Now this is a topic I’ve been pretty obsessive about for as long as I can remember. I probably started setting goals back when I was lifting weights at around 20-odd, though I never really took it too seriously until 24. Over the last few years I’ve sat down at the end of each year and set goals for the following, breaking them down into monthly and weekly targets. There’s been a great deal of trial and error in my approach, some systems working very effectively, some not so much.
I think goals are such an incredibly important concept that can help us lead the lives we truly want to. They are also incredibly misunderstood. This is what I want to try and shed some light on in this post. Provide a little clarification as to the right way to go about setting goals and most importantly, reaching them.
What is a Goal?
It seems as though the word goal was used in the 16th century to mean ‘end point of a race’. Since then it has adapted to signify the ‘place where a ball is put’ in sporting terms. The term we are looking at however, can be summarised by trusty ‘ol Wikipedia as an idea of the future or desired result that a person or a group of people envisions, plans and commits to achieve.
Now this was perhaps the original version of a goal, though I believe that may have somewhat changed. That’s probably best defined now as a vision.
Vision vs Goal
Ah the vision. He was a real visionary, a phrase you may have heard bandied around from time to time, describing that successful individual who can seemingly predict the future. Well, in all likelihood, he was. You see, having a clear vision, imagining yourself in the scenario you are trying to reach, is the first step in getting there. It’s arguably an essential step. I don’t know how it’s possible to reach any place of significance without first visualising yourself in that position.
Here’s a great video of UFC phenom Conor Mcgregor explaining visualisation;
I was listening to an interview with Jordan Belfort a couple of years ago (the Mr Belfort of Wolf of Wall Street fame). He distinguished the idea of having a vision as your over-arching target, what you are actually trying to achieve, while putting goals in place to help you get there. Goals were not the be-all end-all but simply stepping stones to help you reach the vision. The vision was made up of exactly what your life would look like on a day-to-day basis; your family, your social circles, how you would view yourself, your financial position, your work… everything important essentially.
This has probably been the biggest lightswitch for me in my own goal-setting. To set effective goals, and to give everything to reach them, you have to have a clear understanding of where they will take you. Otherwise, what’s the point? Once you do hit it, what then? You have to understand the next stage and then the next stage after that. They all have to be snowballing towards your final vision for where you want to be in life. That will keep you focused and driven to reach them.
How to Set Goals
It all starts with your vision. This will determine what goals you are going to set. Now, pick an estimated time-frame for your vision. Of course, you’d like it to be today, but be realistic. Let’s say it’s 5+ years down the track.
You need to set yourself 5-year goals that will have you on track to reach that vision. Reverse engineer the process. Then, you need to work backwards and set yourself 1-year goals that will put you on a path towards meeting those 5-year goals. Then set quarterly or monthly, weekly and finally, daily goals to help govern what you do on a day-to-day basis to move towards that grand vision.
Now, in setting those goals, the standard model to use is the SMART Metric;
- Specific: Don’t be vague. Exactly what do you want?
- Measurable: Quantify your goal. How will you know if you’ve achieved it or not?
- Attainable: Be honest with yourself about what you can reasonably accomplish at this point in your life while taking into consideration your current responsibilities.
- Realistic: It’s got to be doable, real and practical.
- Time: Associate a time frame with each goal. When should you complete the goal?
For example, Kobe Bryant may have had a vision of being the greatest basketball player of all time. He didn’t just leave it at that. He figured he would need to out-do Michael Jordan to reach that vision. So he would have to win 7 rings, 5 MVPs etc… In starting his career, his 5 year goals might have been;
- Win a Championship
- Win the MVP
- Be the NBA leading scorer
Now his yearly goals from that rookie season;
- Win Rookie of the year
- Help Lakers Improve record from last season
- Shoot 48% from the field
Now I’ve read and heard a lot from Kobe Bryant, though I have absolutely no idea what his specific goals were. I do know though, that his aim was to be the best. To reach that, put more time into practice and preparation than anyone else. He used to set himself daily goals of, for example, making 800 shots before practice started. This vision and this relentless pursuit towards it is what led to Kobe becoming one of the greatest players of all time.
You don’t need to be quite so ambitious with your goals. You can however, learn from the process.
How to Reach Your Goals
First and foremost, have them on display, somewhere you’re going to see them every single day. The background of your phone, a post-it note on the fridge, a notepad on your bedside table. Anywhere that’s going to remind you of what you’re aiming for.
Goals should define what you are doing in your day to day life. Practically everything you do should be aimed towards achieving them. After all, this is the life you want to achieve for yourself.
It’s also important to look at this as an ongoing process. Perhaps redefining and re-setting goals if they are not taking you in the direction you wish to go. Reviewing your goals is an important part of the process.
The process of evaluation:
Pick a regular interval to review
Whether it is once a week, every other week, once a month or quarter, be sure to set aside a regular time at regular intervals to evaluate and reflect.
Look at the results and evaluate
Look at what you have accomplished in the last period and where you are. Be specific. Be truthful. Be ruthlessly honest.
Write It Down
Keep a record. This gives you the chance at the next stage of evaluation to see exactly where you were last time and keeps it as objective as possible.
Set your next goals for the week/month/quarter/year. Base these on how you’ve faired in the previous period and adjust as necessary. Just make sure they are leading you towards your vision.
Evaluation forces you to assess whether you are on track with your goals, whether you are actually progressing towards them or if there are things you need to change. It also allows you to adjust or ‘upgrade’ your goals as you hit them or as circumstances change.
Renowned psychologist Jordan Peterson made an interesting point I heard in one of the lectures he has up on Youtube. He basically suggests that goals that we set today are bargains with our future selves. We have to fulfil in the future what we have committed to today, though we may very well not be entirely the same person anymore, with the same desires. So make sure your goals are truly what you want in your heart-of-hearts and don’t commit yourself for any other reason. That said, it’s also a good idea not to blindly blunder towards a goal you may not truly care for anymore. Hence the process of evaluation and assessing on a regular basis.