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The GRUEN goal test

Updated: Jun 1, 2022

Do you have a goal but aren’t sure if you’re really achieving the results you want in the time you want? Here is a framework to test your goal and check if it is set up to work effectively for you. I call it the GRUEN goal test.

As background, the Gruen effect is a marketing term that describes the shopping mall experience where the mall design intentionally disorientates and distracts the consumer. By setting a convoluted path, with many flashy, eye catching distractions the consumer is distracted from their intended purchase and makes other purchases along the way. If you have ever entered a mall with a specific purchase in mind and walked out later than expected with unplanned purchases (or a whole new list of extraneous wants), then you can be sure the Gruen effect has been at work. The intentionally disorienting and distracting design has accomplished its intended purpose of sidetracking you, the consumer, from your intended target. It has probably also resulted in you handing over more hard earned cash than planned or expected.

If you run this GRUEN test over your goal and you get a tick on one or more of the criteria, it’s a an alert and challenge to refine your goal so that it does not tick a GRUEN factor. GRUEN factors will derail or distract you from your target or delay the time taken to get the result you want.

The GRUEN goal test is effectively a counterpart to setting a SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time bound) goal.

To apply the GRUEN test simply ask, ‘Is my goal:

  • General?

  • Relative?

  • Unrealistic?

  • Extraneous?

  • Not time bound?

General - Goals that lack specificity are hard to achieve. If you cannot say exactly what will be achieved (or maintained) then it is a general goal and you will be easily distracted or feel vague about how to get there or even disoriented on the journey. An example of a general goal is ‘I want to be fit’. Ask five different people what fit is and they will each have a different answer based on what they can do with their specific fitness. I can ride a push bike 100km but not run 2km – am I fit? I am fit for riding 100km. A Specific (SMART ) fitness goal would be ‘I want to be fit for the Big Canberra Bike Ride event’. When my goal is specific I can see more clearly what actions support the goal and I don’t need to worry or get distracted by thoughts such as should I be out getting running fitness (unless I know specifically how it will benefit this goal also). By being specific about the event I can identify if fitness for that event includes riding only on flat terrain or up and down hills, on sealed roads or mountain bike tracks.

Relative - Goals that have a relative target, more or less, better, bigger, smaller, longer, faster etc., have no point of success and if reached have no completion point. The counterpart expressed in a SMART goal framework is something Measurable. A goal of spending more time with the children is relative. A measurable goal would be ‘I will spend 1 hr each day with my children’ or ‘I will support my child by attending one sporting event each month’. My fitness goal above may be ‘I want to complete the Big Canberra Bike Ride 67km road course without a rest break’. This goal has a defined route and defined and the number of rest breaks is easily measured by counting.

Unrealistic - If an essential skill or attribute required for a job, task or result is lacking, it is unrealistic to expect to win a job in that field. The SMART counterpart is a Realistic goal. Success with a realistic interim goal is likely to plug a gap and give confidence to take on a bigger (previously unrealistic) goal. I love fly-fishing and have participated in some competitive casting events. Setting a goal of competing in a national event would be unrealistic before I have succeeded with goals to be competitive at the club, regional or state level. There may be any number of other factors that are relevant to setting a realistic or achievable goal such as finances and time or even conflicts with other goals.

Extraneous (or errant) - A task that is extraneous distracts, does not support, is off-track or errant from the path to your key outcome, desired result or higher level goal. The SMART counterpart is a relevant goal, task or objective. Is this action supporting the outcome – what I want to be different or maintained? If my bike riding fitness goal to participate in the Big Canberra Bike Ride event requires hill climbing ability, then just training longer and longer distances on flat roads may be extraneous or of minimal value. If I want to be effective in my engagement with senior managers, filling my calendar with more appointments talking to subordinates is likely to be extraneous activity that distracts from my primary goal.

No time boundary - Goals that lack a specific timeframe or one that is too far into the future. Examples of poor time boundaries expressions could be ‘to be fit’, ‘to get a promotion’, ‘by the time I retire’, or ‘next year’. These last two examples have a time reference but they may be too vague to be useful in practise. The SMART counterpart is to have a specific timeframe for completion. My earlier bike riding goal example might now be expressed as ‘to complete the March 2018 Big Canberra Bike Ride 67km road course without a rest break in under 3 hours’. This goal now has two time elements, one for the date of the event and one for the time taken to complete the event. It’s now a SMART goal not a GRUEN goal.

Don't fall short because of a GRUEN (General, Relative, Unrealistic, Extraneous or No time boundary) goal. Set SMART (Specific, Measurable, Realistic, Achievable and Time bound) goals and celebrate your success.

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