How to achieve your personal goals: Lessons learned from The 4 Disciplines of Execution Book



Have you ever failed to achieve a goal that you really cared about? Well, I have and not once but multiple times..I also found out that I’m not alone in this experience. Research done by University of Scranton revealed that around 92% of the people who set New Year's goals never achieve them. If you are results driven and goal-oriented, not achieving goals can be quite demotivating and frustrating.


What makes it so hard to achieve goals? Why do people lose interest and quickly give up on goals? What do “goal getters” do differently to achieve success?


I believe while there are several tips to achieve success, the one that has the most impact in my perspective is identifying the gap between strategy and execution and how we bridge that gap and focus on the execution part.


I recently read “The 4 Disciplines of Execution” by Chris McChesney, Sean Covey and Jim Hulings. While this is a fantastic resource and provides a very effective process driven execution for teams and organizations, I think the lessons learned are equally applicable to achieving personal and career goals. The authors surveyed several leaders and identified why many great ideas didn’t come to fruition in organizations.

They found that it was due to what they called “The Whirlwind”- the day job or the day-to-day things that need to get done to run the operations. We identify great ideas, goals that are very important to us; then we get sucked into the “urgent” tasks that need to get done on a day-to-day basis. The book then dives into the 4 disciplines of execution that offers tactical advice on how to achieve goals in addition to managing "The Whirlwind".


Discipline 1: Focus on the wildly important

This is a key discipline we tend to not think about regularly. If you are driven by goals, I guarantee you, you probably have more than 1 goal you are trying to accomplish. While that's OK to have several goals, it’s also important to get focused on the wildly important goal. Take some time thinking about your goals, prioritizing and picking your number one goal that would have the biggest impact for you. Focusing on a vital few is the key mantra in this discipline. It’s also important to be specific and clear on what the end game looks like with a target completion date.


The formula for penning your Wildly Important Goal (WIG):

I want to go from X (where you are today) to Y (ideal future state) by a certain date (deadline).


Let’s say you have several goals but you’ve identified that purchasing a home is your WIG; You can define your goal as: Move from renting (current state) to owning a home (future state) by December 31 ( Deadline).


Need help with identifying your wildly important goals? Checkout this blog to make a vision board.

Vision Board: How to create and leverage one in 5 easy steps


Discipline 2: Act on lead measures

This discipline to me is super powerful! It requires us to identify the critical actions that have the most impact on achieving your wildly important goal. In this step, take your time to think through and write down all the things you need to do in order to achieve your goal. Once you have your list, narrow down the 2-3 things that are most influential in achieving your goal.


So, what's a lead measure?- Lead measures are the key activities that drive the achievement of lag measures (a measure that tells you if you’ve achieved your goal). Going back to the home buying goal, you might list that you have to save money and improve your credit score (lag measures). The lead measures that have the most impact on achieving your lag measures (saving money, improving credit score) might be, having a monthly budget, paying your credit card bills on time and saving a certain amount every month.


Discipline 3: Create a compelling scoreboard

One example shared in the book really stuck with me. Have you ever been to a game where there was no score keeping? I bet the players and the audience quickly lose interest when there is no score keeping right? Same principle applies in achieving our goals. If we don't create a compelling scoreboard, we won’t have the visibility to how we are doing and where we are in our journey. In order to keep track of savings goals, it could be as simple as creating a monthly goal checklist or creating a dashboard to see where you are at with your savings vs your goal.


Discipline 4: Create a cadence of accountability

Creating a cadence of accountability means scheduling frequent, recurring touch base meetings in a corporate team environment to hold each other accountable. While I’ve seen the benefits of this discipline in a corporate environment, it’s equally effective when working towards individual goals. This could be a weekly self-reflection session where you set some time aside to see how you did with your lead measures in the last week, what you can do differently moving forward and have a clear path for the next week. Another effective way to create this would be to identify and work with an accountability partner: someone you can connect with to review your progress and report on your commitments to achieving your goals.


Another concept covered includes the 5 stages of behavior changes that we go through when applying these 4 disciplines:


  • Getting clear about the goals

  • Launch: start working on lead measures

  • Adoption: adhere to the defined actions, adjust as needed and focus on the process

  • Optimization: look for ways to optimize and become more efficient

  • Habits: applying this process eventually is habit forming. Once a desired behavior is established, it becomes easy to set new goals and achieve them with excellence over and over again.


So, the ultimate goal for us would be to apply these principles and form habits that serve us in the long run. I find this methodology so simple and effective to apply for any goal or behavior change we want to accomplish. Want to run a marathon, save money, learn a new skill or anything else that's important to you? Don’t wait, apply the 4 disciplines of execution to act on your next wildly important goal and let the process work it’s magic!


Want to learn more? Read The 4 Disciplines of Execution book or listen to it on Audible


Check out the Learning Leader podcast with Chris McChesney – How To Achieve Your Wildly Important Goals to listen to Chris talk about this concept.



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