SOCRATES does take longer than traditional goal-setting techniques but has the major advantage of maximising the chances of achievement and reducing the need for reworking because engagement and commitment is established prior to the start of the activity. The mnemonic stands for:
The process is not difficult, but there are some potentially serious dangers:
- Allowing insufficient time up front for the full exploration of the SOCRATES model
- Letting the task begin with a commitment level of less than 8
- Not ensuring that interim outcomes, those necessary to enable the overall outcome, are also ‘well-formed’ and tested for commitment
The mnemonic has three distinct phases, and is a checklist for the things to go through to achieve well-formed outcomes. The three phases, which we will consider in turn, are:
- Setting the scene
- Dealing with the details
- Commitment and implementation
1: Setting the scene
Setting the scene is all about the description of the goal. Goals expressed in positive language have a much better chance of being achieved – as do goals which are under the control of the person or team concerned.
- What is your goal, stated in positive language?
- What do you want instead of the current problem?
- Is this within your personal control to make happen?
- If not, what can you bring within your control, as a result of which achievement of the originally stated objective becomes more likely?
2: Dealing with the details
For this phase, imagine that you are in the future and the goal is already fully achieved.
Clarify your evidence for successful achievement.
Engage your senses by checking for sensory specific data – things that you can see, hear or feel as evidence of the goal having been achieved, therefore making the whole thing more real.
- From a perspective of having achieved it, what are you seeing, hearing, feeling and thinking that tell you it is done? Identify as many different criteria as possible.
- Now that you know it is finally achieved, looking back, how have you done this?
- What strengths have you noticed you have used?
- What other resources have you brought into play, and how?
- Whose help did you involve, and how did you get it?
- What is the most elegant sequence of events that you can now see with the advantage of hindsight?
Add in what’s important
Add in what’s important about it to you. You will only begin to sense commitment and motivation if there is some tangible benefit to you.
- What is having done this doing for you?
- What’s important to you about this achievement?
- What does your achievement do to those people most directly affected by it: in the professional context – and in your personal life?
- If the consequences are adverse, can you modify the goal to take care of the problem? Remember that you are still thinking about this from the future perspective.
- Alternatively you can decide to proceed anyway but take additional steps to discuss and pre-empt the impact with the affected parties ahead of time.
Explore the Ecology
- Who else is affected by your achievement?
- What other ripple effects can you identify?
- Are they acceptable to you? If not, what can you do in the light of this knowledge?
This phase identifies the critical first steps and tests the commitment to them.
Staying in ‘future state’, in other words having already achieved the goal:
- Looking back, what were the first 2 or 3 steps you took towards this achievement?
To test commitment to these first steps, we need to come back to the present time:
- Thinking about these first few steps and the longer term outcome, what is your level of commitment to it?
- Give your commitment a score out of 10 – with 10 being absolutely committed to it and 0 being no motivation for it at all. Trust your intuition and take the number you thought of first.
- If 10, you will give it your best shot.
- If 8 or 9, we need to check what else is necessary to get you to a 10 – and add that into the goal description.
- If 7 or less, you’re probably not going to do it (even though you think you will).
- What do you get (that is positive) out of not achieving this goal?