Setting goals can be the first step in turning our dreams into a reality. We all tend to have a vision for the way we want our life to look and goals are a great way to make that vision tangible. Whether it is becoming an entrepreneur, getting into the best shape of our life or finding the one person we were meant to be with, goals can help us get there.
But the problem with our goal-oriented and highly driven society is that it can leave us feeling overwhelmed and drained. The lifestyle gurus of the world tell us that anything is possible if we just dream big enough and take the appropriate action. So we get busy planning and scheming and with a bag of inspiration we carry on living ‘our best life’ for about a week. Then we inevitably realize that the dream we have been sold is too high to attain for us, so we give up, get angry and try again in high spirits a month later.
“Goals are a direction, not a destination.”
Wanting to live a better life is admirable and goals can definitely help us achieve this. However, we need to stop seeing goals as a destination to reach. As much as we might think we have some godly powers with which we can direct the course of our future (something that is popularised by the ‘law of attraction’), life will always throw us unexpected curveballs. Goals should, therefore, be seen as a direction rather than a destination. The trick is to break down our goals into bite-sized and manageable chunks which will take us in our desired direction while planning in a massive error margin, called life. A simple technique to achieve this way of goal-setting is breaking your goals into smaller ones along four different timescales.
These are the goals that broadly map out the way we want our lives to turn out. They are the direction you want to be heading into. These goals can be intentionally unspecific, such as making a meaningful contribution to the world and being surrounded by loving friends and family. Here you set out how you want to look back on your life all-in-all when you are old.
After setting a few life goals, you start making your goals more tangible. You can ask yourself where you want to see yourself in 3 years (or 2 or 5, it doesn’t really matter) in order to work towards your envisioned direction. You can still dream big here but try making the goals a little more concrete. Long-term goals might include buying your first home, entering a career in law or moving to Australia.
At this stage, you make your goals practical and actionable. You may want to choose three months or six months as your timeline. These goals should be specific and practical, as well as achievable within your given timeframe. Examples of short-term goals are saving 2000 pounds for a trip abroad, landing your first job after college or being able to run a 10k.
This is by far the most important step in setting goals. A remarkable life consists of thousands of unremarkable steps. Dreaming big does nothing if we do not put in the daily work to make this dream come to reality. Here comes the crux of the story though. Daily goals should be small and few at a time (if you think they are small already, try thinking of a way to make them even smaller). Making the goals very small and realistic means you will be able to consistently achieve them. The beauty of consistency is that it eventually leads to a new habit. This way you can build in a myriad of new habits into your life that eventually will take you into your chosen direction. Want to be healthier? Start by eating 1 piece of fruit daily without trying to change anything else. Within 30 days, this should feel natural and you will be able to add a new daily goal to the mix that will head you in the direction of a healthier life.
Focus, Align, Change
Every day you only focus on achieving your 1-2 goals for that day. Over time this will amount to a lot of tiny achieved goals turned into habits, which will carry us further onto the path we want to walk in life. To ensure we are still heading into that dreamed of direction, we can review our short and long-term goals monthly and see in what way we can align our daily goals more with what we want in the future.
Whenever we set our goals (on whatever timeframe) we should always ask ourselves if they are in line with what we ultimately want to achieve from life. Are these goals going to make us happier, more fulfilled and more at peace with ourselves? If not, it is okay to change our goals. If our goals (from daily goals to lifetime goals) are no longer serving us, it is okay to let them go and move towards a new vision for life.
“Trust the wind instead of the engine”
This goal-setting technique is all well and good, but the most important step is still to come. When setting goals, you should always do this with a healthy dose of grace. Being graceful means you acknowledge the fact that things will go faulty and that life cannot be planned into submission. An engine is a machine and therefore faulty. By mechanically trying to engineer your life, you are setting yourself up for continuous disappointment. Instead, trust the wind – the part of life that cannot be planned – and schedule plenty of margin into your goals. When planning to run a 10K in three months, give yourself the permission to feel accomplished if you only manage to run 5K. When setting a goal of eating fruit daily for the next month, plan for the fact that there might be days that you forget or run out of fruit or simply do not want to eat a bloody piece of fruit! Celebrating the small accomplishments and gracefully accepting your failures will transform goal-setting into a rewarding exercise rather than a punishment.
Making goals about a graceful and forgiving move towards a brighter future rather than about strict lists that need to be accomplished has been the most liberating decision I have taken in a long time. Seeing that I am making progress even in the midst of plenty of failures and stumbles has made goal-setting a beautiful and worthwhile exercise in my life. Although setting goals continues to help me shape my life if there is one thing I have learned (and accepted) in the last year is that life truly happens when you are busy making other plans.
Do you use goals in your life? If so, what are some of your current goals?