Why Bother Setting Goals?
“If you don’t know where you are going, any road can take you there.” (Lewis Carroll)
You are here on this planet for the duration. What will you do with the time that is allotted to you? Who will you become? What will you have in your life: which people, things, and experiences? What will your legacy be? When you know the answers to these questions, you will be able to direct your energies, impulses, and activities — your will — with greater clarity toward the achievements that really matter to you.
Knowing these answers will help you attract and generate that which will enrich and enliven your days, allowing you to experience ever-greater levels of satisfaction, fulfilment, and joy. Your outer life will align with your inner values, and you will be living in greater wholeness. Does this sound good? It all depends on you being able to set meaningful goals.
Long-term vision and short-term motivation
You are unlikely to find a book or course on goal-setting which does not proclaim that, when you engage it, you are in good company. Most successful business people, championship athletes, and high achievers in all fields set goals. Being forced to get clear enough on what you want in order to write it down focuses the way you go about gathering information and knowledge and directs your actions, which in turn helps you to organise your time and resources in order to maximally attract your desired outcomes.
Setting lifetime goals generates the long-term vision for your life, and when you break down the big, whole-of-life goals into smaller units — ones that you can accomplish in the next year or even next month — your motivation is maintained and increased. Clearly defined, measurable goals allow you to see your progress, taking pride in your achievements and giving impetus to effort that otherwise might have seemed like pointless toil. As you notch up different “goals met” on your belt of accomplishments, your competence, sense of mastery, and self-esteem go up as well (Mind Tools, 2015).
Raising the odds by 1000 percent
Do you like taking risks, or would you prefer to have pretty good odds when you invest your time and effort into something? Brian Tracy claims that the mere act of writing out one’s goals, making plans for accomplishing them, and then working on them daily, increases by 1000 percent (that is, ten times) the likelihood of achieving them. Written goals — the only ones we are considering as valid goals in this article — do not guarantee success, but they vastly increase the probability of accomplishing your aims. Given that the main “investment” is a piece of paper, a pen, and a few minutes, those are exceptionally good odds.
The reason writing down a goal (thus birthing it) is so effective is because it is a “psychoneuromotor” activity: one involving your psyche or mind/brain, your eyes, and your hands. With so much of you involved, the act of writing sends a message to your subconscious mind: “This is important; go gather up the energy to manifest this.” The subconscious mind — ever your servant — then goes to work 24/7 to bring your goal into reality. Tracy sometimes tells course participants and audiences that those three percent who have written down their goals are the ones for whom everyone else is working (Tracy, 2010).
Impressed? Let’s review one method of setting goals.
The Seven-Step Method of setting goals
If all you do is write down what you want, posting it somewhere like the fridge or the bathroom mirror (where you will look at it often), you are still more likely to achieve your goal than the person who is merely “thinking about it”. There are, however, some additional strategies to ensure success. Encompassing multiple tiers of goal setting, the following method is simple but useful. Try to memorise the steps.
1. Decide exactly what you want
This very first step sounds obvious, but two warnings here: a) You must be specific about what you want: if it’s a financial goal, the idea is to say how much money you want to earn, not just that you want to earn more; b) It must be something you want. What your mother, your partner, or Uncle Joe want for you can be taken into consideration, but ultimately it is your energy, time, and motivation invested, so don’t be afraid to be selfish here; it is your goal; it is for your life, and you are the one who will bring it to fruition, experiencing the consequences of achieving it or not. You must want it — really want it.
2. Write it down
As we noted above, writing down makes it real. Have you ever watched smoke coming off a candle or cigarette? It drifts away and disappears without power or effect; it does not feel real. A written goal, on the other hand, is something you can look at. You can hear it read out loud, touch the page it is printed on, and shape it until it “fits” you.
3. Set a deadline for your goal
What date should you pick? Give yourself a reasonable amount of time by when you will achieve this goal. Your subconscious mind will get revved up, bringing the fulfilled goal back to you more efficiently if it is working to a pre-set deadline (just like you can work productively to particular deadlines). If you miss the deadline due to either external circumstances or something within yourself, don’t fret. Just set another deadline. The first one was your best guess at how long you would need; as you move along toward the goal, the amount of time you will actually need becomes clearer. With big goals, break them up into smaller objectives.
4. Make a list of everything that you can think of that you could possibly do to achieve your goal
What are the obstacles and difficulties (both external and internal)? List them. What additional skills and knowledge do you need? Write this down. From whom do you need cooperation or support? Name these people/roles. List everything you believe you will have to do, and then add to this list as new tasks and responsibilities occur to you. Keep writing until your list feels complete.
5. Organise your list by both sequence and priority
On your list of tasks organised by sequence, you will be stating what you must do first, what you must do second, and so on. Those same tasks organised by priority state what the most important thing is to do, followed by the next most important things and so on. For instance, if your goal is to get the Diploma of Human Resources Management, you may have a high-priority goal of passing the course, “Undertaking project work” (as it may be highly relevant to what you wish to do when you get your diploma), so it may be at the top of your priority list. But in order to do any project work, you may need to clear up your schedule, finding someone to pick the kids up from school and be with them when they get home. You may need to pass another course before you are eligible for the project one, and so on. Thus on your sequence list, the “Undertaking project work” course may appear some ways down the list. Both lists will be helpful to attaining your goal.
6. Take action on your plan right away
There is a saying in anthropology that, once you have decided what culture you want to study, get into the “field” right away, for you are losing data daily. Translated to goal-setting, we could say, “Once you have decided on your goal, take action right away, as you are losing opportunities daily.” With the goal chosen, don’t delay. Don’t procrastinate. Take a step, however small, toward your goal right now. The difference between those who get their goal and those who don’t is that the “winners” have taken the first step. From there, they can see what the next step is, and they take that, being able to see the third step that must be taken, and so on. Goal achievers know that there is no guarantee of success. They are willing to face failure and disappointment, but ultimately experience that less as they are willing to take action.
7. Do something every day that moves you in the direction of your major goal
If you have ever pushed a car that wouldn’t start down a slightly declined road, you already know what momentum is. You give a big “heave ho” to get the car moving, then push a wee bit more, and soon it is rolling on its own down the road (hopefully with someone in the driver’s seat), going faster and faster. With goals, this last step is the key that guarantees you will roll right down to success: that you do something every single day to move toward the goal. Anything that moves you closer to the goal is fair game. The sense of momentum that builds will motivate, inspire, and energise you. The good news here is that, as you play with developing momentum, it will become a habit and soon all your activities will be momentum-building ones (Tracy, 2010).
- Mind Tools. (2015). Personal goal setting: planning to live your life your way. MindTools.com. Retrieved on 30 December, 2015, from: hyperlink.
- Tracy, B. (2010). No excuses! The power of self-discipline. New York: MJF Books.