first goal is for your goal setting to be better. Whether you're setting personal goals or goals at work for the whole organisation then you need to be setting effective, complete goals. The goals you need to create should be crafted with a lot more certainty. Bright lines help you do this.


Tracking Progress To Achieve Your Goal

What does 'exercise more' really mean? Does running up the stairs once mean this has been achieved? No. But a bright-line rule of working out at the gym for an hour at 7am every Monday, Wednesday and Friday will make your exercise goal clearer and better defined. That's a measurable and effective goal for improving personal health.

Does having a banana for breakfast mean you’re 'eating healthier'? Well, maybe. If you set a bright-line rule to ‘have a banana and porridge for breakfast every weekday’ that will make it more specific. You’ll easily know whether you passed or failed the rule and working towards your carefully written goals.

Does making £10 more than you did last year mean you smashed that earnings goal? Technically yes, but if you really want a substantial change then you need to set clearer rules with more numbers involved. It's much more effective to establish a smart goal for income development than having a vague number in your head.

If you want a 20% income increase then you need to work out what that precise number is and calculate a way to make it happen through the year. Create and plot progress of clear goals and have clear rules that will make it crystal clear whether you’re on track to earn that specific amount or not.


Set Realistic Goals

How many more clients do you want? You could set a bright line rule to make it clearer. ‘I will reach out to eight new clients a month’. That’s a very specific goal that you can either reach or not.

It’s an output goal rather than an outcome goal but if you do achieve it then your outcome goal of ‘eight new clients’ has a better chance of being achieved.

Take a moment to reflect on how specific your goals are. It really can pay dividends to spend time writing down your goals and creating an action plan.

Be honest with yourself. Have you practised effective goal setting and set yourself up for success? Or are your goals just thrown together and more than a little vague? Would you benefit from really thinking about and applying these goal-setting tips?

Maybe you need to adjust your goals. Or set a new goal?

Do your goals matter to you? Are they something you want to achieve? If you are not setting personal aims it's unlikely that you will commit to your goals. And if that's true how likely then is it that you will ever meet your goals? 


Top Tips For Setting Goals

Are they even achievable goals?

Did you write your goals down? It's pretty well known that people who write down their goals are much more likely to achieve them. Or if you're setting them down digitally then will you keep them close to you on a mobile app?

Are they clear enough to work toward? It's really important to set specific, measurable, attainable goals.

Do you know whether the goals are long-term goals or short-term goals? 

Would setting clear guidelines and bright lines for goals be useful to you? If so re-read this post on tips for goal setting, take a few minutes to write yours out and then find a place to put them, where you’ll see them all year. Good luck!

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