Setting and achieving goals is one of the best ways to improve your life. Goals reduce boredom and the sense of drift that many people experience, plus working on your goals gives your self-confidence a great boost.
Let’s look at ten ways that successful people in various fields use goals to improve their lives. As with any approach, your results will vary depending on your commitment and understanding. Consider this article an introduction to the important principles of goals. You can also see our guide on how to achieve a goal successfully in your life.
1. They use a proven goal setting system
It is important to start working on goals with a proven system. In December 2014, I bought and used Michael Hyatt’s excellent 5 Days To Your Best Year Ever program. As a result of going through the program, I set nine goals for 2015. The process Hyatt lays out takes a few days (though one could compress it into a weekend in a pinch) and it worked out. Hyatt has achieved significant success in the publishing industry, as a professional speaker and as an author.
2. They balance planning and action
Planning and action both play an important role in achieving major goals. Some professions – architects, engineers and project managers for example – have developed strong planning skills and approaches. Unless you are building a space ship, it is vital to put a time limit on planning.
In my experience working toward annual goals, I find it is helpful to plan 1-3 actions to be accomplished in the next week.
3.They set goals for all areas of their life (not just career and money)
Many of the experts and articles on goal setting focus on business and career goals (e.g. earn more money, increase one’s sales commissions, launch a new product). That is an understandable focus, however a relentless focus on career goals to the exclusion of other aims tends to lead to unhappiness and decreased productivity.
Successful people take the time to define leisure goals (e.g. visit wine country in California with my spouse), health and fitness goals (e.g. run a marathon race) and personal growth goals (e.g. learning a language). It is a mistake to assume that the rest of your life will somehow drift into place if you fail to set goals.
4. They set their own goals for their life
Many companies and employers have an annual goal setting process for their employees. Successful people know that this activity is only one part of their goals. As business philosopher Jim Rohn observed: “If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much.”
Working on your own goal ensures you have an active and interesting life outside of the office. Besides, it is fun to set and achieve demanding personal goals.
5. They have a goal review system
Putting your goals into writing is a vital step that many successful people use to reach success, however it is not enough. When you are working toward challenging goals that takes months or years to achieve, regular goal reviews are essential.
Business consultant and author David Allen proposed the Weekly Review in his classic book “Getting Things Done.” Successful people add the step “review annual goals” to that weekly review. During that time, successful people reflect on their progress, challenges encountered and plan for future steps.
6. They seek expert help when they face challenges
Seeking out expert guidance and advice makes a major impact on achieving your goals. Seeking outside help takes several forms. For example, a young George Washington developed relationships with powerful people in colonial Virginia to launch his career. Your relationships and network can play an important role in supporting your goal achievement.
In addition to your personal network, there are other resources you can access to reach your goals. For example, if you need to learn more technology skills to get the type of job you want, you can take a course in programming or earn a certification.
7. They are thoughtful about sharing their goals
Successful people understand that their goals say a lot about their interests, desires and challenges. Given that reality they are selective in how they share their goals. For example, a successful person may share their business goals in the context of a mastermind meeting where they can receive helpful comments and advice from other highly motivated people. In contrast, a successful person building a side hustle is unlikely to mention that activity at their corporate day job.
When in doubt, do not share your goals as you are working on them.
8. They seek inspiration to get through tough times
Disappointments and challenges are part of the picture when you work on challenging goals. Fortunately, many other successful people have sought outside inspiration to get through tough times. Strategist Ryan Holiday has found much practical help and insight from studying Stoic works such as The Meditations by Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius.
Tip: To sustain your motivation in the face of challenges, develop your self-knowledge with personality analysis tools such as the DISC Profile.
9. They are not perfectionists in their goals
In certain circumstances, it makes sense to adjust your goals. You may adjust the deadline on a goal. I have done this myself in 2015. In my case, I adjusted the exam date for a professional exam because my studies and self-assessment tests indicated that I had to study further. You may also need to abandon goals (or put them on hold) if you suffer a serious illness.
Remember your goals are the vehicle on the path to success. Sometimes you have to leave a goal behind if it is simply not working for you.
10. They celebrate goal achievements!
One of life’s great pleasures is to celebrate achieving a goal. Many of us have the experience of celebrating graduation days and earning degrees. Here is journalist Minda Zetlin, writing in Inc Magazine about several ways to celebrate success at work. You can give yourself a day off or you may decide to issue a press release for a major corporate success. Zetlin also suggests reflecting on how far you have come (e.g. “a year ago, I had never run for more than five minutes and today I finished my marathon race!”)
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