Goal setting is a topic widely misunderstood. Let’s be clear: setting goals doesn’t guarantee accomplishing them. And failing to set goals is not a guarantee that your life will be without accomplishment, in the same way that if you just get in your car, gas up, and drive you won’t have fun on your vacation.
But the people who can accomplish at high and satisfying levels without setting goals are generally extraordinary people with phenomenal drive, vast clarity of values, internal permission to succeed, and energetic enough to make the Energizer Bunny look somnambulant.
That’s not average. For most of us, focus allows us to concentrate our forces for maximum efficiency and effectiveness. Knowing what we want to accomplish allows us to spend our time and energy on the activities that will lead us to what WE really want, and on the most efficient and effective ways to generate the results we want: happiness, growth, and contribution usually at the very top of the list.
The beautiful thing about goal-setting is that even if you “fail”, if you pay attention you will have learned something. This is why the “Behavioral Modification” pattern includes the instruction to “fail successfully.” Why Edison is said to have claimed his thousands of failures to make an incandescent bulb were valuable, because now he knew thousands of things that would not work.
Babies fall down thousands of times on their way to standing, walking, and running. It’s just feedback. Calibration of capacity and perception. If babies were as failure-phobic as adults, none of us would learn to walk.
The fact is that every successful person I’ve ever known in any field had the goal-setting principles either consciously or (more fortunately) unconsciously operating in their lives, whether they knew it or not. There are people who are fantastic street-fighters who never took a lesson. But they aren’t doing anything that isn’t taught somewhere, in some system of combat. They just discovered it on their own, or did it without thinking. The rest of us have to break it down and learn it consciously.
Three goal setting techniques have been most impressive to me.
1) The first (and most basic) is the simple idea to write your goals down. This brings up considerable resistance for many people, and I believe it is related to the fear that if you admit you want something, it will hurt to lose it. Writing it down is far more challenging than just having a “want” floating in your head. The more advanced version of this is re-writing it daily, every morning. THAT will focus your day pretty damned fast.
2) Morning Ritual Chants. A morning ritual of movement, focus and emotion is part of my life, permanently. Currently that means Tai Chi combined with visualization and affirmation. Speaking your goals aloud while engaged in vigorous physical activity anchors energy to your intentions in a wonderful way.
3) “SMART” goals technique. That acronym means that your goals should be Specific (not “I want money” but “I earn XX per week/month/year”). Meaningful (they have to be YOUR goals, not goals your parents, family, or society foisted on you). As-if now (stated in present tense: not “I will have” but “I have, I do, I am”). Realistic (if you or any other human being with your starting position has ever accomplished it, it is realistic. There is almost always a realistic version of even the most unrealistic dream. You may not be able to flap your arms and fly, but you CAN get a pilot’s license or learn to hang-glide.) And Time-Bound. Meaning “A goal is a dream with a deadline” is a truism. Set a date.
Specific, Meaningful, As-if now, Realistic, Time-Bound.
Start there. Next, we’ll take a look at the single best goal-setting technique I’ve ever seen, Tad James’ “Time Line” approach.