By most estimates, personal goal setters are a minority. Recent data suggests 15-20% of people regularly set goals for themselves outside of a work context. As with most social science, there are some fantastic claims around the power of goal setting, many of which are probably not reproducible. Indeed, two of the most common studies you’ll hear about have been debunked as urban legends. “Set goals and you’ll double your income, be happy, wise, and live happily ever after,” may sound good, but we all know that isn’t how it works. Realistically, we know there’s likely some bias in terms of the personality and motivations of goal setters outperforming the other 80%.
With that said, goal setting is becoming more and more of a necessity in the age of distraction. As more and more content buzzes about attempting to distract us, there’s even more of a premium on focus, and goals are a way both to define what your focus is, as well as motivate you to follow through with it.
The first step of goal setting can also be the most valuable: taking a moment to reflect on where you are, what you want to accomplish with the time you have, and why you want to do it. You may not know the answers to these questions. Most of us probably only think we know what the answers are. In both cases, your obligation is the same: go out and pursue your best guess and see where that leads you. If nothing else, the process of doing this should teach you something about yourself as the journey unfolds.
If it hasn’t already been stated, finding your purpose can be HARD. Plenty of people leverage friends, family, mentors, and coaches to aid in this process. And it certainly doesn’t need to be something that you go through on your own. Find someone to be an accountability buddy or consider hiring a coach or accountability service to help you out. Inquire at the end of this article and we can help you out!
A large source of unhappiness and unease comes from having a vision of where you want to be, but being unable to get there. Creating a plan isn’t a panacea – there’s still work to be done. But having a clear and precise plan is a big first step toward reaching any goal – as confirmed by a Harvard study on how people achieve their goals.
Just as purposes will have endless variation from person to person, so to will plans. Some people prefer detailed plans, others will prefer simpler ones. As a general rule, do this: take one of your goals, then identify three concrete steps that you can take over the next year in order to make progress.
Why do these plans matter? Simply put, they help you ensure that you have concrete steps you can take toward your purpose. Knowing that you are taking steps toward where you want to be can act as a shield against all the crap that life can throw your way. Just as importantly, it helps to ensure that you won’t look back on your life in 10 or 20 years with profound regret about not going for X or Y. Having this sort of empathy for your future self is a great way to ensure the happiness of said future self.
Doing this in a top-down way – with your eyes always on the big picture goal – will ensure that each step that you take is meaningful to you. Very few people are going to meditate if the end is just the act of meditating – there’s no meaning ascribed to that. As with any habit, meditation is just a piece of a bigger picture. In this case, you may have a goal of becoming more calm or developing a peace of mind. While such a goal is abstract, meditation is a concrete step you can take to try to get there. Similarly, running or going to the gym are concrete steps toward living healthier, and so on.
As we alluded to in the intro, we live in a world filled with more and more distractions. Largely that’s a good thing! A world where we can invest in entertainment is a sign of a healthy and prosperous society. Yet it does have its drawbacks. And in today’s world we are at a point where platforms like YouTube and Facebook are able to generate money off of your attention.
While this is the trade-off to be made for a free product, it does put you at risk. These services need to be designed to be ever more distracting and ever more addicting. Without pushing back, you may find yourself roped in and addicted to the social gossip of Facebook, the outrage of Twitter, or the flashy videos of YouTube. I’ve personally struggled with this and shared a bit about how I radically reduced phone usage by setting concrete goals to do so.
Suffice to say – no one is going to be focused all the time, but almost all of us could stand to gain from focusing a bit more each day on reaching our goals. By having a plan and holding yourself accountable, you naturally prioritize the things that are most important to your long-term happiness. Take care of those early, and you can free up more time later to socialize, relax, have fun, and do everything else that makes a good life.
“Empowering” is an overused adjective in today’s society, but in this case, it is warranted. We humans are stubborn creatures. We don’t like change and fight it even if we know it is in our best interest. But as most of us can speak to firsthand, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of successfully changing something you don’t like about yourself or just want to change. People tend to define themselves by the changes that they underwent.
Change can be instigated by a dramatic life event, but barring that committing to a plan is the best way to go. Pick something you want to change, find a plan, and go for it. It still won’t be easy, but you’ll be giving yourself a chance to build yourself into a better person.
Those are just a few of the benefits of goal setting. While the process can look different for everyone, no one’s ever been harmed by laying out a few goals and figuring out how to go about reaching them. Give it a try!
Want help with goal setting? Reach out! We can offer affordable coaching focused on setting up a system that works for you and checking in as needed to help you stay accountable!