The main reason why we usually decide to set goals for ourselves is, of course, because we want to achieve or get something that we currently don’t have in our life, or maybe we want to change what currently is to something else – usually something better.
However, goal setting not only gets us on track to move towards our goals.
The special benefits of setting and pursuing goals
- The act of setting goals and then moving towards them has a deeper benefit:
It allows us to evolve and to develop our personal potential.
Moving towards something that’s beyond our current abilities and overcoming the obstacles on our way helps us to stretch ourselves and to become better in what we do and who we are.
- Another positive effect of setting and pursuing goals is that it gives our mind focus and direction.
If we don’t direct our mind, it runs on default. It might produce thoughts that don’t benefit us because they produce feelings and actions that create unwanted results in our life.
Our deliberate intentions and goals keep our mind from running ‘wild’, they provide supervision and structure and help us live our life on purpose.
The process of goal-setting – Some tips
- Choose a goal – even if you don’t have one.
Even if you don’t have a specific goal at the moment, if you don’t have anything currently on your calendar that you’re working towards, setting a goal can be a really powerful and useful exercise.
Decide now to commit to a goal so that you can enjoy the general benefits of the goal-setting-and-pursuing process (see above).
- Get specific but don’t think about the how yet.
Be very specific about your goal. Talk about your goal in the first person and in the present tense. Decide on time-frames and deadlines, and other details.
At this point, you don’t think about how you are going to achieve the goal, you only think about the what and when.
- Write the goal down.
Take your goal out of your imagination, make it real and tangible.
The best way to do this is to write it down.
Writing down your goal on a piece of paper gets it out of your brain. You now can look at it, your can adjust it, you can carry it around, and you can (and should) read it again and again.
- Stretch yourself with the goal, and ‘welcome’ any negative feelings.
Offer yourself a real self-development opportunity, make sure that you push yourself beyond your current comfort zone with your goal. (If it seems easy to achieve, it’s not a real goal!)
You will know that you have stretched yourself sufficiently if negative emotions such as fear, doubt, shame come up.
Don’t push these feelings away, accept them as normal parts of the process.
Overcoming these feelings will not only ensure that you achieve your goal but also allow you to become a stronger and better version of yourself.
- Uncover any negative thoughts, and question/replace them.
Search for the negative thoughts that cause the uncomfortable feelings.
It might be something like ‘This is too hard to do’, or ‘I don’t know how to do this’, or ‘I don’t know if this is what I want’. Uncover all the thoughts behind your feelings of disbelief or doubtfulness or fear – and write them down.
Then remind yourself that these thoughts are just choices. Your mind is bringing them up in an effort to protect you but that doesn’t mean you have to believe them. Tell your mind, ‘No worries – I’ll figure this out.’
- Have a brainstorming session with your future self.
When you start to work on your action plan, you can ask your future self for some help.
Imagine yourself at the place in the future when your goal has been completed.
From that place you look back to where you are now and you tell your present self the how – all the steps you took to accomplish the goal and all the things you did to overcome the obstacles on your way.
For any step you can’t describe in detail yet, you create a ‘to-figure-out’ action step, like ‘This is what I don’t know yet and this is how I’ll figure it out’.
The process of goal-setting – A simple example
I recently decided to improve my fitness levels. This is how my goal-setting looked like:
1 to 3 – Choose a goal, be specific, write it down
I want to increase my fitness levels by becoming a better runner. On my birthday – in 6 weeks time – I run from home to Bondi (across the suburbs) and then back home (along the coastal walk). That’s about 15 km and will take me about 2 hours.
4 – Stretch yourself and appreciate negative feelings
It’s a bold goal! Currently, I run about 25 minutes, two or three times a week. The idea to run around 2 hours without a break feels very intimidating and uncomfortable.
5 – Uncover negative thoughts and question/replace them
My original thoughts:
That’s a stupid idea. I am fit enough – why do I put this pressure on myself? I will hate myself if I don’t make it. And all the preparations and the training! I need to make a plan! And then stick to it! Oh no, this is really stupid – why do I always make my life difficult?!
O.k., o.k., calm down. It always feels great to achieve ambitious goals and this one will be no different. I’ll feel fantastic on my birthday, being so fit and strong. Yes, of course it needs some time and effort to get prepared. Yes, I need to make a plan. But I am good at planning. I’ll make it work out!
6 – A brainstorming session with your future self
My future self (on my birthday):
I remember how uncomfortable I felt, 6 weeks ago, when I made this decision and wrote it down. It felt so intimidating to see my goal on paper.
But then I made a plan. I decided to change my running schedule to 4 times a week and to extend the running time to 40 minutes.
I also decided to do longer runs every Sunday: 45 minutes on the first Sunday (at the end of the first week), 50 minutes on the next Sunday, 60 minutes on the third and fourth Sunday, 90 minutes on the fifth Sunday (one week before the Bondi run).
I created a simple action plan, listing the running dates and running times. I put the plan on the wall, opposite my desk, so that I had to look at it every day. And on all running days, I wrote ‘done!’ at the end of the line of that day as soon as I came home from running. That felt good!
I also remember, however, that it was not always fun, especially the longer runs on the Sundays. But I never thought about giving up, that was just no option. I reminded myself that I did this for myself and that it was worth the effort.
(8 weeks later – a quick success report: Yesterday, I did the Bondi run – it took me 1 hour and 50 minutes and was quite exhausting – but I did it! The goal-setting process was very helpful, especially the ‘talks’ with my future self.)
What about you?
Which goal could you choose to practice and experience the goal-setting process?
Use the tips listed above – and don’t forget to ask your future self for help when you set up the action plan. 🙂