You know you should do it. You’ve heard that it’s really, really important. You’ve read about it in nearly every personal development book you’ve ever read. But you just. can’t. seem. to. do. it.
Urgh. Goal setting. What is up with that?
It should be easy, right? Think about what you want to achieve, write it down somewhere important (like a planner or journal), and then take actions towards achieving those goals.
So, why is it so difficult?
Well, for many people it’s not – so if you find goal-setting easy, you can skip right over this post. I’m talking straight to you if goal setting is a new concept to you, or you know you should set goals but haven’t ever done it with any real sense of gusto.
Why set goals
There’s one main reason for setting goals, and that is to know where you’re headed. It’s the exact same principle of getting into a car and driving – you wouldn’t do it if you didn’t have a destination in mind.
Goals give direction and meaning to your day-to-day actions, and can provide much needed motivation, especially when things get tough. They make the little steps and even the boring (‘Oh my God, can this just be over with’) tasks more manageable.
If you don’t set goals, it’s much easier to float through life, getting pushed in whatever direction the wind is blowing, rather than the direction you want to go.
Do you want to end up where-ever having followed random paths, or do you want to create a life that’s an expression of your desires, talents and out-of-this-world dreams?
Okay, so likelihood is that you choose the life of your dreams (who doesn’t want that?). The thought excites you, lights a fire in your belly and makes your body itch to move.
Vrrrm, vrrrrm, you’re ready to go, to do it, to achieve your dream life…. but there’s a bi road block in front of your car and you don’t know why it’s there or what to do about it, So you sit in your car and do nothing. Or you start cleaning the car, checking the steering wheel for dents, or adjusting the car seats (distraction!).
Goal setting blocks
If you know you’d like to create an incredible life, but can’t seem to write down your goals (either you freeze up in fear, pen in hand, or find that there’s always something else that crops up just as you’re about to do it), then there are a potential few things going on. Let’s have a look at them:
1. You don’t know what you want
This is actually a real biggie, and deserving of an entire course, so bear with me whilst I try to nugget this into a short paragraph.
Many of us don’t know what we want. We’ve never even thought about what we want. Why?
There are many reasons, but the most common are beliefs (from others) that asking for what we want is selfish or that we can’t get what we want (as a child, how many times did you hear ‘you can’t always gt what you want’?). and societal conditioning (the US has a stronger culture of goal-setting than the UK, for example).
So if you don’t know what you want, you’re not alone. Now’s your chance to sit down and have a think about what you actually want in life. Yes, what YOU want.
2. You don’t know how to do it
A lot of people worry about doing goal setting ‘wrong’, like there’s a specific method that if they don’t follow their goals won’t manifest.
If this is you then know that there isn’t a right or wrong way of setting goals. There are helpful markers, though, which are covered further down.
3. You fear failure
Probably the biggest one. Many, many people fear that if they know their goals, write them down and go for them, they won’t reach their goals and that will make them a proven failure.
If this is you, if there’s an uncomfortable queasiness in your stomach every time you think about writing your goals down, if your brain comes over all foggy and a weird sweat starts prickling at your skin, don’t worry, help is at hand!
There are two things you need to know:
1) If you don’t set goals there’s 100% chance that you won’t reach them. That, my friend, is actual, proven failure.
2) Goals are flexible, and will – and should – change as you journey towards them. For example, if you set a goal to sell 1,000 t-shirts in your business before the end of the year, and then whilst making your way towards that goal you find that your customers are going crazy for your handmade hats, then sell the dang hats. Change your goal. Switch it up.
Am I a goal-setting loser?
Now, you might be wondering if there’s something wrong with you that’s prevented you (so far) from doing something as simple as setting goals. After all, you know in theory that there’s nothing to fear in writing down some words on paper – there’s no saber tooth tiger waiting on the other side of that sheet of A4.
Rest assured, there’s nothing wrong with you. You ‘re not a loser, failure or freak. Welcome to the wonderful world of your mind.
There are a couple of rules of the mind that’s helpful to know.
1) It loves what is familiar
2) It will always work to move you away from pain and towards pleasure.
Thus, if goal-setting is unfamiliar to you, it will try and move you away from the activity, and if goal-setting is painful to you (brings on the ‘fear’ reaction), it will, again, move you away from the activity and towards pleasure (in this case, not setting goals. This is why something else ‘alway’s crops up and gets in the way).
This behaviour might seem counter-intuitive and self-sabotaging, and it is, but it’s done in all innocence; our egos are primitive. Your job is to love your primitive ego, say thank you to your mind for wanting to innocently protect you, and then push yourself out of your comfort zone and into that painful area of actually sitting down to set goals. And to make it a habit, dedicate 5 minutes a day for a whole month to writing down your goals (even if it’s only one goal!) as this will help to make goal-setting familiar.
If you don’t set goals there’s 100% chance that you won’t reach them. That, my friend, is actual, proven failure.
How to make goal-setting successful
There are no hard and fast rules to goal-setting, but there are some helpful guidelines to make them more approachable and achievable.
1) Write them down, pen on paper
You can, of course, write your goals down on a computer or device, but nothing beats pen on paper. Why? Writing goals down stops your mind and puts it on paper. If you just think about goals in your mind, your mind will also fill those spaces with tonnes of other thoughts. To get really clear, stop your mind by putting it on paper.
Neuroscientists speak in terms of external storage and encoding: external storage meaning you’ve stored your goals externally (i.e on a piece of paper) which makes them easier to recall because you have a visual clue, and encoding (how the brain processes written down information) also means they are more likely to be remembered.
In any case, written down goals become clearer and stop of mind (both essential for helping you get to where you want to go).
2) Be specific
If you have a goal ‘lose weight’ you’re unlikely to do so. Why? It’s just not specific enough. It’s not actually a destination. It’s like setting the sat nav in your car for ‘north west’ and hoping to arrive at 10 Maypole Road, Croydon. It’s just not going to happen.
So get specific, tell your brain exactly where you want to go, and make it attainable (i.e. don’t tell it to drive from London to the South of France in 20 minutes, instead give yourself the necessary time and space to get where you want to ultimately go (if it’s a big goal) in small, achievable steps).
Use the SMART metric (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound) to help guide your goals. “I want to lost 5lbs by March 30th’, ‘I want to sell 1,000 t-shirts by October 15th’, ‘I want to write the first chapter of my e-book by April 2nd’ are examples of SMART goals.
If you find that the old ‘fear of failure’ starts creeping in here, then remember; it’s just your sweet, innocent ego trying to move you away from pain. Say thank you to it, and move on – literally, push through the discomfort and write those suckers down anyway.