We’re told that setting goals is integral to succeeding in life. That without having something to strive for, we’re likely to have no direction or purpose.
So we start to create these goals. Before they’re fully formed, we mold them to make them SMART: specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and time-bound. We then develop a plan to achieve them, and kick that plan off. And then twelve months or so later, when New Year’s or a birthday, or whatever it was that motivated us to set the goal in the first place rolls around again, we look at that piece of paper, with its carefully detailed action points, and wonder why we always fail at these aspirations for ourselves.
It’s not an affirming position at all.
But what if I told you there’s something, which if you did, that would improve your chances of achieving your goals by some 589% (I totally made up that number) – because now you’d be setting goals that matter. Would you want to know?
I’m figuring the answer is yes, because you’re still reading.
Here’s the secret -most of the goals we set are things we think we should be doing. And understanding what is behind that should is crucial.
Start with your existing goals.
Let me give you an example. This is one of my main goals at the moment.
- Complete the Tauranga International Half Marathon in October.
Now do it with me – I want you to write down any goals you have right now.
What’s the why?
So what are my reasons for wanting to complete a half marathon?
- If I don’t do it, I’ll be losing face to all those people I have told about it
- I will feel like I have let down my husband, my sister and her partner who are going to run it with me
- I will feel disappointed in myself for not sticking to something
- Doing something like this would create a real sense of achievement
- I signed up for one in the first place because I thought it would give me motivation to keep running over the winter months
- Running gives me an endorphin rush
- Running three times a week keeps me calm
Your turn- go ahead and do your whys for your current goals.
Work out the essence beneath your why.
Once you have these reasons, you can distill them even further into the emotion or feeling behind each one. In my case, they are: shame, fear of disappointing others or myself, achievement motivation, feeling a high, and calm.
What can you see beneath your reasons?
Ditch the reasons that serve no purpose.
This is where we’re going to take a lesson from Mark Manson, and his article on The subtle art of not giving a f**k (If you read it, be warned, the there’s a lot of f**ks and no asterisks either). He says:
“As we get older, we gain experience and begin to notice that most of these things [what people said about us, whether someone was rude, and so on] have little lasting impact on our lives… We realize how little people pay attention to the superficial details about us and we focus on doing things more for ourselves rather than for others.”
So those feelings of shame or fear of letting people down? Cast them aside. Life’s too short to feel shame for not measuring up to some arbitrary line. And those people who you think you’ll disappoint? If they know you and love you they probably won’t care, and chances are they’re more worried about their own performance anyway. And if you’re honest, that shame and fear is all about your ego. You’re not actually doing it for them. You’re doing it to look good to them.
So go back to your list and cross off those motivations which are concerned with ego, impression management and emotions that serve no purpose.
Guess what- if there’s nothing left, you need to reassess the goal.
Yep- seriously, get rid of it. That’s because this goal is not motivated by any of those values which drive you, which inspire you, and which keep you going. If you don’t cross it off now, I can bet you’re going to give up on sooner or later because it doesn’t really speak to you. It doesn’t tap into your core values. It’s a vanity goal.
To help you refine this idea, I’d like you to head over to Richard Step and his 48 core values. Don’t get confused by his title of motivation for work- work here applies to both what we do at home and at our jobs. Have a look at each one of those words you had above, and align it to one of those values.
I’ve got achievement (I even used that word), enjoyment (feeling that high), and health (the calmness I get from regular running). I can also add challenge, because training for a half marathon takes time and you have to constantly push yourself.
These are pretty awesome values. I know myself, and I know what’s important to me, and these fit in. And if I ALSO add in the fact I do my training with my husband, and that I love and value spending time with him, then I can see that my half marathon goal is right up there with the best of them. But what was primarily driving me before was the negatives, and those negatives did not make me feel good. In fact, a lot of the time, those negatives were what I was thinking about, and what I used as justification when I didn’t want to train.
And that’s the reason why this is so important.
Achieving meaningful goals is hard.
You could easily be fooled here, because hop on Pinterest and you’ll see a ton of articles which have get-rich-quick type of headlines. Lose this huge amount of weight in this short amount of time. Pay off that massive debt accumulated over years in these three short months. You get the idea.
It’s not that easy- and it shouldn’t be easy. The struggle is part of the process, and part of what makes us happy when we achieve the goal.
And the struggle will come. When you have to run in the rain or after work when you’re tired, or when you’ve got ten other important and pressing things to do, you have to accept that. And it’s when you hit those moments, those inevitable struggles, that you think back to your whys and your values, and you recognize the importance of that goal to you and you go ahead and crush it. Like I said above, if your goal was founded on negatives, then you’ll use that to justify not acting on it.
To wrap up:
Yes- set goals. They’re important. Very important. But before you commit to them, put them to the test. Know why you’re doing them, work out the essence of your whys, and align those to your values. If you can’t make a connection, then that goal is not for you. If it does, embrace it and go hard!