Setting goals is the single-most powerful action you can take toward building the future you desire.
Not long ago I was stuck in a mid-life crisis, and I’m here to tell you that it stinks. No longer knowing what I wanted or having something to strive for completely sucked the joy out of living. Had I stopped reaching for my goals because I wasn’t achieving them, or was I not achieving them because I’d stopped reaching? A chicken-and-egg scenario that makes my head hurt. The point is, I wasted many months wandering aimlessly, taking up and discarding hobbies and interests that had nothing to do with attaining my lifelong vision, all because I was no longer grounded by my goals.
Why goals matter:
- Goals give you something to aim for. Without a target, your efforts will blow in the wind, largely unnoticed by you or anyone else. You might be working yourself to exhaustion, but to what end? And how will you know when you get there?
- Goals push you to achieve more than you otherwise would. If you’re a list-maker/box-checker like me, you feel a gratifying sense of accomplishment when you achieve something you set out to do. In turn, that sense of accomplishment entices you to try again, apply yourself in new ways and expand your vision.
- Goals help you focus your resources—time, money, energy, talent—on the things that matter most to you. Without goals, your resources get spread in directions that may not profit you in the long run.
Setting goals is easy for some people, but for many others, including myself, there’s a process to walk through and things that need to be considered. If left to randomness, goals, like many well-intended New Year’s resolutions, can be set aside when life becomes chaotic or something else shiny and new comes along. You have a better chance of making your goals stick if you plan ahead.
Write down your overall vision
A vision is bigger than a goal—think lifelong dream. Dig deep and consider what you really want and what would deeply disappoint you not to be, have or achieve. Once you have your vision written down, you can move on to goals. After all, goals are easier to set once you know what it really is you’re pursuing.
Set your goals
While a vision is not always achievable due to factors beyond your control, goals usually are. They will provide the framework that gives your vision a fighting chance. Goals must be:
- specific and measurable. You need to be able to keep track of progress.
- beyond what you already know you can do. How will you know what you’re capable of if you never push yourself to find out?
Look at where you are now vs. where you want to be. Two people with the same vision might have vastly different goals to get there. For example, a person whose vision is to be a bestselling author but has never written a book will have different goals than an author who’s published four or five books but still hasn’t hit the bestseller list.
Take your goals and break them into bite-sized chunks. These are items that will go on your to-do lists, propelling you toward your target. If Aunt Susie’s vision is to live a long and healthy life and her goal is to lose 40 pounds in a year, her action steps might include walking 10,000 steps a day and keeping a food log. A writer whose vision is to hit the bestseller list and whose goal is to write one book a year might have action steps that include writing 1,000 words a day and reducing internet time. (A-hem.)
If you don’t measure your progress, you might think you’re moving forward when in reality you’re treading water. Don’t assume that just because you’re busy all the time that you’re actually making headway on your goals. There are goal-tracking apps that can help you, or you can go the old-fashioned way like me, keeping a list and checking off boxes. For those of you who’ve never tried it, there’s a lot of satisfaction in checking a box!
There are times when no matter what you do, achieving a goal just isn’t going to happen, or it’s not going to happen in the time frame you specified for yourself. Aunt Susie’s goal of losing 40 pounds might have to be reconsidered if she discovers she has a thyroid issue, for example. There’s no shame in modifying your goals based on new information or a change in your life circumstances! It’s important to be realistic in order to divert discouragement.
Don’t wait for January 1 to establish your goals! There’s never a better time to propel yourself forward than today.