When I was a kid, I enjoyed writing down big dreams for my life. I would picture what sort of vocation I would be in, the sort of person I would choose to share my life with, how many kids we’d have, the type of house we’d live in and how successful I would be.
The thing is though, these were not goals. They were dreams – fanciful and bold ideas about a future life.
And that is ok. I really love big-picture thinking. I know I am a dreamer at heart. However, my heart also enjoys achieving my highest aspirations.
This is where goals come in.
Why Are Goals Important?
The big difference between a dream and a goal is the commitment we make to take action to accomplish our desires.
Dreams exist in our mind.
Goals are the tangible outcomes we are seeking and striving for.
A dream without a plan remains just that – a dream, a fantasy. When we can pair our dreams with specific goals we bring ourselves so much closer to these desires.
What Are Goals?
We know goals are not dreams. They are also not to-do lists. But they sit somewhere in between.
To-do lists are tasks focused on the immediate future. They are more of a daily productivity device than a transformative tool. We also don’t usually put things that are most important to us on our to-do lists, such as self-care activities or nurturing our relationships.
To-do lists are often transactional and obligatory duties we need to accomplish – e.g. clean the house, go to the dry-cleaners, pick up milk etc….
A goal is a result or achievement that you are aiming for in the future
The nature of a goal is future-focused, that is, it is longer term than simply today’s timeframe (aka the to-do list). A goal is also specific in nature, more recognisable and clear than a dream.
A goal is a longer-term vision for what we want, that gives us a motivation in the here and now to get on our way to achieving it.
We are clear on what goals are and are not. Now it is time to work out how to set goals – so we can be on our way to living to our potential, living our most confident life.
How to Set Goals
Know What You Want
Knowing what we want can be a challenge in itself. Sometimes we know we want change and for things to be different. In these instances, we can clearly articulate what we don’t want. There’s many reasons why focusing on what we don’t want is unhelpful.
It reminds me of the scene from Alice in Wonderland, where Alice is speaking with the Cheshire Cat…
‘Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’, asked Alice.
`That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.
`I don’t much care where’, said Alice.
`Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.
If we focus on what we don’t want in life, then how can we get to where we want to go?
Goal setting is a powerful way to focus our mind on what we want to achieve.
So, think through the things you want to achieve, experience and enjoy in your life. Then focus in on what resonates most with you.
When you are old and grey, what would you like to look back on in your life and smile about? And what would fill you with regret if you didn’t pursue it?
When we take time to think about who we are, and what we want, our goals become clear.
Write Them Down
Even better than setting goals is to write them down.
Even better again is to hand write them, rather than type. The reason is we use more muscle movements when handwriting, so it helps the messages stick. Our brains are paying attention to the commitments we are setting for ourselves when we handwrite our goals.
It reinforces the importance for us. It also helps our brains seek out opportunities to assist us in achieving our goals.
We may have a big long list of goals for our life. That is great – I think that means we are in a mindset of wanting to live life to the full – and touch all sides of our life and the world we live in.
However, it is very difficult to work on more than a few things at a time.
Prioritising our goals, by identifying which are most important to us at this point in time allows us to dedicate our energy to the activities that will see us progress to those goals.
You could categorise your goals into A, B or C list priorities. Then look at the A list goals and work out your timeframes, identifying which ones need your attention now.
Visualising achieving your goals may seem a bit woo-woo to some. I absolutely believe in the power of visualisation. I also like to pair visualisation with affirmation.
The more we feed ourselves the messages that we have achieved these goals, the more likely we are to actually achieve them.
This is no secret. Athletes use visualisation to complement their training with great success.
Affirming the intended accomplishment also reinforces the ideas in our mind that successfully achieving our goals is within reach. It gives us a boost of confidence to get out there and follow the steps needed to reach our goals.
Monitor Your Progress
A goal by nature is future-focused. Sometimes that goal may be a year from now, or 5 years from now, or longer still.
Setting the goal provides a short-term motivation, but we need more to keep us motivated over the longer-term.
Think new year’s resolutions. The level of enthusiasm and inspiration that surrounded us on the first week of January quickly diminishes as the calendar clicks further into the year and the routine and demands of our daily lives get in the way.
We need to get feedback on the progress of our goals to help us stay on track and give the motivation to continue to work at it.
Find out what form of feedback resonates with you the most. For example, feedback from external sources, such as asking others for their opinion on our progress. Or from internal sources, such as quietly checking-in and reviewing your progress.
The monitoring helps us maintain our confidence that we can achieve, and are achieving, our goals.
I’ve written about ‘to-do’ lists above and clarified that they are not goals. But a similar concept may help us with the review… a ‘ta-da’ list.
I first heard about writing ta-da lists on Gretchen Rubin’s Happier Podcast. The idea is you write out your accomplishments and feats that you are proud of, then reflect on how far you have come.
A ta-da list could be a way to continue the positive energy surrounding your goal and the progress you’re making towards it, providing that much-needed motivation to perservere, even when times are tough.
How Am I Applying This?
I set goals often and for varying timeframes.
Usually each week I have in my mind what I am wanting to achieve over the next seven days. The times I write down these ideas are the times I am more successful in finishing what I set out to achieve. And the times I don’t? Well, I often forget what I wanted to get through. For me, writing things down is a must.
I also have longer-term goals for my life. I currently have a list of 5-year and life goals.
Often the short-term goals represent progress towards greater goals.
For example, each week I write down activities to complete for my blog. The progress I make in building my blog over time contributes to an overall greater goal of being recognised as an expert in confidence, enjoying success as a writer and speaker on the subject, which are some of my life goals.
Goal Setting in Your Life
Do you set goals for your year or your life?
How do you approach goal setting?
More importantly, how are you going with your goals? Are you making progress? How are you feeling with the results along the way?
What are you finding works best for staying on track?
Leave a comment below – I would love to know.