How to set goals that you’ll want to achieve
This is one of the most difficult topics to write about and believe that I’ll actually be able to have an impact.
Interestingly — It is also true that if I can have some influence — this may be one of those things that sets you on a path to tremendous changes in your life and exponential improvements in your well-being.
If it isn’t apparent already, I believe in the importance of process. In iteration. If we set up and work through a quality process — the results will take care of themselves. Teach someone how to fish — rather than handing over fish.
So when it comes to setting goals — it’s no different. As much as I’d like to offer you a simple prescription — that’s just not how it works. I cannot take your age, sex, marital status, debt to income ratio, astrological sign, and favorite color and spit out what goals you should be pursuing. If only…..
We need to establish a framework for thinking about our goals that allows us to find (without a lot of toil) goals that resonate with us. Setting goals that are realistic enough that we believe they can be achieved. Let me reiterate that last point — it’s too often ignored by internet guru’s. Goals must resonate AND be realistic enough that WE BELIEVE they can be achieved. Even if that belief is far off in the back of our minds.
Because otherwise, it’s just a list of aspirations on paper that might as well be tossed in the fire after you’ve written them out. I’m not interested in giving you BS or telling you to shoot for impractical goals. There is plenty of snake-oil on the internet. You didn’t come to Pursuing Balance for that. (rant over).
I’ve listened to many respected podcasts, read best-selling books, and well-researched articles, attended seminars, and talks by brilliant minds. All hoping to find the perfect list of goals for me. Looking to have them handed to me.
Nothing seemed to click.
It wasn’t until I sat down last year and committed 100% to establish goals that all of the information I’d been collecting started to coalesce around the method I’ll review here.
After sorting through many (many) online resources for setting goals, I found one that set me on the right path. It started with an article published by Fast Company called, “How To Set Goals For The Life You Actually Want.”
In that article they recommend 4 rather unique questions to help frame the goal-setting process.
- How do you want to spend your time?
- What activities make you want to leap out of bed?
- What do you want to learn?
- Who do you want to hang out with?
Once these questions are (honestly) answered, you start to build out a goal statement that will take you on a journey leading toward actualizing these answers.
As noted in the article, “the specific goal you set is almost arbitrary — it’s simply setting a direction so the pursuit itself gives you the life that you want. With the right journey, it won’t even matter if you reach your goal.” (my emphasis).
The answers to these questions begin to frame things. Setting a broad outline of how you want your life to be. It becomes a rather large goal statement — but one that fits with who you are if you answered the questions authentically. The real magic, however, happens in the second part of this exercise.
Update: Just this week I listened to the “Accidental Creative” podcast and he laid out a very similar approach. He notes, “Instead of simply writing a list of goals, begin with a set of questions that might help you think about the upcoming year in a new way.” Brilliant!
Here are my answers to the four questions for last year:
- Leading my life and my team (rather than letting life happen to me). Learning to be better. Training, loving, coaching, and experiencing the beauty and diversity of life with my family.
- Training, leading, earning a good salary, solving problems.
- Better leadership skills. Energy systems training (for sports), how to be a better weightlifter, how to be a better coach, how to engage employees and team athletes.
- Goal-oriented, motivated individuals. Aggressive go-getters, entrepreneurs, thought leaders, weightlifters, coaches, my family.
These answers led to the following goal statement: This year I will work toward becoming a stand out research administrator and leader at the University of Rochester and within the professional community. I will become an expert in team (employees and athletes) engagement and in topical areas within research administration. Over the course of this year I will find ways to work more directly with experienced weightlifters and seek out training partners. I will become a knowledgeable resource for the local soccer community. I will take the time to experience the beauty of life.
After you’ve formulated your goal statement. You then take the elements of it and develop actionable goals around them. You are reverse-engineering the statement so that it becomes a reality in 2017.
In order to achieve X, I’ll need to do these five things.
Did your goal statement include getting healthier? Then set a goal to workout 2–3 times per week for the next month. Maybe you even set smaller goals under that — each workout will last 15 minutes. Then you give yourself some early wins on the path to the larger goal of getting healthy. You may even want to establish some goals around getting a gym membership, finding a workout partner, getting some gym clothes. Whatever steps it will take to get you toward the stated end — you map them out.
Perhaps your goal statement, like mine, included something about experiencing things with your family. Perhaps in your mind, this triggers the idea of going away hiking for a week (that’s what it means to me!), or taking a trip to Europe, or going to a theme park. That’s great!
Specific goals around that statement might include developing a budget for the trip, deciding on a location by a specific date, booking any accommodations which might be necessary, requesting time off from work, and planning out some basic activities while you are on the trip.
Why does this exercise work where others didn’t?
These questions spoke (albeit indirectly) to our why. The answers to the questions required some specifics and some “what”. However, when I got to the end and started thinking about the journey I would take to achieve these goals, my why came blazing through.
When establishing goals with this process we automatically connect with them at a fundamental level. They become an expression of our “why.” You’ll find that being connected to your goals makes whatever hard choices you’ll need to make along the journey that much more palatable and actionable.
By answering the initial questions honestly, and establishing a set of goals that leads to realizing those statements, we become connected to the goals in a way we may not have before. These are not new year’s resolutions.
Try the process and see what comes out on the other side. 2016 was one of my best years. I am anticipating that working through my 2017 goals will yield similar results.
Best of luck and Happy New Year!