Importance of Setting Goals: Winning Every Day

“What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.” – Zig Ziglar

So you set goals. Every day you take a look at your tasks list, glance over the to-do list you just made this morning—then decide to update it, again. Oh, there’s a lot of work to do, you say. How can I possibly do all of this? You watch out for whether your stress levels compete with everything else again. Time is running out.

In any case, do you appreciate the importance of setting goals in the first place? Do you see light amidst this seemingly dark times (read: era of information overload)? Do you still believe in this whole goal-setting thing?

Before I go on, let’s have a bit of review.

You might already be familiar with the famous SMART Goals. It has been around for decades now, and different “versions” of it has come out since.

One version I like, though, is Tim Brownson’s SMARTER Goals:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Action-oriented
  • Realistic
  • Time-bound
  • Environmental or Ecological
  • Rewarding

To me the last two points he makes talk about how we must set goals that could make this world a better place, and that could fulfill our very existence.

Newer versions have also come out. Check out the HARD Goals by Mark Murphy:

  • Heartfelt
  • Animated
  • Required
  • Difficult

Goals must be, well, hard, he says, as we won’t maximize our full potential if we only settle for Realistic goals.

Interesting stuff, isn’t it? However, I’m not going to talk about SMART or HARD Goals. Instead, I’m going to remind you about the whole point of setting goals, especially if you feel like you’re stuck in a rut. I’m going to remind you that setting goals is a sacred part of life, that you could do better—always.

Setting goals narrows things to a focus.

We live in the digital age. Take a moment to acknowledge all the clutter and noise you see, and hear, whenever you sit in front of your computer, use your smartphone or tablet, or watch the TV. And add to that your (really) unique interests you want to pursue on top of the daily grind. What time is it, again?

Now, if you do want to get to that one goal, ask yourself, do you really need all that clutter and noise? If not, is it okay to allow them to bother you to begin with?

tv kidOf course, I admit that clutter and noise can make us feel good. There are simply a lot of weird and interesting things to learn about—our time has never been better, at least as far as interesting things are concerned.

But the truth is, letting your guard down with these “nuggets” can actually slow you from doing the things not only you want, but also those you want to work hard for.

Setting goals makes you realize that greatness does not happen in comfort zones.

This is what Mark Murphy talks about. Like, SMART Goals may have worked some time ago, but they simply won’t in 2016 anymore—goals must be hard to achieve.

And I agree on that.

Recall an achievement of yours. Did you reach it just by settling with the skills you had then? Didn’t you have to better them so that you could get what you genuinely wanted?

Some of your goals might be tricky; you know, that’s what they coined the term busywork for—when you keep working for “goals” because you feel like you’re accomplishing a lot, when the truth is you just don’t want to go through the hassle of stretching yourself—out of your comfort zone.

A great rule of thumb, then, would be to achieve a particular goal, and then attack the next bigger one. The next ones usually seem a lot scarier, but they are worth it.

Setting goals helps you become more consistent.

You know why a lot of people fail in almost any field they call their “passion”?

Because they stop. They stop showing up. They stop being consistent.

“Stopping” itself may not simply be the reason to it, though—stopping could only be the symptom of bigger underlying causes, like overthinking, not being able to see and understand results, or perhaps not setting more specific goals.

At any rate, consistency means inner strength, and is one of the reasons and results of setting goals.

mountaineerJust imagine this: Let’s say you want to travel the world, but you’re stuck in an apparently dead-end job, you have four kids, and you don’t really have an idea how to start because you work 12 hours a day, you commute for three hours, and of course, you maintain peace and order at home.

It just dawns upon you. How on earth can I travel the world? Who am I kidding?

You realize that it most probably will take years for you to reach the dream.

You know what? You can do what seems impossible for now. One secret is setting goals—and being consistent on the whole in achieving them—there’s just no other way around this.

Setting goals strengthens or expands your interpersonal relationships.

A study at Dominican University shows the relationship of writing down goals and successfully achieving them; it has been inspired by the widespread Yale (or Harvard Business School) study myth.

The (legitimate) study notes that while writing down goals is a particularly helpful practice, being accountable for them is even better—this was a conclusion after the participants gave weekly progress reports to a friend.

Now, I know I’m supposed to talk about setting goals here, but the study clearly shows the importance of human relationships, which we sometimes take for granted.

Therefore, don’t be surprised to find that while, or after, you work hard in achieving a special goal, your relationship with someone else seems to become stronger all of a sudden.

Setting goals allows you to get feedback.

Getting feedback can come naturally, especially if you’ve built deep relationships with the right people.

If you think about it, even a friend who knows nothing about what you do might be able to help. Sometimes feedback may not be about the technical side of things; sometimes feedback on your attitude can give you the kick in the butt you need. (Your family and friends could help you with that.)

girl and foggy roadOn the other hand, if you’re serious about improving your skills, you may want to look for a mentor or someone who can be technical or who has sound knowledge about your work.

Unless you’re willing to spend years and years of figuring stuff out all by yourself, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Look for people who have already gone the long way you’re just starting to take. Feedback—and criticism—will come; if you deal with them properly, you should be able to run your course faster.

Setting goals works out your integrity.

Your pace is important.

This paper shows that side effects of goal-setting—if taken to the extremes—can include “a narrow focus that neglects non-goal areas, a rise in unethical behavior, distorted risk preferences, corrosion of organizational culture, and reduced intrinsic motivation.”

For instance, you could have goals that, for whatever reasons, mean so much to you. But when you feel like the time of reaching them should already come, and you haven’t developed the right skills and haven’t prepared yourself for the coming consequences yet, you might think of just cheating instead. (Because goals should be Time-bound, remember?)

Shortcuts, compromise.

What are you willing to give up? To continue working hard for? To stand up for?

If you think you need more time—or if you think you can reach your goals but not in the right ways you know—consider modifying your goals.

Leaving your comfort zone is great, always, but make sure you can manage it—and it doesn’t hurt your integrity.

Setting goals hones your creativity and helps you reveal inefficiencies.

Goals come with frustrations, and frustrations may come with anxiety, diminishing self-belief and mismanaged energy.

Imagine that you don’t seem to be moving forward. You start to wonder why. Then you start fantasizing about finally reaching success. But as you do all the “thinking,” you go back to taking a look at the work you’re doing—and the frustration only doubles, or triples.

You let your curiosity out when you set goals. How would you know which step is next?

Would you make guesses? Would you just take down an idea that pops in your head? Would you entertain that “what-if” thought … even out of desperation? Of course you would. Or at least you should.

You see, when you set goals, you try to exhaust your resources. You think. After all, you haven’t got much to lose, right?

Similarly, you make use of all available resources in looking for the things that don’t work, or need changes, as you go along. Setting goals will help you build the momentum for looking for weak points, and solutions. And with this momentum, the frustrations, and other sorts of negativity, should be overpowered, because you are trying to make it work, you are looking for ways, your skills are improving.

Setting goals makes you more realistic.

I know this is what R stands for in SMART, this is what you should aim for, but being realistic also becomes a consequence.

three monkeysYou set goals because you can’t have it all, especially if you’re just starting out. You set “realistic” goals, but sometimes you won’t really know whether they’re indeed realistic or not. You set goals, slowly accomplish them, and then start to look around.

Being realistic is accepting what you have and what you can do right now, and cutting off what you don’t need to achieve your goals. This is way harder than it sounds, but setting goals helps you see life as you should, and get down to work anyway.

Setting goals can lead to personal satisfaction and motivation.

This study shows how we perform better if we go for specific, difficult but attainable goals than when we do with easy, nonspecific or no goals at all. Although facing stumbling blocks is inevitable, accomplishing goals can lead to personal satisfaction and motivation.

Reaching goals and having a sense of fulfillment appears to be strongly correlated. How could you not feel good about yourself after attaining a difficult goal?

Believe in yourself. As you continue closing every chapter of difficulties, the fulfillment only gets better.

Think About It

I’d like to summarize all these points on the importance of setting goals into two words—process and outcome—which I also got from this study by Barry Zimmerman and Anastasia Kitsantas.

The study’s basically about an experiment on people throwing darts. These people were grouped into three: the first was simply instructed to get the highest scores (outcome trial); the second was tipped off on how to properly throw darts (process trial); the third was told to first learn the skills, and then shift their focus to getting high scores (process and then outcome trial). The third group got the highest scores.

Goal-setting is basically that—simple, but not necessarily easy. Goal-setting is about honing your skills, as you accomplish SMART goals. You know, the “SMART” part could be very subjective, but what’s important is you get better every time—not better than the rest, but better than your previous self.

Once you master the skills you need, and are able to accomplish the goals you regularly set, you can then set bigger goals, for the bigger outcome you wish to attain.

It’s process and then outcome—it can never work the other way around—even if you win the lottery, in which case you’d still need skills to multiply what you acquire.

You can’t reach (much) bigger goals if you can’t reach your everyday mini-goals. And you can’t accomplish those smaller goals if you don’t have the right skills. If you understand that, then you know what goal-setting is all about.

To say that the work is the goal totally makes sense. Goals aren’t just end-goals; they’re established right from the start—sometimes without you knowing it.

Speak Your Mind

Why do you set goals? How much do you (or do you not) stick to them? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Are you for setting goals? Share this if you found this helpful!


  1. Kathy @ SMART Living

    Hey Ethan! Lots of good ideas here and you KNOW I like all the references to SMART & SMARTER! I do believe in much of the same things you explain here and definitely agree that it isn’t necessarily what we get by achieving them, but what we become by achieving them. However, I’m not sure I agree that goals must be hard to be achieved. Maybe the really, really, really big ones fit that example. But I’ve had plenty of times in my life when I’ve simply set a simple intention and then watched it unfold easily and effortlessly in the best way possible. Regardless, setting goals and reaching them is one of the most empowering things we do in our lives. ~Kathy

    • Ethan Bridges

      Hey Kathy,

      Lovely to have you here again 🙂

      Wow, look at *SMART* doing its thing 🙂

      Thanks for sharing your opinion. I think that’s the main reason why we should–or must–break goals into smaller, easier ones.

      To me, I’d go for big hard goals, which entail finding ways to break them down into mini-goals. I mix things up, usually; I alternate doing “easy” and “hard” tasks to avoid exhausting myself.

      Good to hear that things unfold effortlessly for you–looks like you’re doing great at it!

      However, I notice that whenever I want to “take things easy,” the rush seems to fade … that’s why at times I need a healthy dose of those stress levels 🙂

      Well, something works for someone. But you’re right … goal-setting is one of those things that keep us moving. It may be done in different ways, but it should be done. We look for what works for us.

      Thanks, Kathy!

  2. Rachel

    Hey Ethan,

    Great motivating post. I am a goal setter from way back. While I have always been driven, I had not located my passion. So the fire fizzled most times. Well that was until I found blogging and nothing has ever motivated like this challenge.

    Over the last couple of days I have been in the middle of something and I will think, ‘remember when you first started You tube, or how scared I was with images. How awkward and unsure I felt. Yet there was also an equal amount of excitement about the growth. So I certainly use the SMART approach and I do an automatic reflection to appreciate how far I have come.

    My major fear is being blind. Doing what I am doing and not being productive with my time yet thinking I am. So I am constantly going over what I consider priority.

    Setting goals narrows down the focus for good reason. If we are too stretched we can be busy chasing our tail and not moving forward.

    Ethan a great reminder. I am eager to be constantly growing. Thank you.


    • Ethan Bridges

      Hi Rachel,

      Good to hear that blogging is working out for you! It is fulfilling, right? (I wish I started this way sooner 🙂 )

      I went over your Youtube page. Congratulations for the work! For stepping up. I’d say that’s huge progress/accomplishment 🙂

      “Being blind” is also a struggle of mine. I remember an illustration I’ve read from a favorite book: climbing up a ladder won’t matter if it’s leaning on the wrong wall.

      We should first know where we want to be, before learning the “climbing” skills … I guess that’s also part of the fun. Well, you’re absolutely not alone on the “being blind” part 🙂

      I’m finding goal-setting really applicable to almost anything–including thoughts and habits. Dealing with triggers and whatnot … but that’s another topic 🙂

      Thanks, Rachel!

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