Whether a top exec or a prison inmate, setting goals is a priority

Article originally published in

By Nancy Keny

Whether you are a top corporate executive or a prison inmate in a pre-release program, professional & personal coaching can help you achieve your goals and create movement toward success and change. The same coaching principles used in corporations to achieve goals can be applied just about anywhere and with anyone.

I had the opportunity recently to facilitate a workshop for about 40 Franklin County women prisoners in a pre-release program. The workshop topic was on goal setting. Even though goal setting and prison sounds like an oxymoron, they still need to prepare for their eventual release from prison. Now is the time for them to start preparing and setting short and long term goals, not when they are released.

The workshop consisted of the same coaching process that I would use with a corporate executive when setting and achieving goals:

1. Choose a clear and specific goal.

I had them each choose a goal that, if accomplished, would make a significant positive impact on their lives. All goals must be very specific and quantifiable. Something like “get a job” is not specific enough. What specific kind of job, how much must they make to stay off welfare, what skills or education does the job require and how can they be working on them while in prison?

2. Reality Check

The next step was to ask if the goal they had set was realistic. Is it humanly possible to achieve? Are they physically, emotionally and intellectually capable of doing it? Should they do it? Is it in keeping with their values?

3. Motivating Factor

If the goal is realistic, they must decide what is motivating them to want to have this goal. There must be a compelling reason to choose this or there won’t be follow-through. Factors such as “creating a safer and better life for my children” are pretty motivating to want to work toward getting a particular job.

4. Identifying and overcoming obstacles

They next identified obstacles they could foresee getting in the way of achieving their goal.

During the workshop, I took them through a “goal in the distance” visualization in which they look out a window and choose a spot in the distance, such as a building top or tree, which represents their goal. The question then is “what do you need to do to get from where you are sitting to your goal in the distance?” The things in-between represent obstacles that need to be identified and overcome.

When I do this exercise in other workshops the answers are such things as “I have to stand up, climb over the desk, go out the window, across the street and traffic…” The response in prison was “I have to get passed the warden, the prison guard, the guard dogs, over the barbed wire fence and away from the police helicopter” Now those are some obstacles!

All of these are metaphorical yet real life obstacles. Obstacles take on so many different subliminal forms from the “gremlins” which are those voices that tell us “you can’t do that, you’ve tried and failed before, you’re not smart enough…” to the tangible-not enough education, experience, skill….

Once the obstacles are specifically identified, the next step is to create a doable game plan to overcome them.

5. Break goal and/or obstacle into smaller doable actions

What makes people procrastinate and not start working on their goals is the enormity and sense of overwhelm associated with even the thought of starting them.

The key to moving forward with less overwhelm and more momentum is to break the goal or obstacle down into smaller action steps. With each goal/obstacle, brainstorm and ask “what is the first thing I need to do to achieve or overcome this? What is the second, third, etc?” The women at the workshop found this part gave them a more hopeful and concrete direction.

6. Schedule smaller actions into dayplanner

Scheduling the smaller action steps into a dayplanner on a specific day and time increases the probability of follow-through.

During the workshop, I asked who used a dayplanner. As expected, dayplanner and prison constituted another oxymoron.

I showed them how to use a weekly plan sheet to schedule their smaller goals which ranged from 1/2 hour of daily exercise to 1 hour per day of career research in the library.

7. Accountability

Creating a weekly accountability and support system such as a coach, is one of the most important strategies to ensuring achievement of goals and keeping on track. It is proven that working synergistically is far greater than working alone.

In conclusion, the main point is the principles of coaching, when applied properly, can apply to almost any situation or individual. The key is keeping the steps in order and being open and honest with yourself. If you can do this, you are well on your way to achieving your goals.