William Marsten, a prominent psychologist, authored a two-year study where he asked 3,000 individuals the following: “What have you to live for?”
What Dr. Marsten found was absolutely shocking. He discovered that 94 percent of those interviewed had no definite purpose. These were men and women who were simply enduring the present while they waited for the future.
That story was shared by Dennis Kimbro and Napoleon Hill in the classic “Think and Grow Rich.” Anyone who needs a refresher in setting goals would be wise to review that masterpiece.
I strongly believe that we need to set goals, but what is a goal? A goal is a dream with a deadline. It should be measurable, identifiable, attainable, specific, in writing. I always advise not to forget to write your long-term and short-term goals down.
Self-help gurus and life coaches all stress the importance of having goals if you want to succeed in life. The first step is identifying what exactly is a worthwhile goal.
A goal should reflect your values, of course – what you really want, not what you should want, and certainly not what other people think you should achieve.
Career and financial goals are perhaps the most obvious targets. What kind of job or role do you aspire to? How much money do you want to make? Or what would you like to buy that’s currently beyond your means?
But you don’t have to zero in on work.
Perhaps you have an artistic dream – to write a novel or learn to play the piano. Or maybe you want to work on some aspect of your personality: become more assertive, or empathetic, or less cynical. Education is another potential objective, whether it’s about getting an advanced degree or just taking a class in design.
Big goals require big passion to bring them to life. Success usually requires a road map, a strategy, but it also calls for an overwhelming drive. Ask yourself these questions: Do you feel strongly about the importance of your goal and why it is necessary to achieve? Does your goal match your values and beliefs? Is your goal vital to the future of people you care about? Does your goal get you excited when you think about it? Are you willing to devote your personal time to achieve your goal? Will you be able to reject criticism and negativity? Are you committed to the long term as you work toward your goal?
Here’s my formula for setting goals that helps me focus on the result I want to achieve.
- Make it positive. Think about your objective in affirmative terms: What you will do (“Eat balanced meals every day”), instead of what you won’t do (“Stop eating chocolate”). Remind yourself of what you want, not what you’re denying yourself.
- Be fully committed. Choosing the right goals will make a huge difference in your motivation to succeed.
- Take a step-by-step approach. You have to start with the big picture. Then you should determine what you need to do to get there. Break your plan down to the smallest level of detail; think of what you can do every day to get yourself a little closer to your target. Focus on things you can control. You can’t make your book a bestseller until you discipline yourself to write several pages every day.
- Appreciate the learning opportunities. You may not succeed the first time, or the second time or after many times. Instead of obsessing on the results, figure out what works and what doesn’t, and why.
- Take your goals seriously but don’t take yourself too seriously. If you aren’t having some fun along the way, your chances for success diminish. You should be able to derive some real pleasure out of achieving your goals.
- Trust your judgment, but don’t be afraid to ask for advice. There is no rule against asking for help.
- Set your sights high. Be realistic, but ambitious. There’s no glory in accomplishing a goal that doesn’t require any effort. That’s just an item on your to-do list. Your goal should make you stretch and grow. Remember that even if you don’t reach your objective, what you learn along the way will make you a better person.
As my friend, the late Zig Ziglar, said, “Set a goal so big that you can’t achieve it until you grow into the person who can.”
Mackay’s Moral: Don’t be afraid to dream big – be afraid not to.