Updated: Jul 9, 2019
Goal setting has many benefits: greater clarity in decision-making, more effective use of time and increased focus, motivation and likelihood of reaching our goals, to name a few. If you want to live a more meaningful life, goal setting is a must.
So you want to set goals, but where do you start?
Here are some rules to follow:
A key step on the path to smart goal setting is beginning. It sounds obvious but so many people hold themselves back because they fail to know where to begin or get overwhelmed and put off the necessary steps. If you don’t know where to start, begin by writing down smaller goals or in one area of life that you are sure of. Beginning will signal to your mind and body that you are serious. Take inspiration from Martin Luther King Jr’s famous quote, “take the first step in faith. You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”
Set SMART goals.
You want them to be specific, measurable, achievable (although best to dream big), relevant and time bound. The more specific your goals are, the more likely you are to achieve them. Get very clear on what you’d like to achieve. Then define how you’ll know when you will succeed and whether it is achievable. It is important to think of ambitious goals that make you excited and encourage you to strive, but factor in some logic to this. For example, if you are short and have never enjoyed playing basketball, it is unlikely that you will make it to the NBA. You also want to ensure the goals are relevant, meaning they are aligned with your values and beliefs. Finally, time bound suggests that you put a date for when you’d like to achieve the goal.
Look at your bad habits and create a plan to eliminate them
Take an honest look at yourself and identify bad habits that could keep you from achieving your goals. For example, maybe you tend to overbook yourselves with unnecessary meetings leaving no time for critical thinking and hard work or maybe you leave your hard work for the last thing in the day and then don’t end up doing it. We all have bad habits and whatever they may be, identify them and create a thoughtful plan to eliminate them.
The more self-discipline you have, the more likely you will be to persevere to achieve your goals when things get hard. You can improve your self-discipline by eating healthily, getting enough sleep, meditating, practicing gratitude and exercising. All things equal, if you improve those areas you will be in a better mental state and also the discipline around those areas, will encourage you to be disciplined in other areas.
Create daily and weekly goals
You don’t want to overcomplicate the process to the point where you don’t follow through, but breaking down your long and short term goals into weekly (and possibly daily) goals will ensure you’re staying on track and more likely to reach your goals. Things will come up and you’ll have to adjust but a plan reminds you what you’re aiming for and allows you to track your progress against it. An effective planning method is taking time on the weekend to reflect on the previous week to identify what went well, what didn’t, and what needs to be followed up on. Following that, plan for the week ahead taking into account everything you’ve reflected on in relation to the previous week.
Track your progress
Once you’ve broken down the goals into daily or weekly goals, continue to track them and make sure you’re progressing. If you aren’t, look at what you can do differently to ensure you do progress.
Learn to manage your time effectively
Decide what types of activities you spend time on that aren’t adding value to your life and cut them out or at least drastically reduce them. For instance, a lot of people have experienced great benefits from cutting down their social media time. Be honest with yourself and if you are distracted by low value adding things on a daily basis, remove them from your day. Identify activities where you want to spend your time, and where you need to do critical thinking and ensure you are allocating your time accordingly. In addition, leave space for spontaneity, fun and activities that are less goal oriented but may improve your mood or focus like going on a walk or talking to a friend. Periodically reflect on where you spend your time and if you notice certain activities are draining you or not adding value to your life, adjust your time spent accordingly.
Do the hard thing first
The majority of people are most disciplined in the morning. Each day, work out what tasks are most important to achieving your goals and tackle them first. As the day goes on discipline levels go down significantly.
In Silicon Valley, failure has almost become celebrated. It suggests that you were bold, dreamed big and that investors believed in you. While I would never suggest that failure is desirable, it is an inevitable part of life for anyone working towards big goals and who consistently steps out of their comfort zone. In other words, it is essential for anyone who will eventually be a big success. A more helpful way to look at failure is as a stepping stone to success. Winston Churchill famously said “success is going from one failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” With this in mind, accept that failure is part of life, try to accept it with grace, learn from your mistakes and move on so you can continue to work towards your goals.
Seek a mentor and / or coach
While not always easy to find, and I wouldn’t advocate forcing the relationship, seek mentorship (with tact). It takes time to build the relationship - continue to offer help to the mentor, be gracious for their time, but the investment is worth it. A good mentor can be incredibly helpful in talking things through, gaining inspiration and helping you to achieve your goals. If you can't find a mentor, a coach can be a great replacement or in the case that you have a mentor, a great addition to keep you moving towards your goals.
Most people have blind spots and aren’t able to see things they may be doing that are holding them back, because they are too emotionally attached to the outcome. If you are open to it, there is so much you can learn from constructive criticism from someone you trust.
Look for daily inspiration
Whether your goal is to launch a new company, write your first book, or get a promotion, between podcasts, YouTube and blogs of industry leaders, there are so many places you can find inspiration. When working on the launch of Wonder Source, I listened to the Guy Raz podcast called How I Built This where he interviews founders of successful startups like Glossier, Peloton, Yelp and many others. Hearing about the kinds of challenges that they overcame, kept me motivated and moving forward. Lewis Howes’ School of Greatness and Tim Ferris’ podcasts, interviewing successful people, are both incredibly inspiring. Whatever goals you are working on, there are free resources available to you that will keep you inspired. Also, you may want to find a few inspiring quotes that you like and put them on post it notes in visible locations around your house or work space.
Here are a few inspiring quotes to get you started:
"Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere." - Albert Einstein
"Would you like me to give you a formula for success? It's quite simple, really: Double your rate of failure. You are thinking of failure as the enemy of success. But it isn't at all. You can be discouraged by failure or you can learn from it, so go ahead and make mistakes. Make all you can. Because remember that's where you will find success." - Thomas J. Watson
"I began to realise how important it was to be an enthusiast in life. If you are interested in something, no matter what it is, go at it full speed. Embrace it with both arms, hug it, love it and above all become passionate about it." - Roald Dahl
"The temptation to quit will be greatest just before you are about to succeed." - Chinese Proverb
"Remember that sometimes not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck." - Dalai Lama
"The secret to getting ahead is getting started." - Mark Twain