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Published on January 24, 2019

Why You Need to Set Future Goals (And How to Make Them Happen)

Why You Need to Set Future Goals (And How to Make Them Happen)

It’s very easy to go through life without ever having a worthwhile goal. It is very easy to avoid the challenge of setting goals and being accountable for achieving those goals.

But without any goals, your life will drift and lack any meaningful purpose. The worst thing that could happen to you is to reach your final days and look back at your life, and wonder how you screwed up the amazing opportunity you had to build an incredibly rewarding life.

In this article, we’ll look into the reasons why you should start setting future goals, and how to set ones that will help you lead a fulfilling life.

Why You Need to Set Future Goals

The Source of Happiness

Having meaningful goals gives your life a purpose. It gives you a reason to wake up in the morning, get out of bed and live life with a direction.

Goals give you energy and vitality and something to aim for each day. Ultimately, your happiness will be enhanced when you begin to see you are making progress on your goals, and as each day passes and you move that little bit closer to achieving what you set out to achieve you gain more focus and energy to push that little bit more.

A Roadmap to Travel Down

But having goals is more than that. Goals give you a roadmap to travel down.

Your goals could be related to your career. Imagine you want to one day start your own business. An idea such as starting your own business begins as an image in your mind.

As you think more about your idea, you start to visualize what it would be like to be running your own business. No boss breathing down your neck watching what you are doing, no annoying colleagues interrupting you with their problems and complaining about how much work they have to do. Having the freedom to make your own decisions about what you will do and when.

As you visualize your idea, you begin to ask yourself: how? How will I start my own business? What do I have to do to start? These questions are the beginnings of a plan and a goal is simply a plan for the future.

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It does not have to be as professional as starting your own business. It could be wanting to climb Mount Kilimanjaro before your fiftieth birthday. Once again, it begins with an idea, you may have seen a documentary about Mount Kilimanjaro, or a friend did it a few years ago and tells you it was one of the best experiences she had ever had in her life.

Wherever the inspiration comes from, you begin to visualise yourself climbing to the top, exhausted but exhilarated having achieved something only a very few people manage to do in their lifetimes.

Once again the question: “how?” Jumps into your mind, and once again the beginnings of a plan begins to formulate. Another goal.

A Clear Intention to Live

When you think about it, our whole lives are centred around goals. Getting up for work on a cold, wet Monday morning requires the goal of getting out of bed at a specific time. Not a pleasant goal for many, but it’s a goal nonetheless. Getting home in time for dinner with your family is a goal.

Pretty much everything we want to do and achieve in our lives requires an intent to achieve something. That is what goals are. An intention to do something by a specific time.

How to Begin Developing Future Goals

1. Start with Your Vision

Begin with a vision of what you want to achieve. Whether it is a professional or personal goal, you need to have a clear vision of what it is you want to achieve.

Take some time to really see what the end result will be like. Close your eyes and see it, see yourself achieving your goal.

If you want to build a secure financial future for yourself and your family, what will that look like? Will that be cash in the bank or a portfolio of investments?

If you want to take a holiday of a lifetime with your closest friends this summer, where will you go? What will you do? Imagine yourself already achieving your goal. How will you feel?

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Feel those emotions in your imagination. Feel the smile on your face, feel the laughter, the joy and the excitement as you board the plane.

2. Ask the Right Questions

The best question to ask is: What do I have to do to…? This is an incredibly powerful question because it opens up your mind to the possibility of achieving your goal. The way this question is phrased means you are only considering ways to achieve, not ways you cannot achieve.

The wrong question to ask is “how can I achieve this goal?” That question often elicits the tempting answer “you can’t”. What you want to be doing is opening your mind up to possibilities and the actions you will have to take to make it happen.

Now the “what do I have to do?” Question often brings up actions you may at first feel are impossible, so you ask the question again.

For example, let’s say you want to build a secure future for you and your family, and your initial answer comes up with a figure of USD$1 million. Now if you are earning USD$50,000 a year, that means you will have to work at least forty years saving half your salary each month.

Let’s be honest here, that is not going to be easy and for forty years, probably impossible. So you will need to ask the question again. “What do I have to do to have USD1 Million in savings by the time I retire?” The answers you come up with from asking this question again will take you closer towards building your goal into achievable steps.

3. Look at Your Daily Habits

Our daily habits and behaviors are the driving force behind the results we achieve in our lives.

If you smoke twenty cigarettes every day, drink several glasses of wine each evening and go to bed slightly drunk, over time, this will have a profoundly negative effect on your health. If it does not send you to an early grave, you are almost certainly going to experience difficulties with your health at some point in time.

Couple that with eating unhealthily and being excessively overweight, you are going to become a burden on your family and friends later in life.

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Because our daily habits and behavious have such a large impact on the results we achieve in our lives, you should take some time to analyze yours.

Identify the ones that give you negative results. Unhealthy eating, excessive drinking, smoking, complaining and gossiping are common ones, but others such as waking up at the last possible moment, going to bed late and spending all night playing computer games are a few others that, over time, will result in negative outcomes in your life.

If you want to climb Mount Kilimanjaro before you turn fifty, then get yourself out in the evening and exercise. Turn it into a habit. Spend thirty minutes every morning reading about and researching Mount Kilimanjaro instead of checking your email, Facebook or Instagram feed. Use your time in more positive ways.

This guide can give you some nice advice on how to quit bad habits:

How to Break a Habit and Hack the Habit Loop

4. Set a Date

If your goals do not have a timeline and an end date, you will find excuses to put off what you need to do to make it happen.

You can, of course, adjust your deadline if you find you were a little too ambitious with your initial enthusiasm. But you do need a deadline.

If your goal is to have USD $1 Million by the time you retire, your goal needs to be based on what you need to have saved by the end of the year. For most of us, retirement may be quite a few years away, but by beginning now, you will give yourself enough time to build up your savings and investments.

Likewise, if your goal is to run a full course marathon before you turn forty, then depending on how old you are today, you may want to set goals for running a 5KM, 10KM and half-marathon each year before you run the big one.

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Setting dates and deadlines gives you the sense of urgency you need to make progress. You do not have to achieve the ‘big goal’ in the first year, but you do need to have an annual goal that is taking you a little closer each day, month and year toward the big, future goal.

5. Visualize and Review Regularly

Whatever your future goals are, you should have some form of vision board to keep you reminded of your final destination.

Whether that is having a secure financial future, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro or running a full course marathon, having some form of vision board — either digital in the form of a photo album in your digital photo storage, or a board on Pinterest or a physical board in your room with photographs and clippings of what you want to do — will help keep you motivated when you feel ‘not in the mood’.

It will give you something visual to help you review your progress and adjust deadlines if necessary.

Final Thoughts

We are all different and we all want different things in our lives. Many of us want to build a successful business, others want to develop a successful career in medicine or law.

Whatever it is you want out of life, it is your life and it is up to you to create it. You have the good fortune to be able to decide, act and achieve and it all starts with an idea and a vision, then a few questions the answers to which will give you a plan and a destination to travel towards.

Don’t waste this chance. You do not want to end your days full of regret and disappointment. You want to end your days knowing you lived an extraordinary life on your terms.

More Resources About Setting & Achieving Goals

Featured photo credit: Evan Kirby via unsplash.com

More by this author

Carl Pullein

Dedicated to helping people to achieve their maximum potential through better time management and productivity.

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Last Updated on April 23, 2019

How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

Stretch goals are a lot like physical fitness. When you adopt a physical sport such as running, continual practice leads to increased stamina, growth and progress.

While commitment to the sport improves performance, true growth happens when you are stretched beyond your comfort zone. I know this from personal experience.

For years, I was an avid runner. I ran with a variety of running groups in the Washington, D.C., area and in Columbus, Ohio, where I lived prior to moving to the nation’s capital in 2011.

While I was initially fearful about slacking off on my exercise habit when I moved to D.C., running enthusiasts in the area provided continual motivation, inspiring me to lace up my shoes day after day. Much to my surprise, many of the area’s running stores (including Pacers and Potomac River Running) boasted running groups that met in the mornings and evenings. So, it was relatively easy for a newcomer like me to connect with like-minded peers.

I was never a particularly fast runner, but I enjoyed the afterglow of the sport: being completely drained but feeling a sense of accomplishment; setting and reaching goals; buying and wearing out new tennis shoes. The sound of throngs of feet pounding the pavement in semi-unison is still enough to bring tears to my eyes. Yes, I sometimes tear up at the start of races.

Of all the groups I ran with, the Pacers Store group that met on Monday nights in Logan Circle boasted the fastest runners. I met up with the group week after week only to be the slowest runner. It was difficult to muster the courage to get up every week and meet the group knowing what was waiting for me: sweating and watching the backs of fellow runners.

Each time I joined the group, I was stretching myself without even realizing it. Instead of feeling like I was transitioning into a better running, for a long time I felt I was torturing myself.

Then something remarkable happened. I went for a run with a different set of runners and noticed my time had improved. I was running at a faster pace and doing so with ease. What was once uncomfortable for me I now handled with ease.

The reason I was becoming a better runner was because I was taking myself out of my comfort zone and challenging myself physically and mentally. This example illustrates the process of growth.

Fortunately, we can create situations that stretch us in our personal and professional lives.

What Is a Stretch Goal?

A stretch goal – as authors Sim B. Sitkin, C. Chet Miller and Kelly E. See detail an article “The Stretch Goal Paradox” in Harvard Business Review[1] – is something that is extremely difficult and novel. It is something that not everyone does, and it’s sometimes considered impossible.

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In general, you establish stretch goals by doing things that are difficult or temporarily challenging.

For instance, when I was first promoted to a senior communications management role, I knew I needed to beef up my relationships with media personalities. I set a goal to once a month book a day of media interviews in New York City – which is home to many media outlets, including SiriusXM radio, CNN, NBC News, HuffPost, VIBE.

This was a huge goal because it meant not only identifying the right people to meet with but convincing them to meet with me and my team. While I didn’t end up meeting the goal of doing a full day of media interviews in New York City, I met more people than I would have met had I not established the goal and instead stayed in the comfort of my D.C. office.

It is important to note that just because you establish a stretch goal doesn’t mean you’ll achieve the goal each time. However, the process of trying is guaranteed to provide some level of growth.

The Importance of Creating Stretch Goals

The beginning of the year is a perfect time to assess where you are excelling and where there is room for you to grow. I typically start the year by creating a yearlong strategic plan for myself.

I think about the things that are necessary to do and things that would be cool to do. I assess the people I should know and think through how to meet them. Then I ask myself if the goals are realistic and what would need to happen for me to achieve them.

Over time, I have learned that there are five things I can do to set stretch goals:

1. Get Outside of Your Head

If I exist within the confines of my imagination, I imperil my own growth and creativity.

If I examine my accomplishments and celebrate them in isolation of others’ accomplishments, my vantage point is limited.

I want to be comfortable with what I accomplish, but I also want to be motivated by watching others. In some respects, stretching is about expanding your network of friends, associates and mentors. These are the people who will propel or slow your growth and development.

Since two are better than one, I always value being able to share my progress with others, seek feedback and then map a plan for success.

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2. Focus on a Couple Areas at a Time

When setting goals, it is important to focus on a couple of areas at a time. Most of us are only able to focus on a few things at a time, and if you feel you are unable to tackle all that is before you, you may simply disengage.

I see this in so many areas of life:

When people get in debt, if they believe the debt is insurmountable, they refuse to look at incoming bills for fear of facing down the debt. Unfortunately, many businesses go awry when setting stretch goals.

In “The Stretch Goal Paradox,” Sitkin, Miller and See note:

“Our research suggests that though the use of stretch goals is quite common, successful use is not. And many executives set far too many stretch goals. In the past five years, for example, Tesla failed to meet more than 20 of founder Elon Musk’s ambitious projections and missed half of them by nearly a year, according to the Wall Street Journal.”

Goal-setting is like a marathon, not a sprint. It doesn’t all need to happen at the same time, and pacing is extremely important if you want to get to the finish line. It is better to focus on a couple goals at a time, master them and then move on to the next thing.

3. Set Aside Time Each Year to Focus on Goal-Setting

When I was a managing director for communications for the Advancement Project, I spent the first part of every year facilitating a communications planning meeting.

The planning meeting began with the team members assessing the goals the team had established in the preceding year, and whether those goals were realistic or not. If we failed to meet certain goals, we broke down why that happened. From there, we brainstormed about possibilities for the current year.

For instance, one year we set a goal of pitching and getting 24 opinion essays published. This was audacious because no one on the eight-person team had the luxury of focusing exclusively on editing and pitching opinion essays to publications around the world. We would need to focus on pitching in between the rest of our work.

We hit this goal within the first eight months of the year. Remarkably, in total, we ended up getting 40 opinion essays published that year, which was an indication that our original goal was too low. We upped the goal to 41 the next year, and amazingly, we hit 42 published opinion essays or guest columns.

From this experience, we not only learned what was feasible, we also learned the power of focus.

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When we focused as a team on getting the commentary on our issues out in the public domain, we were successful. The key in all of this is that there was a ton of discussion around which goal we’d pursue and why.

Equally important, as a manager, I didn’t set the goals alone; the team members and I established the goals collaboratively. This ensured buy-in from each individual.

4. Use the S.M.A.R.T. Goal Model to Set Realistic Goals

S.M.A.R.T.

is a synonym for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. For the sake of this article, the realistic portion of the acronym is most important.

While you want to set audacious goals, you want to ensure that they are realistic as well. No one is served by setting a goal that is impossible to accomplish.

Failing to meet goals can be demoralizing for teams, so it’s important to be sober-eyed about what is possible. Additionally, the purpose of setting goals is to advance and grow, not depress morale.

For instance, my team would have been discouraged had I begun the year asking it to pitch and place 40 opinion essays if we didn’t already have a track record of placing close to two dozen essays.

By using the S.M.A.R.T. formula, we were able to achieve all that we set out to do.

5. Break the Goal up into Small Digestible Parts

I am a recovering perfectionist. As a writer, being a perfectionist can be counterproductive because I can fail to start if I don’t see a clear pathway to victory.

The same is true with goal-setting. That’s why I join Lifehack’s fellow contributor Deb Knobelman, Ph.D., in noting that it is critically important to break goals into bite-sized chunks.

When I had a goal of doing daylong media meetings in New York City, I had to think through all the barriers to achieving that goal and all the steps required to meet the goal.

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One step was identifying which reporters, producers and hosts to engage. Another step was writing a pitch or meeting invitation that would capture their attention. Another step was thinking through the program areas I wanted to highlight and the new angles I could offer to different reporters.

Since reporters want to cover stories that no one else has written, I needed to come up with fresh angles for each of the reporters I was engaging. An additional step was thinking through who from my team I’d take with me to the various meetings.

I was clear that, as a talking head, as public relations reps are sometimes called, I needed the right spokesperson in order to land repeated meetings with different outlets.

A final step was thinking through what I needed to bring to each meeting and which reports, videos and testimonials would buttress our claims and be of interest to media figures.

As I walked through what was needed to bring my goal of doing daylong meetings to reality, I realized that not only was the idea within reach, but I was excited to tackle the challenge.

From that point until now, I have learned to break down goals into smaller parts and tackle the smaller parts on the path to knocking the goal out of the park.

The Bottom Line

These are my recommendations for setting stretch goals, and there are a ton of other resources to support you in the workplace and in your community.

For instance, LinkedIn’s Lynda.com platform has a wonderful suite of leadership development videos, including ones on establishing stretch goals. This is a paid resource but may be worth the investment if you lead a team or want to invest in tools for your own growth and development.

Featured photo credit: Avatar of user Isaac Smith Isaac Smith @isaacmsmith Isaac Smith via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Harvard Business Review: The Stretch Goal Paradox

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