What You MUST Know To Reach Your Goals

Personal development blogs, magazines, podcasts, blogs and books have long touted the importance of setting goals. Why?

Because, simply put, goal setting is one of the most effective success tools there is. 

Gail Matthews, PhD, professor at the Dominican University in California, conducted a study by tracking the success rate of 149 individuals, male and female, from various industries, who were trying to achieve several personal goals. Some of the participants were instructed to write down their goals and share them with close friends, others were told only to write down their goals, and still others were told not to write down anything at all.

The result? Matthews discovered that those who ‘wrote down their goals, shared this information with a friend, and sent weekly updates to that friend were on average 33% more successful in accomplishing their stated goals than those who merely formulated goals.’ (1). Furthermore, the participants that wrote down their goals and shared them with friends – including a weekly progress report for their friends – achieved on average 76% of their stated goals. (2).

Just think on that number for a moment – three quarters of all goals set, written down and shared with a friend were reached. Where would you be if you’d achieved three quarters of all the targets you’d ever set for yourself?

Clearly, an important distinction needs to be made between just thinking about what you want and actually writing down in black and white the things that are important for you to achieve. Anybody can sit and consider what they would like to have happen to or for them, but it takes a brave human being to commit it to paper and say to themselves, ‘This is what I am making a stand for in my life, this is what I aim to do.’

There is a magic that mobilises the brain when we set a goal on paper that does not exist in merely ‘thinking’ about how nice it would be.

When a goal is written down, it takes its first step into the physical plane.  At no time previously will your particular goal or idea have existed for you in anything except the purely esoteric thought patterns that rattle around inside your head from time to time.

Consequently, writing down your goals is one of the most basic secrets of success, whether you like it or not.

Perhaps one of the more relevant aspects to consider when talking about personal goals is that you do have them whether you are consciously aware of them or not. Deciding that you have no particular thing that you wish to do today and that you will therefore stay in bed until you find a reason to rise will provide an adequate demonstration of this situation.

Sooner or later you will become aware of the need to go to the toilet. At that point you will set a goal along the lines of getting to the bathroom before your need overcomes your restraint. If you think that all of the above happens without setting a goal, stay in bed and notice how this goal works its way up your list of priorities to the point that you are unable to think of anything else but going to the bathroom. 

Even the decision that you have nothing in particular that you want to achieve except to stay out of trouble at work is a goal, with pay-offs and rewards. Really, what is important to realise here is that setting goals and targets is a completely natural consequence of being alive.

Consider the following diagram, as not merely analogous to life, but as a basic truism.

Our friend here is a humble bee headed towards a flower. Have you ever noticed how many times it flaps its wings along the way? Very inefficient. Think how an eagle soars and glides and hardly beats its wings while doing so. It’s tremendously efficient, but the bee is far more impressive. Why?

A bee has a goal or target, without fulfilment of which its life will be wasted. If you sit in the grass and watch bees flying around, you’ll notice that they always fly in a straight line. In fact, all they do is fly from one goal to the next, without straying. Keeping an eye on their goal motivates them to lift as much as their own body weight and haul it over to the next goal. Can an eagle do that? No!

What the bee does not do is to wait around to see if it can find something better, or to ensure that it does not head off and put a whole lot of energy into something that might turn out to be the wrong thing. The bee simply has a goal and it pursues it from sun up to sundown. Imagine what you would achieve if you put all your energy into pursuing your goals in life in the same way that the bee does.

The major advantage of having a goal is not that you will gain that particular target. The real purpose of a properly set target is to give you motion. The concept of motion is paramount, since without it you will stay in exactly the position that you now occupy. The position that you are now in should terrify you from the point of view that, if you do not move away from it, however slowly, you will begin to defend it as a wonderful place to be. Once you begin to do that, you are dead – all that remains is the long wait to see how long your body lasts. You will, in all likelihood, be buried about 30 years after you died.

If you are offended by what you have just read, you are doing it to some degree or other already.

Just look at how quickly people die after retirement in this country. People who don’t make it to a full and happy retirement are those who do not have any other goals or reasons to be alive. These are the people who had no other goal in life than to get to the end of their working career. Once they did it, they failed to replace that target with another one. You will hear these people proclaiming that they don’t want all that fancy stuff like flash cars and trips overseas, they just want to have no worries. When they arrive at the cemetery, they finally reach their all-important goal. Now they don’t have any worries. As Norman Vincent Peale says, ‘Pray to God for some worries!’

Properly perceived, the motion that is produced by having a goal is far more important than the goal itself. Without this motion there is obviously no chance that you will discover if you are headed in the right direction or not.

To not set a goal is similar to being very hungry. If you stay at home with an empty fridge hoping that somebody will come by with a plate of food to save you, you will be hungry for a lot longer than somebody who is out there making mistakes about how to get fed, but who at least has motion. Sooner or later they will get fed. You will not. The obvious lesson here is this:

Any goal is better than none.   

Especially if you discover that it is the wrong goal. Then you know by the motion that you created that you are on the way to success. 

Take another look at the diagram.

The bee pursues its goal with all of its available energy, but along the way it achieves much more than it intends with its actions. When the bee lands on the second flower for the day it actually fulfils its life purpose by the act of cross-pollination. This is incredibly important to the survival of the human race. Without cross-pollination there would be no flowers; without flowers, no fruit; without fruit, no seeds; without seeds, no plants; without plants, no you and I.

If you want to discover your life’s purpose, goals will be key. It may well be through the pursuit of a goal that will have little to do with that life purpose that you discover it. Consequently, it becomes incredibly important that you set and pursue a series of goals, as these goals give you the necessary motion. Not to do so is the equivalent of doing nothing and hoping that a talent scout or millionaire will arrive at your doorstep and offer you the world.

So, if goal setting is such a fantastic success tool, why doesn’t everyone do it?

One of the most common reasons for not setting a goal is a fear of failure. The fear of failing is a very real one in every human being, despite what some of the outwardly brave ones will tell you. It is perhaps best illustrated when people say, ‘But what if I set a target and I don’t reach it?’ This question describes the true inner feelings of the speaker, who actually believes that they will prove themselves to be a much less worthwhile person than they already are if they aim at something and miss it. 

This individual not only feels this way about their own evaluation of themselves, but also shows great concern that anybody watching them will come to the same awful conclusion. And if that happens, perhaps those spectators will no longer want to be friends, leaving the would be goal setter alone.

The originating cause of this feeling is inherent in most people brought up in our society and it is caused primarily through a belief or program that we are not loveable and worthwhile because of who we are, but because of the things that we do.

The creation of this belief is simple when you consider the first time you ever washed up or folded your own clothes. It was most likely cause for congratulations and approval in your home. Parents wanting to train their children in the basic decencies in life use positive reinforcement to convey the idea that what has just been done is a desirable act. Young minds see that they are pleasing the most important people in their world by what they do, rather than pick up an understanding that they are loved anyway. 

Additionally, we see that the opposite will apply as well. Parents wanting to ensure that their children do not repeat an undesirable act will express some kind of disapproval, whether it be anger, condemnation, disappointment or silence.

Young minds experiencing this situation often conclude that they are not loved when they do things that are wrong or not good. In this context, we see that most people would rather not attempt to achieve something worthwhile because there is a chance that they will fail, which will be perceived as not good. There can be no greater punishment for the owner of these kinds of programs than to feel that they have been seen as not good because they know the result is that love will be taken away from them.

Hence we have the fear of failure. It’s not actually the failure that people fear though, it is the consequences of it that are so scary. This immobilises many would be goal setters.

In truth, failing to reach a target may be one of the best things that ever happened to you, since, in comparison, you would learn practically nothing from the things that you do well. You may very well learn some earth-shattering concepts from your failures.

The fear of success is the other main reason that people do not set goals and write them down. Silly as it may seem, the problem with succeeding is that it will involve change. The greater the success, the greater the change, and change is terrifying because it moves us into unfamiliar territory. 

If we are not familiar with success, it can be frightening to realise that we will be stretched to our limits by the amount of change necessary for us to succeed. 

This particular fear is a difficult one to recognise because we spend a great deal of time daydreaming about success. Be especially aware when considering whether you have this fear or not. You almost certainly do. It will not be found at the conscious level, but in the subconscious – the part of your brain you don’t get to talk to so often.

While it can be challenging to move past fears (see our blog posts on fear for more help with this), it is critically important that you set goals and work toward them. Ultimately, what it really boils down to is this: your brain is a goal setting mechanism and whether you set goals for it or not, it will seek them relentlessly anyway.

If you wake in the morning with no conscious thought of what you will do that day, then your brain will take your most dominant thoughts and assume that these are what you want to achieve. Now, if your most dominant thoughts are that whatever happens you just don’t want to be in a car accident, guess who’s likelihood of bending their car just skyrocketed?!

Any brain concentrating on what it doesn’t want is attracting it as fast as possible by making it a dominant thought, which the brain will interpret as a goal. How many people have you heard say ‘No way am I going to turn out like my father,’ only to grow more and more like him each day?

Clearly you’d be far better off giving your brain a goal you’ve carefully considered and set to focus on.

Exactly how do you do that?

 

 

How To Set Great Goals

It’s important to begin by acknowledging that goals should be a stretch to reach. If your goals don’t require you to grow in order to achieve them, they aren’t worth your time.

Ask yourself, ‘If I knew I couldn’t fail, what would I aim at?’

Think about that question in terms of broad categories and several different time frames – you might want to set goals in the areas listed below for this month, this year, five years and a lifetime.

Career

Family

Travel

Relationships

Health & Fitness

Recreation

Spiritual

Character Traits

Possessions

Other

Once you have a goal in mind, ensure you set the target with Doran’s SMART goal guideline in mind. SMART is a very effective tool – when you use it you’ll be able to create clear, achievable and meaningful goals.

SMART goals are: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time Sensitive.

 

Specific

A specific goal has a much greater likelihood of being achieved than a general one. To help you narrow your target down, answer the who, what, when, where, which and why questions below.

Who – who is involved?

What – exactly do I want to accomplish?

Where – identify a location if necessary.

When – establish a time frame for the steps you’ll take.

Which – identify any requirements or constraints you will need to overcome.

Why – add any specific benefits of accomplishing your goal.

For example:

General goal – ‘Get physically fit.’

Specific goal – ‘Join a gym and attend a minimum of four times per week.’

 

Measurable

To prevent overwhelm and maintain motivation, it is important to be able to break your goals down into smaller sub-goals you can track as you move toward achieving the larger target. With that in mind, establish concrete criteria you can use  to measure progress toward each goal you set.

If you’re staying on track and reaching the sub-goal target dates you’ll remain positive and motivated.

To determine whether or not your goal is measurable, you can ask questions like the ones below.

How much?

How many?

How often?

How will I know the goal is accomplished?

What would a quarter of the way to the goal be? Half? Three quarters?

Is there an element of this goal I can attach a number to? E.g. If I’m going to the gym, how many times per week will I go?

 

Achievable

Goals need to be realistic and achievable to be successful. That is, they need to stretch you but be genuinely possible.

You may need to find previously overlooked or untapped resources and opportunities to bring you closer to an achievable goal, but once you’ve set the goal you’ll be surprised at how they seem to just pop up!

To check if your goal is achievable, ask yourself questions like the ones below.

How can I accomplish this goal?

What will I need to change/keep doing to reach this goal?

Are the resources and opportunities I need within my grasp? If not, could they be if I worked at it?

How realistic is the goal, based on other constraints like time or finances?

For example, you might want to get a promotion at work, but you’ll need to ask yourself if that is a realistic goal based on your existing skills and experience. If you’re not already qualified, do you have the time to complete any required training? Are the resources to do so available to you? Can you afford the training if it is not provided by the company you work for? These types of obstacles are all surmountable, but they do need to be considered when you’re setting the goal.

 

Relevant

Ensuring that your goals are relevant to your vision for your life and therefore align with your values is critically important.

Ask questions like the ones listed below to ensure your goals remain relevant.

Does this goal feel like a worthwhile pursuit?

Is it the right time to aim at this target?

Does this gel well with my other goals?

Have I considered the role, if any, my spouse will play in achieving this goal?

Does this goal align with my values?

 

PRO TIP: Check out our blog post on aligning goals and values for more information on ensuring you don’t have a values conflict when setting goals. 

 

Time Sensitive 

All great goals have a target date so that you have a deadline to focus on. ‘Someday’ simply will not work – the urgency created by the timeline is what will ensure progress toward your goal takes priority over day-to-day tasks.

A goal that is not grounded within a time frame doesn’t produce the sense of urgency that will get your subconscious mind working on the goal.

Ask yourself questions like the ones below.

When?

What can I do today?
What can I do this week?

What can I do this month?

What can I do in six months?

Also consider what time you may need if your goal requires you to gain additional education or training. It’s important to give yourself a realistic time frame for reaching any small targets on the way to your larger goal.

 

PRO TIP: Be careful when you’re setting your goals that they are targets you remain in control of. For example, ‘get a promotion’ depends on other people, but ‘get the experience and qualifications to make me eligible for promotion’ is all about you!

 

Break Your Goals Down 

Once you’ve got a solid goal in mind, break it down into manageable steps, even going so far as to set target deadlines for each step. Doing so will prevent overwhelm by providing an action plan that keeps you on motivated and on track!

For example: ‘Save $5000 by the end of this year.’

Step 1: Assess current financial status – to be completed by x date.

Step 2: Use understanding from step one to look at what expenses can be minimised or eliminated to free up $100 per week, or brainstorm ways to increase income – to be completed by x date.

Step 3: Create new budget to ensure adherence to step two – to be completed by x date.

Step 4: Set up automatic funds transfers to ensure new budget remains in place – to be completed by x date.

 

Write Your Goals Down

Writing your goals down is a key element in successfully using goal setting to create your dream life.

The critical thing to remember when writing your goals down is to do so in the first person, as though you’ve already achieved the goal.

For example: It is July 2017 and I have been going to the gym four times per week for six months now. I’ve formed a healthy new habit, I have loads more energy and I feel fantastic!

Try creating a goal book – it will give you a place you can write all of your goals and the ability review them whenever you like. Use a page for each goal and be creative: add images, coloured paper, stamps or even stickers to visually bring your goals to life. Or, if you prefer, you can simply write the words. There’s no such thing as the right way – do what inspires you!

 

Finally, after all this talk about goal setting as one of the secrets to success, it’s important to note the following truth: to a large extent, the goal itself becomes irrelevant. It’s a very necessary process, but the real personal gain in the area of goal setting is the pursuit, not the achievement. As they say in the classics, it is not what you earn, it’s what you learn. It’s not what you get by securing your target; it’s who you become in the process that really matters.

Whether you make a million dollars is not important. It is the sort of person you develop into while striving to reach your goals that will provide you with a lasting source of happiness.

 

1) Dominican University of California, http://www.dominican.edu/dominicannews/study-highlights-strategies-for-achieving-goals, accessed July 2017.

2) Ibid.