Meaningful well-defined goals will drive you forward in life by defining success and informing your actions.
Having clarity on where you are heading, and why, can be a powerful motivator and one that provides a huge productivity shot.
Effective goals also provide an invaluable measuring stick to gauge personal growth and progress. Plus, clear goals will instil personal accountability, especially if you publicly declare what you are going to achieve by telling colleagues, friends and family.
Our post below sets out an easy to follow process for setting and measuring personal goals which can be applied to all areas of your life.
Work through the process yourself and you’ll be well on your way to a clearer and more action-oriented life plan.
What is goal setting?
Goal setting is simply the process of identifying something you want to accomplish and establishing measurable objectives and timeframes to help you achieve it.
You can set goals for any area of your life, from health and fitness targets through to relationships and work.
Why is goal setting helpful?
- The process of goal setting helps you understand where you are and where you want to be. And, more importantly, the person you want to become
- It helps you figure out what is important to you and what you want to achieve, have and do. This, in turn, ensures you spend your finite energy in the areas that truly matter to you
- Spending the time to set well-defined goals informs your actions, which in turn will become more positive life habits
- You can’t improve what you can’t measure. Well-defined goals provide a measuring stick to assess your performance and success
- Achieving your goals or daily actions, however small or large, is addictive and builds momentum and productivity. This forms a self-fulfilling cycle that provides a further boost to your productivity and goal busting prowess
- Achieving and realising the things that are truly important to you is a surefire route to feelings of contentedness, fulfilment and excitement
An effective goal setting process
Step 1 – Brainstorm what you want to achieve
Find some time and space where you are free from distractions and preferably comfortable and relaxed. Give yourself 10-15 minutes to brainstorm a list of anything and everything you would like to achieve, experience, have or give in the next 10 years.
Material wants are fine but realise that fulfilment trumps achievement. So, try to focus more on the emotional/spiritual side of things and think about what you want to experience, learn and share and how you want to feel, be perceived and the person you want to be.
If you struggle with coming up with initial goals read the section below on broader life areas to consider.
Step 2 – Identify your short and long term goals
Go back through your list and write either short or long next to each goal based on whether it can be achieved within 12 months (short) or not (long). Try to be realistic about your time estimates but don’t sweat it too much and go with your gut.
Step 3 Prioritise excitement
Review your list and choose your top 2-3 short and 2-3 long term goals. These are the goals that make you really excited.
Write a paragraph for each goal explaining why you will absolutely achieve this goal within the relevant timescale (why is it important to you? how will achievement make you feel).
We like to set 2-3 shorter 6-12 month goals to help build a culture of momentum and the buzz of achievement along with 2-3 longer-term 12-36 month ‘moon shots’.
You may want to set up your goals so that your short term objectives are key stepping stones to achieving your longer-term goals.
For example, your longer-term goal is to have 3-4 passive income streams that can be achieved wherever you are in the world. One of your short term goals, therefore, may be to set up an online business that builds into one of these passive incomes.
Step 4 – Define success
Write a 2nd short paragraph for each goal defining what success looks like.
What will your world look like and what will be different when you have achieved this goal?
Step 5 – Write down 3 actions you are committed to taking toward achieving this goal
For each of your priority goals, write down 3 concrete actions you are committed to that will move you towards your goal. Be definitive with these and set clear tasks and timescales.
Step 6 – Make sure your goals are visible and review them daily
Print out a copy of your goals and stick them somewhere you’ll see every day, preferably when you wake up and/or before you go to bed.
Alternatively, make a digital copy and set a reminder on your phone/laptop to review them every morning and evening.
Struggling to come up with meaningful goals? Try using the ‘life dashboard’ review
If you are struggling to come up with meaningful goals, you may want to start by thinking about broader areas of your life and evaluating where you are and where you would like to see change and improvement.
We like to use the Life Dashboard approach from Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett & Dave Evans. Essentially you are evaluating your life out of 100 (or any other scale that works for you) against four broad areas – Work, Play, Love and Health. The premise being that feeling successful in these board areas leads to a more fulfilled and content life.
If you score an area particularly low it’s a good idea to focus on goals that would improve your score in this area.
For example, you may score yourself highly in Love as you have a strong relationship and a supportive group of friends you regularly spend quality time with.
But you score low in health as you are overweight and feel you aren’t doing enough exercise.
In this case setting a goal to improve your health (i.e. lose 2lbs in 3 months, complete a Parkrun 5k) is likely to be more meaningful and motivational.
Similarly you may score highly in work as you feel respected and well paid but if you don’t ever do anything fun in your life (as in doing things that you truly enjoy and do purely for pleasure) you may be miserable or feel you are wasting your life.
In this case setting goals in relation to play, such as scheduling set times each week where you practice a hobby, is likely to prove very rewarding.
Take the time to think about what success looks like to you in these 4 board areas and then score yourself for each.
Use your scores to focus on the area that feels most lacking as a way to help identify meaningful and rewarding goals.
A note on ambition - aim for the stars or rig the game?
Another key consideration is the scale and ambition of your goals. There are 2 contrasting schools of thought here.
Shoot for the stars and reach the moon
As the name implies, this approach sees you shooting for the stars and setting crazily ambitious goals and targets.
The idea is that even if you never reach these dizzying heights, getting just a quarter or half of the way there will likely still result in massive gains and improvement (you’ll have still reached the moon).
For example, if you aimed and worked to make a million bucks a year but only reached 250k you would still be in a far better position than when you started.
Similarly, if you aim and train to run an 18 minute 5k but end up around 20 minutes after 6 months you will likely still be far fitter and faster than you were.
The drawback of this approach is that you could feel demotivated when you don’t reach your lofty ambitions.
This also runs counter to the idea of setting SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, timed) goals as you are deliberately setting somewhat unrealistic aims.
Rig the game in your favour
The alternative is the Tim Ferris approach and to rig the game.
This approach proposes setting easily achievable goals that you have a near certainty of achieving. For example, Tim’s own writing goal of producing just ‘2 crappy pages a day’.
The idea of this approach is that meeting your goals boosts productivity, confidence and ambition which in turn further propels performance.
Setting smaller, more achievable goals is also a great way to change behaviour and form more positive habits.
For example, using the writing approach again, if you want to become a writer don’t set the goal of having a published novel, instead set yourself the goal of writing one ‘crappy’ page per day (or even just one paragraph).
You will likely find that you will often exceed your smaller target and, by building momentum through daily practice, end each week with dozens of pages of material.
Some of this will indeed be ‘crappy’ but you will find that you produce quality copy too. Plus you have instilled the habit of daily writing and thus are on your way to becoming a writer.
Building healthy fitness habits can work in the same way.
Many people decide they want to lose weight and get fit and will set themselves some arbitrary ambitious target of running 30 mins a session 3 times per week.
For someone not used to training, let alone running, this is a hugely ambitious target and will often result in a failure as it requires too much will power to succeed (research shows that will power alone is actually a terrible motivator).
It is all too easy to set lofty targets that quickly kill motivation as they are unrealistic and thus unsustainable.
The alternative is to start small and build up.
Just aim to run around the block the first week. Then maybe aim to get out on Monday and Saturday the following week.
Once you know you can make it around the block twice a week, extend the run and go 2 laps or an extra few hundred metres.
After a few weeks of easy wins, you’ve built momentum and are well on your way to building the positive habit of being a consistent ‘runner’.
In our view both ‘shooting for the stars’ and ‘rigging the game’ have their merits and a good approach is to combine elements of both.
Set yourself lofty ambitious targets (shoot for the stars) but make the action steps to achieve them easily achievable (this doesn’t mean actions should necessarily be comfortable!).
The achievement of these quick wins will boost productivity and morale, allowing you to then take more ambitious steps.
Where your goal is to set new positive habits, rig the game and set yourself easily achievable daily goals to build momentum and ingrain the positive behaviour you want (e.g. walking every day, drinking water first thing each morning, writing one paragraph, reading one page of a book etc.
Don’t keep your goals to yourself - share them with the world (or a close friend, at least)
An effective way to ensure goal success is to make them public.
Just telling colleagues, friends or family what you intend to do can be a very powerful motivational tool.
The reason being is that our inner chimp hates being seen by others as lazy, as lacking ambition or as someone that can’t be depended on.
By publicly stating our goals we can use our inner chimps insecurity to our advantage as it will not want to be seen as a failure.
That said it pays to give some thought and consideration as to whom you share your goals.
Make sure it’s someone who you know will be supportive and encouraging, and not someone who will scoff at your lofty plans and your desire to better your life.
If done correctly and with thought, goal setting and review is a simple yet powerful tool that helps you define and then achieve the things important to you.
Give our exercises a try as nailing your goals is a sure fire route to a more excited, productive and fulfilled you.