From time to time you might think, “What the fart am I doing?” Or maybe you simply get bored. Or you might think there’s no point in doing that thing that’s supposed to be wonderful.
These epiphany-like moments are precisely why I decided to write this post. It’s nice to remind ourselves about the power of setting goals. It’s ever-important because sometimes there’s this weird sense of entitlement; we should be having what we deserve already. After all, we’re working hard for it, right?
Unfortunately—especially if you’re just starting out—it’s not the case. There’s simply this magical and bitter thing we call “life” that manages to get in the way.
And that’s one reason we need to set goals.
Goal setting is the compass you have—sometimes even the only tool you have—in figuring out what you should be getting out of life and how to arrive there.
A Bit of Goal Setting History 101
I’m betting you’ve already read a ton of articles on goal setting. In fact, the concept of goal setting seems to evolve through time. There are debates around some of the points about it. Some people even say they’re not true at all.
But I’m simply thankful for the researchers and people that invent stuff, like goal setting. Research is nice—an idea can’t be accepted until some researcher takes care of the logistics and study the damn thing and declare it to the world that it is indeed legit.
For that, let’s review a bit of History 101.
Two guys, Mr. Locke and Mr. Latham, popularized the idea that motivation comes from achieving goals one sets. When motivation gets higher, other things associated with work also get better.
To test it, think about when you’re motivated to do something. It’s rational to presume you’ll perform better in doing it, and probably even be delighted—even when it looks utterly tiresome to just about anybody else.
You also need to set goals that are a bit harder than you’re used to, but not too hard that you lose the motivation. Likewise a goal shouldn’t be too easy so that you actually become better and see progress. This rule is also called the Goldilocks Rule.
Anyway, Locke and Latham identified five principles of goal setting that they said could help anyone reach success.
Vagueness is a strong enemy. Goals must be clear. A good rule on clarity is that you can state a goal in one or two concise sentences. If there’s a need to really explain a goal, then it might not be clear after all.
Take it one step at a time. Challenge yourself just a bit harder, not with an impossible task. Don’t aim to becoming a muscle man (or woman) if going to the gym is an uber-challenge for you in the first place. Take the first smaller steps.
Except for really harsh environments, I would argue that self-discipline is all you’ll need here. But like Challenge, this can be practiced and sustained by habits. Goal setting is a long-term game, but habits continuously done over that long term are responsible for its success.
Measure your results, but it gets better if you look for feedback from other people. Sometimes feedback can be a hard pill to swallow especially if you grew up taking criticisms personally. However, if you want the best feedback, putting your work out there seems the only way.
5. Task Complexity
Of course it would depend on how hard an endeavor is. That’s why in order for you to get what you want, learning becomes a huge part of the goal-setting process. Learning goals can also be broken down into smaller goals and you should make time for daily practice if you’ll aim for mastery.
So what is goal setting, then?
Goal setting is the process of identifying goals that align with a purpose you believe in, and reaching those goals mostly by executing the right habits.
That’s how I would define it, really. So if you haven’t heard about goal setting in terms of habits, then keep reading.
You see, ultimately there are two kinds of goals (in the general sense):
1. Outcome Goals
Outcome goals are the most obvious. Think all the New Year’s Resolutions that don’t even see the light of February.
Lose 10 pounds. Read 50 books. Become an emotionally stable person.
There’s nothing wrong with these goals, of course, except that we focus too much on this kind that it doesn’t make sense to post them on the fridge anymore.
Like, fine, those are important goals, but then what? On what do you focus your energies now?
Outcome goals are absolutely essential, but you forget about them and shift your focus to other unrelated matters after setting them.
They only represent the starting point of your lifelong journey…
…which brings us to the next kind of goal that’s also more important.
2. Process Goals
Process goals and habits overlap each other in definition, because they are the things you do, whether you like them or not, that keep you directed to a particular future.
Outcome goals then must be broken down into process goals.
Following the examples above, every day you can maybe do some rigorous physical exercise for 30 minutes. Maybe set aside one hour just for reading. Maybe meditate for 15 minutes.
Note that they’re done on a daily basis. I know they don’t sound as fancy as a New Year’s Resolution, but they work because they actually can be done.
You shouldn’t be asking, “What if I don’t reach my ‘outcome’ goals?” because everybody starts from somewhere. Everybody was born knowing nothing. Instead, I think you would be better off asking, “What else would I do if I won’t follow this path?” But more on that later.
So the trend becomes…
Identify your outcome goals first. These are the goals that can somewhat answer your “Who, What, Where, Why, How” questions. For example: “Who/What do I want to become? What meaningful work would I want to be doing? Where will I be living after 40?”
Always a plus if your outcome goals are anchored to a purpose.
After identifying outcome goals, you then break them down into “shorter-term” goals (for 5 years, for the year, for the month) such that you can come up with process goals, which you can arguably call habits, that will get you closer to those outcome goals.
Now let’s take a look at SMART Goals.
This, I believe, is the closest definition of how SMART should be:
It essentially becomes the same as the Process Goals I talked about, because SMART Goals also can and should be translated into habits.
For the sake of simplicity and convenience, SMART really is a handy tool. It allows you to be creative, too.
Let’s go back to my examples, because unfortunately I somewhat struggle with them.
For reading books:
- Specific – Read a book daily
- Measurable – at least 40 pages or for one hour
- Achievable – Yes, it is
- Relevant – I have much to learn, so yes
- Time-bound – before bedtime (10:30 P.M.)
- Specific – Meditate (with focus on breathing) daily
- Measurable – for at least 15 minutes
- Achievable – Yes
- Relevant – Monkey brain, yes
- Time-bound – before 7:00 P.M.
(Bonus) For becoming a more emotionally stable person:
- Specific – Journal daily
- Measurable – I’ll review and evaluate my journal entries every two months
- Achievable – I’ll write even if it’s just 10 words
- Relevant – I want to be productive every day, thus I need to make sure I feel okay for the most part, at least
- Time-bound – before 7:30 P.M.
Note again that these process goals are set daily.
You’ll have your own, but the takeaway is that you can now imagine what you could become and could accomplish by the time you’re close to your outcome goals (which is the reason you have process goals).
You’ll understand that big outcome goals basically mean nothing until you finally dedicate your life to committing to them, and there’s no way but to structure your every waking hour.
I want to emphasize the “Relevant” part. This is one of the most common reasons why people give up on their goals.
It’s because a particular step is way too early because:
- they don’t have the right skill set yet
- they don’t have the resources yet
- the goals are not even remotely needed at this point—they’re irrelevant
This is where you’ll realize you’re on a journey that can lead to many destinations, maybe even more than you’ve guessed.
You will change. Over time you’re interests will change. But for sure you’ll also get to know yourself more. There will be trade-offs, but the point is that along the way, set goals that are relevant and can relate to your other goals.
If you can’t find answers yet, then set relevant goals that deal with questions that don’t have answers yet. But make sure that the challenge helps you move forward.
Remember: don’t be too hard on yourself. Goal setting doesn’t mean you must get the exact results you want every time. Goals may serve only as a guide—a compass—to the life direction that’s right to you. Eventually you’ll reach your goals, but it will take time.
That’s another reason why people fail. They tend to be perfectionists as an effect of thinking they should get it right at their first try. They don’t accept that it’s a lifelong journey.
Ok, yay, goal setting. So why is it important?
If you think about it, goal setting is pretty simple.
What gets difficult is the anxiety in achieving what possibly could be unknown. If it takes too much time and you’re not even sure how it’s going to turn out—and if you’re an anxious person already—for sure it’s going to be hell, then what’s the freaking point?
Well, life is already tough, or hell, for most of us. Without considering using a simple tool like SMART, you’ll definitely get lost because you won’t have something to aim for in the first place—even if it’s dead easy to accomplish.
Even though you feel like you’re starting from scratch, here are the reasons you must set goals.
Goal setting creates balance.
I don’t know about you, but I want to have the best that life can offer me. I’m not really talking about riches and power and all that (although I’m not a hypocrite YEAH, THEY ARE NICE), but I also want to build a solid character. I want to have the best problems that will help me reach my full potential. (Yes, I know. Different dreams for different people.)
My point is that I want growth. I want life. I’m a human being. I want to experience the richness of life. In order to achieve that, I’ll need balance among the different areas of my life.
This is one of the best things about goal setting. It allows you to visualize everything you want to achieve—clearly—so it makes you allow for some trade-offs that enable you to have a reasonably optimal life.
For example, you wouldn’t want to sell your soul to a day job for 40 years. Maybe five years is long enough for soul-selling, but in your timeline you have another “level-up” step you may want to venture into.
Let’s say after five years, you may want to start traveling. Or start dating. Whatever.
Goal setting allows you to see details and in order to get the best from all the areas of your life, you’ll need balance.
Along the way you’ll get to see more clearly what you really want.
Studies have shown that goal setting is a motivator for unethical behavior. People might lie and tell you (or themselves) they’ve already reached a particular goal (which actually kills the motivation to take action). Sometimes goal setting also kills creativity if it’s implemented quite rigidly.
There may be downsides to (the traditional) goal setting. But in truth, this only goes to show that as you go along a chosen path, these downsides are necessary because they kind of slap your face and remind you whether it’s still the path you really want.
Pretty soon you’ll be thinking about how you think, learning the best ways you can learn, and knowing you still have much you don’t know. If that sounds absurd, it’s actually a thing called metacognition.
You’ll learn to ask many questions, starting from the rhetoric ones like, “Is this all there is?” or, “What is the meaning of all this?”
Right now they might sound melodramatic, but during the challenging times they’ll spark your ability to think about your circumstances and ask what’s next for you.
Your ability to think becomes a powerful force because even though you’ve developed the skills, you may look for other challenges that will keep you alive, so to speak. As you grow more mature, you’ll look for commitments the more mature people enjoy.
It’s a continuous process, but from the start—if you commit to setting goals and sticking to them—you’ll discover many things about yourself you haven’t noticed before.
You’ll feel great about yourself.
When you achieve the smaller goals, your sense of self-efficacy—the way you see yourself being capable of getting shit done—improves. This is crucial to your self-esteem. Because when you have a healthy dose of self-esteem, you could basically do anything.
And even if right now you feel like you’re a failure, you can start anew with goal setting. A perfect opportunity to “just do it”—you’ve got nothing to lose.
Goal setting is a proof for the damn cliché that whatever it is your mind can conceive of, you can make a plan for it…and achieve it.
Even though you think you’ve got nothing to your name, that you can’t prove anything yet, you can sit down and think for just a few minutes to plan your life from this point on.
Goal setting doesn’t only make you get things done. It also improves your sense of self-worth.
Goal setting creates hope, meaning and challenge.
I’ll tell you right now that you won’t find rainbows and unicorns throughout your journey—perhaps not even a single sighting of them.
Reaching goals isn’t easy. Sure it’s awesome to reach them, but you’ll have to do the smaller details that won’t necessarily make you jump out of bed and skip breakfast so you could go do those annoying smaller details. It doesn’t work that way. But you have to do them.
That’s why inherent to goal setting are hope, meaning and challenge that you can attach to anything you do. It may not be fun, but these virtues will help you to keep moving forward.
You’ll see obstacles and actually deal with them.
One thing you’ll encounter with goal setting is frustration. Lots of it. Doesn’t sound so lovely, does it? Well, just remember you’re finally considering to set goals because you’re starting to get frustrated in the first place.
But frustration is a good thing. Because at first when you set goals, you might be thinking you simply just have to set some sort of a “road map” so that you won’t be really beating yourself up…after all, isn’t goal setting about that?
Well, not so true. There might be a few reasons to start with:
- you don’t know what you genuinely want yet
- you’re not aware of the real obstacles until after you’ve followed a plan for some time
- you still don’t know what you don’t know
In other words, obstacles and challenges you had no idea exist will start popping up, and you might find yourself in a weird, new little world—suddenly having SMART goals gives you a whole new bunch of problems to deal with.
But you’ll have to deal with them anyway, especially if you’re young, you know. Because no one’s going to hand it to you. The time will come in which no one can make decisions for you anymore but you alone.
No matter the odds, you’ll get maximum results.
Eventually this is what you’ll be aiming for.
We live in chaos: even if you’re one of the most organized people, you still won’t know exactly what’s going to happen to your health, finances, family, and so on—a few minutes from now.
So what could possibly be a solution for chaos? That’s right, setting goals!
A very specific and detailed plan enables you to stick with the right tasks, while reflecting and following schedules—to get maximum results.
How else can you have them if you simply act out of whim or when you only feel like it? Think about it. You’re given the gift of time you can’t get back. You’re getting older. And of course life goes on—you have to keep up with it especially with your loved ones.
But how else are you going to reach your goals?
Yes, there are obstacles, but you’ll still get the best results.
And remember, it’s a nice boost on your self-esteem when you think you’ve made it through another day despite all the shittiness that’s keeping you from becoming your best self. Despite the people or things or weather that are letting you down, you have set goals and somehow, today was still a pretty freaking productive day. Tomorrow, you’ll get even better results.
Goal setting helps you focus.
Well, first, good morning.
Second, stop for a moment, take a deep breath, and think about how exciting it actually is to accomplish the tasks for today that will take you closer to your huge outcome goals.
As you shift your focus away from things that don’t matter, you’ll feel better because you know you have other worthwhile things to do, and you’re actually taking responsibility for your life. This shift in perspective can do wonders—yes, even on a daily basis. (Remember your habits!)
Suddenly you’re a changed person because you’re now paying attention to other issues—in all areas of your life. Suddenly you may not like passively scrolling through memes until midnight because you would rather read stuff that actually makes you a better person.
Goal setting kind of creates a portion in your brain that reminds you whether what you’re doing right now even matters at all. It’s a kind of focus that can permeate your system.
Ready to discover where you’re actually going?
Then set goals! Actually, take some quiet time alone to think, get a pen and paper, and set goals.
Forget about being right or wrong over the long haul for now. You’ll have plenty of discoveries along the way.
We have a tendency to identify the difficult parts of any endeavor and skip the easier ones.
Most of the time, goal setting is the easiest part, but many people just wing through life. When they notice they’ve been neglecting one domain of their life, which has already turned real awful upon noticing, they would start rushing things, and more often than not, rushing things makes it even worse. The successes they’ve had in the other areas of their life begin to crumble because of that one area that failed.
In the end, they would wish they should’ve spent their time better, with a few goals to achieve here and there.