Goals Managing Self Planning

Improve results with mastery goals

Written by Allison Wolf

Originally published on SLAW.ca

Have you ever noticed the big impact a small adjustment in your thinking and perspectives can have? How a shift in attitude can lead to a change in outcomes?

My coaching practice is all about helping people get the results they want by changing their behaviours. Behaviours change when we shift our thinking and challenge our own deep beliefs.

Setting mastery goals is a simple, effective practice for your own self–coaching.

Mastery goals are long term goals that track learning and progress over time. They are all about getting better – improving.

A mastery goal starts with the statement:

My goal is to get better at…


My goal is to master….

Determine what you want, rather than what you don’t want. The negative thought I want to stop being so bad at timekeeping and billing becomes I want to master the skills involved with timekeeping and billing.

The downbeat thought I have to stop being so behind in my practice becomes I want to become better at managing my files so that I can focus on important tasks sooner.

Having mastery as our goal motivates us to take on more challenges, try new things, and to stretch ourselves and our thinking. The pursuit of mastery encourages and supports us ask questions and seek help — to learn and move forward.

Mastery goals also help us to prioritise. Ask yourself, how are my actions helping me advance this skill? Give importance to activities that help you develop your mastery, and say no to things that don’t. This is a useful internal and personal guide to determine what to commit to and what choices to make.

By focusing on the goal of learning and developing our skills we can recover from setbacks more swiftly. They become opportunities to learn and understand what went wrong and what can be done differently next time. For instance, instead of a harsh blow to our self-esteem, tough feedback becomes a welcome source of information on how we can improve our skills.

Here is an example of performance vs. mastery goals:

Mary is not an experienced presenter. She knows this is important for the work she does and is committed to doing presentations even though she finds them difficult and stressful.

With a performance goal Mary is focused on being good. Before her next presentation she is focused on doing a good job. She finds herself experiencing a lot of worry about looking awkward in front of the audience, not being able to answer questions that arise, and about not appearing professional.

With a switch to a mastery goal Mary is focused on getting better at presenting. Before her next presentation she thinks about what she can improve. She considers the audience and what their needs might be; what information is going to be most valuable for them. When she slips into worrying about not being a skilled presenter, she reminds herself of the mastery goal – and her commitment to getting better. After each presentation she reflects on what went well and what improvements she could make next time.

Start this month: Establish a mastery goal for your legal practice or your personal life.

Fill in the blank: My goal is to master the skills involved in….

Write it down.

Track your progress towards this goal with monthly reviews on what you’ve learned, how you have developed, and how you’ve applied your new skills.

Watch for opportunities to learn and develop the abilities you have identified.

Notice the impact of making the shift from performance to mastery.

I would very much welcome hearing from you about your own journey towards mastery. Please take a moment to send me an email with your mastery goal, and follow up in a month to tell me how you have advanced. I look forward to hearing all about it.

About the author

Allison Wolf

I am the founder of AWAL and one of the most senior coaches for lawyers in North America. I have helped countless clients over the past fifteen years, develop thriving legal practices and before that served as director of marketing for award-winning law firms. My specialty is uncovering the thinking traps and gaps holding clients back and helping them acquire the mindsets, skills, and habits for growing successful and rewarding legal careers. After a career in legal marketing and business development with law firms in Beijing, New York, and Vancouver, I was trained as a coach in 2004 at Royal Roads University and now coach clients from across North America. You can reach me at allison@shiftworks.ca or learn more about my coaching practice from the coaching section of the Attorney With A Life Website.

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