Be Amazing – Setting Goals: Dreams to Reality Series #1

By: Phoenix48

In the end, what we say or believe we want – and who we imagine ourselves to be is not primary to our identity and character. Our goals, decision-making, and actions define what we really want and who we actually are. Setting Goals is the first installment of the Dreams to Reality Series. The intent of this series is to lead the reader through the steps required to truly live at-cause and create an amazing life. The introduction to this series is Courage, and the series continues with Decision-Making and Crossing the Decision-Action Gap.

Setting Goals: To Float or to Swim

“To be, or not to be: that is the question.

Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind

To suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,

Or take arms against a sea of troubles…”

Hamlet, William Shakespeare
Hamlet broods

“…and that is indeed the question. Whether to float with the tide or swim for a goal. It is a choice we must all make consciously or unconsciously at one time in our lives. So few people understand this. Think of any decision you’ve ever made which had a bearing on your future: I may be wrong but I don’t see how it could have been anything but a choice, however indirect – between the two things I’ve mentioned: The floating or the swimming..”

“..we must make the goal conform to the individual, not the individual conform to the goal. In short, he has not dedicated his life to reaching a pre-defined goal but has rather chosen a way of life he knows he will enjoy. The goal is absolutely secondary: it is the functioning toward the goal which is important.”

Hunter S. Thompson

To Live or to Half-Live

As covered in the Responsibility post, living responsibly (or at-cause) means taking an active orientation toward life as opposed to a passive one. Living responsibly embraces life; being alive necessarily involves making decisions. In fact, we might define life as that which adapts to the environment by making decisions. Therefore, having a passive mindset is in a very real way being less alive. Passiveness leads to the regression of one’s maturity and psychological health. Being passive contributes to depression, exacerbates emotional degradation, and promotes personal decline.

“No difficulty can discourage, no obstacle dismay, no trouble dishearten the man who has acquired the art of being alive. Difficulties are but dares of fate, obstacles but hurdles to try his skill, troubles but bitter tonics to give him strength; and he rises higher and looms greater after each encounter with adversity.”

Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Living responsibly centers on setting goals, making decisions, and setting ourselves up for success. It is actively following the path we have set to achieve our aims.

Setting Goals: Taking Aim at Achievement

The experience of the ages, as well as a multitude of scientific research, has shown that setting goals can not only help us improve our performance in a specific arena, but enhance our motivation, confidence, self-esteem, and life satisfaction. Moreover, when we implement effective goal-setting strategies, we make it more likely that we achieve the goals we set and that the pursuit of them actually affects our lives in the positive way we intend.

Goal setting is the process of thinking about and deciding upon aims or objectives that we would like to achieve. Goal setting involves planning, which includes breaking down long-term (or life) goals into manageable pieces and scheduling those pieces in a deliberate, thought-out strategy. No matter the types of goals we set for ourselves (including career goals, relationship goals, financial goals, etc.), we benefit by implementing a goal-setting process that helps us identify, clarify, and execute the goals that are likely to enhance fulfillment.

It’s not just setting the right goals but doing so in the right way so as to reduce problems and distractions. Reducing the headwinds clearly will increase the likelihood of success. But more importantly, it allows us to reap experience, happiness, and satisfaction along the way.

A goal is not always meant to be reached, it often serves simply as something to aim at. – Bruce Lee

Start at the Beginning

There is one prerequisite to beginning the goal-setting process: We have to understand what is beneficial to us. While this may seem obvious, many in recovery set goals that are inappropriate to what they actually want to achieve. For example, it is common to focus on finances, material possessions, and social status while shortchanging health and personal growth. Therefore, it can never hurt for someone who is embarking on their journey of recovery to run their goals by someone who has their best interest at heart.

For guidance, we can look to the SMART goal system which suggests that we engage in setting goals that are positive and meaningful to us. When we do this, we’re moving toward something we want to achieve rather than focusing on avoiding, stopping, or reducing something (sound familiar?) In this way, we keep our eyes on the prize and consequently are more motivated and experience greater enjoyment while we work towards our goals.

Types of Goals:

Career Goals- How do you want to be spending the majority of your time? What impact do you want to have?

Financial Goals- What amount of money do you need? How much do you want to achieve what you hope to achieve (for example, travel, retire, etc.)?

Education Goals- What specifically are you interested in? Are there specific degrees you need to reach other goals?

Self-Improvement Goals- What issues do you need to work on and overcome to achieve the life that you want?

Health Goals- What value do you place on living a healthy lifestyle? Are there any diet or exercise goals that are important? Do you have health issues that you need to manage?

Experience Goals- What’s on your bucket list?

Other Goals- Do you have larger goals such as political activism? What do you stand for?

Setting Goals: SMART Goals

SMART goal setting involves thinking about different aspects of our goals and ensuring that they have favorable characteristics. SMART goals are:

  • Specific
  • Meaningful
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Trackable
Setting Goals
Happiness is progressing towards our goals.

Setting Goals that are Specific

The more specific a goal, the more it details exactly what outcome we seek, the steps to accomplish it, and what actions need to be taken at what time. The goal of “getting in shape”, for instance, isn’t as specific as the goal of “running, swimming, and weight lifting every week”. In general, people perform better when their goals are more specific. Also, include clear boundaries. If possible, set upper and lower limits for goals. For example, we might set a goal to lift weights at least once per week but no more than three times per week. By setting these boundary conditions, we get clearer on exactly what accomplishing our goal requires and help prevent ourselves from burning out.

Setting Goals that are Meaningful

Obviously, we are more enthusiastic about goals that are important to us than those that aren’t. Setting goals that are meaningful to us motivates us more and provides a positive experience while working towards them. Meaningful goals ultimately lead to greater rewards both during and upon completion. Despite instinctively feeling this on a surface level, most of us spend our time pursuing goals that aren’t personally important to us.

These “other” goals are usually important to other people, like completing tedious work assignments. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. But they may also be to impress others in our professional and social circles, which is questionable at best. Clearly, it’s good to avoid negative consequences like getting fired or never having new clothes to wear. But moving toward our dreams and “passion” goals is key. We must make sure that some of the goals in our lives are actually ones we genuinely care about.

In order to achieve balance, we ask ourselves why our goals matter. We must ensure our goals are consistent with our values and are in alignment with our desired lifestyle. If the goal goes against our values or lifestyle it is going to be hard to stick to and achieve. Also, it may ultimately be counterproductive to our long-term goals.

The 80/20 Rule

The Pareto principle, or law of the vital few, states that 80% of the results of any activity are acquired from 20% of the effort.

For example:

  • 20% of sales accounts deliver 80% of gross revenue.
  • 20% of people in an organization deliver 80% of the results.
  • 20% of exercises performed result in 80% of fitness effectiveness and physical impact.

This principle drives home the reality that not all goals are created equal. Out of 100 goals, there are likely just 20 that will be the most relevant to us and have the greatest impact on our lives.

Setting Goals that are Achievable and Realistic

Deciding on the exact goals that we think we will be able to reach is not as straightforward as motivational youtube videos would have us believe. The more we truly believe in our ability to reach the goals we have set, the more likely we are to persist. This hold true even for very long-term goals. Additionally, we build greater confidence and stronger self-esteem from harder goals than easier ones. Setting challenging goals helps us perform better. However, setting goals that we believe to be realistic is key.

There are plenty of charlatans out there telling you that you can easily wish your way to being a millionaire simply by attending their real estate investment seminar. Clearly, having positive expectations is better than the alternative, and can induce us reach our expectations. But while difficult goals are motivating and lead to better performance, the practice of setting impractical goals is self-destructive. For example, if the goal is to get filthy rich, think carefully about the amount of effort you can exert. Think about what other goals will suffer as a consequence, and the likely result in other areas of your life. Otherwise, you could be setting yourself up for an esteem-crushing fall.

Excessively challenging goals can have diminishing returns

Something to keep in mind is that difficult goals are only motivating to a point. When a goal is too difficult, regardless if it’s our “passion” goal or another goal we have internalized, our motivation is undermined. If we decide to read War and Peace cover-to-cover in 60 minutes, we probably won’t feel very motivated to try, even if we receive a prize of ten thousand dollars for doing so. If we are given ten days instead of an hour, however, the motivation level would likely be entirely different.

For this reason, the most motivating goals are “stretch” goals. Stretch goals are those that are difficult enough to be a stretch, but not so difficult as to be borderline unattainable. Almost any goal can be made into a stretch goal simply by adjusting how quickly or thoroughly we wish to accomplish it.

Setting Goals that are Trackable

We are more likely to move forward quickly when goals are tracked. Seeing our progress in black-and-white helps motivate us and keeps us inspired. Cross off completed tasks, make notes as to what is the most impactful, and determine which efforts you are exerting are producing results and which are not. This allows for adjusting your efforts so that you can focus on the activities that are benefiting you most or helping you progress the most quickly.

Google’s OKR Goals

John Doerr originally presented OKRs (Objective/Key Result) to Google in 1999 when Google was less than a year old and they’ve been in use ever since:

  • Objectives are ambitious and should feel somewhat uncomfortable.
  • Key Results are measurable; they should be easy to grade with a number (Google uses a 0–1.0 scale to grade each key result)
  • OKRs are public; everyone in the company should be able to see what everyone else is working on and how they did in the past.
  • The “sweet spot” for an OKR grade is .6 — .7; if someone consistently gets 1.0, their OKRs aren’t ambitious enough. Low grades are not punished; they refine the next round of OKRs.

“The ninety and nine are with dreams, content but the hope of the world made new, is the hundredth man who is grimly bent on making those dreams come true.”

Edgar Allan Poe

Additional Considerations When Setting Goals

Setting Goals: Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Goals

A strong relationship exists between the types of goals we set for ourselves and the level of satisfaction we have in our lives. Whether our goals primarily revolve around personal growth or materialistic aspirations makes an enormous difference in achieving satisfying, durable life fulfillment.

Intrinsic (i.e. internal) goals, which focus on personal growth and social connections, are rewarding both in the short and long term. Extrinsic (i.e. external) goals, on the other hand, are generally materialistic and ego-boosting. While the acquisition of new things and celebrity might feel good in the moment, they are less likely to support feelings of satisfaction and fulfillment in the long run.

Intrinsic goals are strongly and reliably linked to psychological wellness. In contrast, the prioritization of extrinsic goals, such as earning money or achieving high social station, has a negative effect on well-being. The adverse consequences remain consistent across a wide range of diverse groups, ethnic backgrounds, and situations.

Intrinsic goals are important for promoting well-being because they contribute to developing a sense of ownership over one’s life. Intrinsic goals help us connect with others and feel more capable and confident about achieving our goals.

Moderation is usually the best policy

However, a strong argument can be made that the best path to enhancing our well-being may lie in striking a balance between intrinsic and extrinsic goals. The fact is we do live in a material world within a materialistic culture. And money does matter, particularly when one doesn’t have any. By practicing a strategy of keeping intrinsic goals as our primary focus and extrinsic goals on the back burner, we maintain our options. When we “have a lot of irons in the fire” we can move extrinsic goals from the rear to the front as required. In this way, we maintain sources of short-term and long-term satisfaction and psychological balance.

Ground goals in accomplishment not in avoidance

Positive goals involve attaining, achieving, or increasing something, while negative goals involve avoiding, stopping, or reducing something. We’ve all had both types of goals. We’ve all tried to stop our addictions. And we’ve all had other negative goals, for example, losing weight and stopping eating junk food.

Depending on how we choose to frame them, many goals can be set and visualized either in an avoidance or attainment. Using the above as an example, we could attempt to eat healthier and exercise more instead of losing weight. Another example would be striving to “make more friends” rather than “avoid loneliness”. People who habitually frame their goals in positive ways are more successful more often than those who set their goals in negative, avoidance-oriented, ways. That’s because avoidance goals focus our attention on exactly the unpleasant outcomes we’re trying to prevent.

Avoidance tends to breed more avoidance – of the positive things we need to do to accomplish our goals. Instead, keep your eyes on the prize rather than focus on the possibility and consequences of failure.

Allow your values and Authentic Self to inform your goals

“Self-concordant” is a term used by psychologists to refer to activities that align with our intrinsic motivations and personal values. Self-concordant goals and activities lead to autonomy and self-determination. When a goal is self-concordant, it means that we are pursuing it because we genuinely enjoy it, find it meaningful, and see it as a reflection of our true selves. In other words, they are congruent with our core values, interests, and identity. These goals often include personal growth and interpersonal relationships.

In contrast, non-self-concordant goals or activities are often pursued for some of the extrinsic reasons previously outlined. Non-concordant goals are usually superficial and associated with external motivations. For example, the pursuit of goals such as wealth, status, fame, social pressure, or avoidance of negative consequences. These types of goals may not be in alignment with our true desires or values, and pursuing them can lead to decreased motivation and well-being.

We are more likely to be persistent and experience vitality when we pursue self-concordant goals and activities because these align with our innate psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness.

Because we’re highly motivated, we are more likely to achieve self-concordant goals and experience the resulting satisfaction. Those with greater numbers of self-concordant goals also tend to be happier, because happiness is primarily a consequence of pursuing meaningful goals. Obviously, we all have different values, and not all of our goals are going to be aligned with existential meaning. But, if none of your goals are aligned with your true purpose, it’s worth considering whether there might be some changes you could make. Even small changes can make a big difference in bringing your values closer to the surface and living a more authentic life.

Goal Setting Tips

  • Prioritize: Time is our most precious resource. The time we’re able to devote exclusively to pursuing our goals is limited. Therefore, be sure to decide which goals have the highest priority. For example, if you have one goal to finish your project on time/budget and another to place first in a hacky-sack competition, at some point you may have to prioritize one over the other. We must focus on high-priority goals while continuing to make at least some progress toward all our goals.
“Success is the progressive realization of a worthy goal or ideal.”– Earl Nightingale
  • Break big goals into a series of small objectives: Large goals can sometimes lead to the subjective experience of being overwhelmed, resulting in fear-based inertia. Break your goals down into small objectives. Don’t focus so much on winning Mr. Universe, for example. Instead, focus on your chest one week, your legs the next, etc. Use the same approach to develop healthy eating habits.
“Arriving at one goal is the starting point of another.” – John Dewey
  • Write & Commit: Writing your goals down helps you think them through fully. The mental process of converting your thoughts to words provides clarity and exposes potential obstacles. It may be that something needs to happen before your goal can be properly realized. For example, if your goal is to get a particular job it may require additional education, training, or experience. Writing your goals down can help you identify lapses in planning. Committing to our goals in writing is us holding ourselves accountable which provides forward momentum and acts as a bulwark against abandoning our goals prematurely. A good approach is to write up a goal that says “I commit to doing X by DATE”, sign your name, and hang it somewhere we see it every day.
“A goal is a dream with a deadline.” – Napoleon Hill
  • Focus on the experience rather than the outcome: Concentrate on what is in front of you – what you are doing right now. It is important to focus on what we can control, and we can only perform our best when moving toward our objectives in the here and now. There are many external factors that can interfere with us reaching our goals. In some cases, outside issues can prevent us from reaching our goals entirely. To avoid blaming ourselves for outside circumstances, we must focus on what we can control. Often, our immediate objective is the only thing fully under our control at any given moment. We give ourselves credit for the quality of our efforts even if the outcome isn’t quite what we wanted.
“Let your joy be in your journey – not in some distant goal.” Tim Cook
  • Reframe failure to success: The concept of 50/50 goals is that 50% of a goal’s success is based on achieving the quantifiable outcome and 50% is based on identifying a lesson or skill that you can apply to improve results in the long run. If we are committed to long-term success and thinking in terms of years, 100% of a goal’s success is not always determined by the achievement of the specific target. Skills and lessons can be, and likely will be, more important than a specific quantifiable result. Demonstration of this concept is common in interviews with Silicon Valley CEOs where previous “failures” are reframed as learning experiences where they learned vital lessons and made the necessary connections to get to the level of success now enjoyed.
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.” Winston Churchill
  • Construct an environment that works for you: Our environment can help or hinder our ability to pursue our goals. Set up your surroundings to help reach your goals. For example, you can place your written commitment (as previously described) above your desk. You can remove distractions from your work area, such as moving the TV to your garage and placing a “Do Not Disturb – Amazing Things In Progress” sign on your door. You can put your phone in airplane mode. It appropriate, it may help to get a second computer monitor. Set yourself up for success.

Setting Goals Summarized

The take-away we’ve attempted to impart here is that the hows, whys, and pursuit of goals are as least as important as the goals themselves. While we have discussed the content of goals, we’re not necessarily laying out hard and fast rules. We’re not saying, for example, that relationship goals are always better than work goals. Or that it is healthier to focus on personal growth than pursuing competitive fly fishing. Again, it’s not about the what, per se, but more about the why and the how.

If the goal is wealth, what is the reason? Does it revolve around status and station or is it about independence, freedom, and leaving a lasting positive legacy? And do we intend to pursue this goal fully incorporating our values and ethics? Therefore, exactly what the goal is has less to do with whether or not it’s theoretically healthy for us than how we go about setting and pursuing it. With a little forethought, we can ultimately not only bring our dreams into reality but, perhaps more importantly, have an amazing experience along the way.

Framing goals with a positive attitude is important. The attitude is not “if you’re bored, you’re boring.” It’s “if you want an amazing life, go be amazing”. We accomplish this by setting and pursuing ambitious goals that help us be more successful, happier, and ultimately more satisfied with our lives.

Setting Goals: Live Your Dream

For those who wish to read more on the topic of setting goals, the Berkley Well-Being Institute has an excellent article by Dr. Tchiki Davis titled “Goal Setting: How to Set and Achieve Your Goals” which you can read here.

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