You have probably heard the words goal and achieve put together so many times that they have stopped meaning anything to you, right? I get you. I feel exactly the same. But do you know why everybody keeps talking about that? Well, it’s for the same reason people talk about exercise, healthy food and sleep – they are essential for our development, well-being and happiness. So would you bare reading one more article about goals if this information could help you live a much better life? I knew you would say yes, so let’s get started!
First of all, we may need to define what goals are if we want to set and reach them. As opposed to what some people think, goals are not general wishes, unrealistic dreams or whims. They are specific objectives that people pursue. They are trackable and achievable. They require you to acquire or develop one or several skills. They take time, effort and passion. And they also help you grow and achieve a lot in the process.
To make sure we are on the same page, imagine this. There are two people. One of them decided to drive around with no destination in mind and no purpose. The other one decides to take a trip, checks his car, sets a clear destination and a route, packs his bags and then sets on the journey using all the information and resources he had gathered. The first person is somebody with no clear goals. He might have some vague dreams and wishes in mind, but they are not enough to steer him in any particular direction. On the other hand, the second man is the one with a goal. Therefore, he prepares to make sure he would achieve it.
Unfortunately, too many people live their lives as the first man. They do not know why they are alive, they have no idea where they are or where they want to go, but for some strange reason they keep on driving until they run out of gas. It seems pretty…pointless, right? I agree. That’s why we need goals – they make the difference between aimless driving and setting on a journey. They bring meaning to our lives. And now that you know what goals are and why they matter, let’s learn how to set them. You can do that using the 5 steps I describe below. You will not get this done in 5 minutes, but take the time to really work on this. The reward you will get in return will be worth the time you invest in yourself!
1. Write down all the goals that cross your mind
If you have never thought about what you would like to do in life, this is the first step for you. Make sure you can do this exercise when you are alone and when you have 15 minutes or more at your disposal. Take an empty sheet of paper or a notebook and start writing everything that you would like to do, to get or to be. Seriously, write anything that comes to your mind. Maybe you have always wanted to learn how to take good pictures – put that on the list. Or remember how on each New Year’s Eve you tell yourself that next year you will get in shape? Add that too.
Do not worry if your goals are unrelated and quite random. It’s expected to be that way. Just write down everything you want to achieve. You can write 10, 50, 100 goals – it’s up to you. If you prefer, re-read the list in the next days. Feel free to cross out some goals or add new ones.
Once you have a list of objectives, you have something to work with. And since every journey begins with the choice of a destination, I’m glad you already took the first step!
2. Cross out the goals that you do not really want to achieve
Yes, it would be great if you could achieve all those goals. But do you really want to learn how to cook sushi, dance tango and play football? Are all those goals equally important to you? I guess not.
So please read your list one more time. Ask yourself: “Do I really want to do this?” You will realize that you do not want to do every single thing on your list. And each goal can probably fit into one of these categories:
- Goals I definitely want to achieve
- Goals I would like to achieve
- Goals I do not really care about
Not all goals mean the same to you. And that’s fine. It was important for you to write them all down nevertheless. Thinking about all the things you would do is a great exercise because it makes you reflect. It helps you broaden your horizon and realize what you really want. Chances are you may not have done that in a while.
But we both know that only some objectives stand out. Maybe one or two ignited your imagination and filled you with excitement. Those are worth the struggle. So mark them out or write them down again on a separate sheet – we will work with those to choose your route.
3. Choose ONE goal
If this is the first time you are thinking about your goals, you may want to achieve them all. It is tempting, I know. But you cannot pursue many different goals at the same time and achieve them. Believing you can is a trap and many people (myself included) have fallen in it – do not make the same mistake.
Instead, choose ONE major goal and stick with it. That’s the lesson I learnt from an eye-opening book called “The one thing.” After all, as David Allen said: “You can do anything, but not everything.” Or at least, you cannot do everything at the same time. For all I know, nobody ever was a full-time model, president, author, photographer, body-builder, astrophysicist all at the same time. It would be impressive, I agree, but it would also be impossible. However, we know that you can be a body-builder, an actor and a politician – look at Arnold Schwarzenegger! But do you know why he was successful in all 3 fields? It’s because he committed to one of them at a time. You can succeed in many fields in a lifetime – provided you start with one!
Now, if you absolutely want to have more than one goal, you can do it. Maybe you believe that you are more superman than man and you might be able to pull it off. Or maybe you just want to learn this lesson the hard way. I get it. I’ve been there and I made the same decision.
Well, if you absolutely must select multiple goals, at least try to choose 2 or 3 objectives that are related in some way. Or set a few goals that will help you achieve ONE major goal later on. For example, if you want to be a blogger, learning how to write, how to take pictures and use social media is a great idea. After all, you will need all those skills. But if you decide to learn ballet, Spanish and learn how to create websites, maybe you should choose one of these first.
Choosing ONE goal is an extremely important step in your life. It’s just as important as choosing a career, a new city or a husband/wife. Actually your goal may even involve one of these decisions. But choose one and you will finally have a destination in mind – not just for a short vacation, but for a big part of your life. So once you have it, let’s plan the route!
4. Set an amazing goal
Ok, so now you know what you want? Excellent! We can begin the real work. You may not realize this now, but setting a good goal can have a major impact on your life. So please choose a goal that truly inspires you. If you do, that desire will pull you forward. It will give you energy, hope and meaning. And committing to that goal will change your life.
I do not know what goal you chose. But I know that if it benefits you, if it has a positive impact on those around you and on the world, it must be a good goal. And keep in mind that any goal can be achieved – if you plan it properly and work on it. Here are some of the things you should do to make your goal almost foolproof.
Set a big goal
If you were about to set a goal you already know how to achieve, rethink it. You should aim for something that will push you out of your comfort zone and force you to grow. One of the reasons why goals are good for us is that they encourage us to change and develop. Aim for something that will inspire you to learn more, to acquire new skills, to develop better habits, to experience more of life.
Set your eyes on a goal that will take effort and time. While spending the next years working for a worthy goal, you will actually be working on yourself. So do not settle for a small goal. If you can choose how to spend the next years of your life, why not choose to do something grand?
Make sure it is not too small and not too big
But just how big should the goal be? The best advice I’ve heard came from my boyfriend, Radu. He said that you should: “set a goal that is big enough to scare you and small enough to still inspire you.”
Do not fall into the trap of settling for something less than you deserve. If you dream of travelling the world and making money by writing about that, embrace it! Do not tell yourself that maybe you should just look for a new job in your hometown. This is your life and you deserve the best.
However, beware of falling in the other trap. Like many of us, you may be inspired by the godlike people, pioneers and geniuses who seem to be the ultimate world changers. So you may be tempted to set your eyes on noble and majestic goals. However, the difference between who you are now and who you need to become to better those role models may be too big. I am not saying that you could never surpass your models. Just keep in mind that you may be starting out and they have probably put in 20 years’ worth of work already. When you think of your goal, you should feel excited and a little bit scared, but not overwhelmed, hopeless and defeated.
If you do know where you want to be in 20-30 years, use that to your advantage. Keep the ultimate goal in your mind, but take it step by step. It may help to break it down into smaller, short-term goals. This process will be challenging anyway, try not to make it daunting!
After deciding on a goal that inspires you, take Gary Vaynerchuk’s advice. He is an entrepreneur and a social media expert who documents his journey to success. He often shares his ideas and philosophy with the world. And this is one of the best pieces of advice I learned from him. Once you know the end result, think about it backwards. Instead of thinking what will take you there, imagine you already achieved your goal and find a way back to this present moment. This might put things in a better perspective.
For example, let’s say your dream is to become an actress who wins an Oscar in 10 years. How would it happen? Let’s think about it backwards, starting with the Oscar. You won the Oscar. You won it because you played really well in a great movie. So you need to get cast in a movie. So you need to become an actress. If you never acted before, you may need to take acting lessons first, right?
I know that I simplified the process and made it look easy. I know that it will take many attempts, many mistakes and many failures. The idea is that you should have the path clear in your mind from that moment back into the present. Once you see that trajectory, you also see some of the steps you should take. You no longer start with a blank in your mind, but with a map.
Set a SMART goal
You may have heard about SMART goals before. In case you do not know what it means, SMART stands for:
S – Specific (you have a clear goal in mind)
M – Measurable (you can measure your progress)
A – Actionable (you have a plan and the resources you need to achieve your goal)
R – Realistic (it is possible for you to achieve that goal)
T – Time-bound (you give yourself a specific amount of time)
People work best when they know what and how to do. If you want to achieve your goal, make it clear and definite. Otherwise, you are just setting yourself up for failure. Let me explain why by giving you an example. Let’s say that you want to lose weight. Well…what does that mean? How much weight do you want to lose? When? How will you know when you achieved that goal? What will you do?
If your goal is vague, it will have no effect on you. The brain does not know what to do with that type of goal. However, if you decide to lose 6 kilograms in 3 months, everything becomes a little clearer. You know that you will have to lose about 2 kilograms/month. To do that, you can eat less or start working out more. And you can track your progress every month. When the 3 months passed, you will know if you lost those 6 kilograms or not. Do you see why you will have a better chance to succeed if you set a SMART goal?
Clear goals always lead to more action. So find a way to make your goal specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and time-bound. If you do not know how to do this, read more about what you want to do. Learn from the people that already achieved it. And if you still have no idea how to measure your progress, devise your own method!
Think about the activities you need to do
Whatever goal you set, you will likely have to form new habits. It might be harder in the beginning, but good habits are necessary for success. And you may also have to give up on other activities that no longer serve you. Change your daily schedule and routine to make sure it helps you achieve your goal. To do that, ask yourself 4 simple questions. I found them in the book “How to Take Charge of Your Life: The User’s Guide to NLP” and I think they are a good starting point:
- What should I start doing?
- What activities should I stop doing?
- What should I do more often?
- What should I do less often?
Think about these keeping your goal in mind. They will help you create your road map to success. And more importantly, they will help you realize what to do next. Once you know that, you are just one step away from achieving your goal.
5. Take action
This is the last part of the process of setting a great goal. But it is the most important one. Some people spend their lives trying to craft the perfect plan and fail to act. This is the reason why many people do not live the lives they dream about. Do not allow yourself to get stuck in any of the previous phases. Make your plan and then act. You will probably start small, with baby steps. You will probably doubt yourself sometimes. You will feel like you do not know what you are doing. You may even think of giving up. All these reactions are perfectly normal and possibly common.
But now that you have a destination in mind, a vision that fills you with excitement, you owe it to yourself to act on it. This is your goal and you can achieve it. The only thing you have to do is to start. And then keep working on it – day in and day out. Every step in the right direction – no matter how small – will take you closer to your destination. Just keep going!
So, dear friend, now that you have learned all this, now that you opened your mind to this possibility, what will you do? Will you abandon your dream and push it into a corner of your mind? Will you let it die inside you? Or will you choose to be brave? We both know there is something you have been dreaming about. So what about turning that dream into a clear goal that you will actually achieve?
You have the power to decide. And no matter who you are, I like to think that you will choose to act out of hope, not fear. Live a life driven by goals, not pushed by fear and habit. You deserve to design your own life!