There is an old saying: “Most people aim at nothing in life . . . and hit it with amazing accuracy.” It is a sad commentary about people, but it is true. It is the striving for and the attainment of goals that makes life meaningful.
People who have no goals feel emotionally, socially, spiritually, physically, and professionally unbalanced. This can only cause anxiety. People who have goals make decisions that affect the direction of their life positively, which is a sign of strength. Goals create drive and positively affect your personality.
Rules of Goal Setting
Most people, when asked, “What are your goals in life?” say something like, “To be happy, healthy, and have plenty of money.” On the surface, this may seem fine. As goals leading to actions, however, they just do not make it. They do not have the key ingredients necessary to make them effective, workable goals.
- Your goal must be personal. Your goals must be something you want to do rather than something you think you should do. Know your reasons for having the goal. Whether you want to achieve something for status, money, or good health is secondary as long as you want it badly enough to work hard for it.
- Your goal must be positive. We tend to focus on ideas and actions from a positive framework. Rather than saying, “I will not smoke today,” phrase it differently, “I will breathe only clean air today” which is a statement that serves the same purpose and is more positive.
- Your goal must be written. Writing a goal down causes effects that are a bit difficult to explain. It does, nonetheless, prove effective. Written goals take a jump in status from being nebulous thoughts. Perhaps their being written serves as a visual reminder and thus continually reconfirms their importance. When things are “put in writing”, they become official in our minds. A written goal strengthens our commitment to accomplish it.
- Your goal must be specific. Do not set your goal by saying “I will increase my sales next year.” You need to be specific to avoid the lack of commitment that comes with being vague. A more workable and motivating goal would be, “I will increase my sales next year by 10 to 15 percent.” This revised statement defines the increase that you are striving for as well as the range of the desired increase. Giving yourself some leeway is more realistic than expecting to hit your goal at exactly 15 percent.
- Your goal must be a challenge. A goal must motivate you to work harder than you have in the past. It must move you forward. Set your goals just beyond your reach so that you will have to stretch a bit.
- Your goal must be realistic. Everything is relative to time and space. What is unrealistic today may be totally within reason five years from now. In any field, we never really know what the upper limits are. How, then, do we define realistic? For our purposes, the best definition must come from you and your values. You must ask yourself, “What price am I willing to pay to accomplish this goal?” You should always weigh the payoffs and the sacrifices involved before coming to a conclusion. Realistic is ultimately your decision.
Working Toward Your Goals
Now that you know the rules for setting goals, you can apply them to the goals you set for yourself. Here is an explanation of each of the areas you need to complete while working toward your goals:
- Define your goal. Determine whether your goal meets all the requirements of the rules listed above. If it does, then write it down as clearly as possible.
- Examine obstacles that stand in your way. This is a time to guard against negative assumptions and self-defeating thoughts. Remember the definition of realistic. An obstacle blocks you only if you let it. Write down innovative ways to overcome
- I.I.F.M.—What’s in it for me? Why do you want to achieve the goal? What kind of payoff is motivating you?
- Plan your action. You need to carefully list the action steps you will take to bring you closer to your goal. The smaller the increments, the easier they will be to accomplish. A German proverb says, “He who begins too much, accomplishes little”. As the American Dental Association is fond of saying, “Don’t bite off more than you can chew.”
- Project a target date for your goal. State your deadline range, such as, “between March 15 and April 1st.” Think carefully about the amount of time you need. Too little time will increase pressure and frustrate you. Too much time may reduce your drive.
- Know how you will measure your success. Goals should be described in terms of the
final outcome of an activity rather than as the activity. This is part of being specific. Instead of saying “I will be running more in four to six months,” you could say, “I’ll be running three miles instead of two miles in four to six months.” How will you measure this? Probably by having one-third more blisters on your feet.
Inspiration and Motivation
The dividends reaped by investing in yourself are unlike any other found in the financial world. When you clarify your values and set goals in all the major areas of your life–mental, physical, family, social, spiritual, professional, and financial– the right roads appear in front of you like mirages in the desert, yet they are real. Choices become infinitely easier to make because you are aiming at something specific and you have taken a giant step toward hitting your goals…with amazing accuracy.