“By recording your dreams and goals on paper, you set in motion the process of becoming the person you most want to be. Put your future in good hands – your own.”
– Mark Victor Hanson
In the long run, the person who thinks about, writes down, and regularly focuses on their goals will be far more successful compared to the person who doesn’t. Goal setting is like painting a bulls-eye in the future and choosing a desirable target that will require concerted effort to get to. This target acts as a focal point, highlighting what is important, and blurring all else into insignificance.
When confronted with a challenging choice, a temptation or a conflict, the person with a goal need only ask themselves one question, ‘Will this get me closer to my goal?’.
If yes, they take action, if no, they choose a different option. In order to accomplish the goal, change may be necessary. New skills may need to be acquired; those of discipline, perseverance, self-efficacy, and willpower. New habits may need to be formed; waking earlier, eating healthier, prioritising learning, exercise and sleep. New knowledge will need to be learnt, and new friendships made. The act of pursuing a goal is a source of positive life change. This isn’t to say that people who haven’t set goals won’t be successful, they may well be. But on average, the person who has a clear path forward will be more likely to reach a desirable destination compared to someone who is walking about without purpose.
In a sense, a ‘goal’ is like the stepping stones along the path to your ‘dreams’. They are the sign posts that mark your progress along the way. They keep you on track, focused on your overall passion, helping you to discard all of the distractions that constantly fight for your attention. If you know where you want to go, you are likely to head in that direction.
Do you have a goal, or goals? What are you aiming towards?
A lot of people are innately put off from goal setting due to a strong fear of failure. They are so concerned that they won’t achieve what they set out to achieve that they don’t ever even try to achieve it. This is of course utter folly, if you don’t try you are guaranteed to fail. I discussed this concept in depth in chapter 5.3 ‘You Either Win Or You Learn’, so I won’t dwell on it too much here, other than to point out the following; achieving a goal isn’t the true point of goal setting – it is all part of the journey towards following your dreams. Achieving the goal would be great of course, but it just another step along the path of your overarching dream. It is a component of your passion, not the passion itself.
One of my passions is Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, one of the martial arts that I train. I love it, and want to continually improve and to keep training for as long as possible into the future. My basic dream is to be able to continue training it for the rest of my life. In order to motivate me to keep improving, I often set myself some related goals. Currently I am working towards attempting to win a specific tournament. This is a knockout tournament in which losers are eliminated, and winners progress on to face more and more challenging opponents. People of all ages, weights and experience levels enter, however it is typically the more experienced, younger and heaver people that win as they have all the advantages. I have entered these kinds of competitions many times in the past, often getting eliminated in the first few rounds.
I am showing improvement, I am yet to medal, but I am not being eliminated as quickly as before. I still have a long way to go before I reach the top. It may come to pass that I will never get there, although that would be disappointing, it wouldn’t be the end of the world, and in fact I wouldn’t consider it a failure, or lament setting the goal in the first place.
The very act of striving towards my goal has caused me to train harder and more consistently than I otherwise would have.
“If you set yourself a goal and go after it with all the determination you can muster, your gifts will take you places that will amaze you.”
– Lez Brown
Before you decide to set your goals, it is important to know what you value. A goal on its own is relatively meaningless.
First work out what you are aiming for, and then set goals that will help get you there.
For example: without thinking about it, the goal to own a sports car seems like a great goal to have. Who wouldn’t want a sports car? Well, me for one. Kind of. While I would love to own a fancy new car, I honestly don’t really value it. Cars are just not that exciting for me. I would prefer to spend the same time and money on things that I do value: travel, knowledge, martial arts, and writing. If I finally managed to purchase my ‘dream car’, I wouldn’t be that satisfied because owning the car is not something that I inherently value. Would I say no to a sports car if it was offered to me? Of course not, but I don’t see much value in pursuing the acquisition of one, as doing so may prevent me from achieving the goals that actually matter to me.
How To Set Goals
There are two different, yet connected, approaches to goal setting that I use. However the key point is this: set a goal that is in line with your values, write it up and place it prominently on your wall. Look at it daily.
Ask yourself if completing a task will bring you closer to the goal or further from it. If it won’t bring you closer, does it really have to be done? When you feel your motivation dropping, take a look at your goals, and push through. Every step you take brings you that much closer to achieving it.
Set ‘S.M.A.R.T.’ goals
You have probably heard of the ‘S.M.A.R.T.’ goal approach in some form or another. It is very widespread, having infiltrated schools and workplaces around the world. This approach to goal setting is very logical, structured and highly functional. Although its application isn’t the most inspiring, ‘S.M.A.R.T.’ goals simply work. They are quite easy to create and implement for most aspects of life, whether it be for personal, work, hobbies, or home life.
The letters ‘S.M.A.R.T.’ all represent a component of effective goal setting. Each component starts with a word that begins with the corresponding letters of ‘S.M.A.R.T.’. Check it out:
S – Specific: Define the goal, without ambiguity, preferably with numbers (ambiguous goals are hard to work towards)
M – Measurable: It needs to be trackable (how will you know if you achieved the goal or not?)
A – Attainable: It needs to be possible to achieve (not outlandishly difficult).
R – Relevant: Attaining the goal must be worth it (relevant to your overall dream).
T – Timely: The goal should be completed by a certain time (else it may never be completed).
Let’s look at creating a ‘S.M.A.R.T.’ goal based around weight loss. Merely stating that you have the goal of ‘losing weight’ is not an example of a ‘S.M.A.R.T.’ goal. How much weight do you want to lose, and when do you want to lose it by? Technically you could go to the toilet or starve yourself for a day and achieve your goal. Not ideal at all.
The ‘S.M.A.R.T.’ way to phrase a weight loss goal could be something like: ‘I will lose five kilograms over the next three months’. This wording clearly suggests a time frame and specified amount to be lost. Importantly the goal is attainable, as although it would be challenging, losing five kilograms over the next three months is certainly possible.
Below I will list some poorly worded goals, followed by their ‘S.M.A.R.T.’ counterparts.
- Goal: To get stronger.
- S.M.A.R.T. Goal: By the end of the year I will be able to squat 4 sets of 8 reps at 100kg.
- Goal: To be successful.
- S.M.A.R.T. Goal: To achieve a promotion to the manager position at my current workplace within six months.
- Goal: To play guitar.
- S.M.A.R.T. Goal: To be able to play ‘Nothing Else Matters’ by Metallica by heart, within one year.
- Goal: To travel the world.
- S.M.A.R.T. Goal: To travel to one new country every year, for the next ten years.
A well-constructed ‘S.M.A.R.T.’ goal is inherently achievable. If you put your mind to it, you will accomplish the goal.
There are a few downsides to the ‘S.M.A.R.T.’ approach however. Namely, it doesn’t provide you with a methodology to achieve the goal, and it’s utterly uninspiring. It tells you what you want to accomplish, but not why or how. If you have a lot of internal motivation, and are quite driven, it alone may suffice as the only type of goal setting tool that you need, however most people (myself included), need something more.
Set ‘D.U.M.B.’ goals
The ‘D.U.M.B’ acronym came about as an obvious counterpoint to ‘S.M.A.R.T’. Just as the words have opposite meanings, so too does the methodology of each approach. The ‘D.U.M.B’ approach aims to inspire the goal setter, to make them think outside the box, as well as give them a methodology to achieve their goals.
D – Dream: Start with a dream, a big dream. The ‘D.U.M.B’ approach first forces you to focus on your overarching dreams and values. It is asking you to answer the following question: ‘What massive, seemingly impossible goal do you want to accomplish?’ Dream, and dream big. Come up with something so outrageously out of your reach that people may consider you dumb for even attempting it!
U – Uplifting: Phrase your dream in a way that is positive rather than negative. Not, ‘I want to lose five kilograms’ rather, ‘I want to become so vibrantly healthy that people are uncontrollably attracted to me. I will glow’. The first example is not inherently motivating, it is promoting a loss of something and implies hard work and suffering, whereas the second promotes the gaining of something and is inherently uplifting and inspiring.
M – Method friendly: Achieving your goal should have a variety of methods that can be put into practice to achieve it. Ask yourself, what things can I do that will aid in accomplishing my goal? For example – in order to become vibrantly healthy a couple of ‘methods’ would include a diet change to include more fresh fruit as well as walking the dogs daily.
B – Behavior Triggered: This involves setting triggers to implement a specific action, basically a statement of ‘every time this happens, I will do that’. For example: You may set the trigger of taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or when you feel hungry, to reach for a banana and protein shake first. By setting triggers, goal attainment will become built into your life. The goals will begin to accomplish themselves.
Below I will list some poorly worded goals, followed by their ‘D.U.M.B.’ counterparts.
- Goal: To get stronger.
- D.U.M.B Goal: I will become a physical specimen, the strongest person in the room at all times. Every morning the first thing I will do will be to lift. I will preference physical transportation where ever possible, and order larger serves of protein with each meal. I will become a lifting and eating machine.
- Goal: To be successful.
- D.U.M.B Goal: I will be running this organisation, everyone from senior management to the front line employees will know my name and respect my contribution. Every day I will accomplish all tasks set for me, and will willingly ask for more. In my breaks I will choose self-education over relaxation, because the more I know, the further I will go.
- Goal: To play guitar.
- D.U.M.B Goal: I will be a rock star, playing for a crowd of thousands of people who have paid to see me. Every time I hear a melody that inspires me, I will look up tutorials on how to play it. In my spare time I will sit with my guitar in hand and learn its intricacies. Every time I have a house guest over, I will play for them.
In a commencement speech, bestselling author Neil Gaiman gives two pieces of advice that provides a good complement to the concept of ‘D.U.M.B.’ goals.
1) Neil suggests that students should not learn the rules of their industry. Suggesting that if someone knows the rules of their chosen profession their thinking may be limited, and they may be forced to operate within that existing framework. But if they are unaware of the rules (or willing to break them) they can create something new. They can accomplish something massive, because for them at least, doing so is not impossible.
2) He analogises goal attainment to a distant mountain. Every choice, goal and opportunity should be measured against the far off mountain by asking the question, “Will this get me closer?” If the answer is yes, go for it. If no, then no matter how lucrative or superficially appealing it may be, it will ultimately not be worth it.
A goal is only worth achieving if it is in line with your dreams and values.
I choose to use a combination of the two approaches. ‘D.U.M.B.’ goals are inspiring, providing me with a method and behavioural triggers that help me to get started, while ‘S.M.A.R.T’ goals help me to measure my progress, showing me if I am improving relative to my overarching goals and subsequently tells me if I am still on the path to my dreams.
It may seem odd that I require goals to ‘stay on the path’. If I truly cared about my dreams, wouldn’t I do it naturally? While it is tempting to hope so, in practice I have found that life has a way of throwing road blocks in the way. Money, health, family, work, friends and other commitments all demand attention. This is to say nothing of the added impact of a mental affliction.
When I don’t have goals written down, or when I stop looking at them, my focus starts to drift. Things that ultimately don’t matter seem far more important. Eventually I will remember what I am passionate about, but only after a lot of mental torment and wasted time.
‘Following Your Dreams’ has some challenging and often stressful aspects to it. Over time this can have the effect of wearing down my resolve and saps my willpower to continue. Yet when I look to my goals, I know where I am heading. I know that if I continue to take those small steps, I will be well on the way to living my dream life.
Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 6 Rules to Success:
- Trust yourself
- Break the rules
- Don't be afraid to fail
- Don't listen to the naysayers
- Work like hell
- Give something back
Continue The Conversation
What is your ultimate goal?
Tweet @zacpphillips #goal, with your thoughts.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q) What do I do when I fail in one of my goals?
A) Learn from your mistakes and try again. Take a look at chapter 5.3 ‘You Either Win Or You Learn’ for more on this concept.
Q) Why even have goals? Shouldn’t I just live for the moment?
A) We are able to accomplish much more than we think we can, provided we attempt to get somewhere. Just like how having a coach can focus and improve you, so can setting a goal. It will elevate you to new heights.
Of course you can ‘just live’, if you are happy with where you are in life and can truly enjoy it, perfect! However, there is a risk of equating fear of failure and change with happiness. If you are in a safe, comfortable rut, you may not be completely satisfied, but you are well off enough to not want to risk the fall. Ask yourself, ‘Have I achieved my life’s purpose?’, if no, you may want to set some goals and take action.
Living for the moment can actually be aided by goal setting. I would much prefer to ‘live in the moment’ doing something I love, than doing something I hate. By setting goals I can have a life that I am enjoying and be present to it.
There is a real sense of meaning that you get when you put your mind towards accomplishing something that is currently beyond you. The pursuit of a difficult goal forces you to change, grow and learn. In my experience, these changes are worth the effort.
Neil Gaimen Commencement Speech
‘S.M.A.R.T’ and ‘D.U.M.B.’ goals act as motivating guide posts to keep you on the path of following your dreams. Write them up, put them on your wall, and look at them everyday.