As well as being the founder of Lifehack, I also help people on a one-to-one basis through life coaching.
I’ve been doing this for more than 10 years now and have helped hundreds of clients re-evaluate their lives and turn inertia into progress and failure into success.
A common theme I’ve noticed with many of my clients is that they don’t have any definite goals to aim towards.
This has always surprised me, as goal setting is frequently recommended by self-improvement gurus, performance coaches, and business leaders. It’s also something that I learned at university and have implemented successfully in my life ever since.
If you’re similar to the majority of my life coaching clients and you don’t have any definite goals to aim for, then you’re missing out on what is probably the most powerful personal success technique on the planet.
The good news is—you’ve come to the right place for help with this.
In this article, I’ll explain exactly what goal-setting is and how you can put it into action in your life. As you’ll discover, it’s a key that can open many doors for you.
Definition of Goal Setting
So what is goal setting?
Simply put, goal setting is an action plan that helps you achieve your goal. It’s creating a system that gets you closer to what you want every day.
You need to do it if you’re serious about your goals. Because, take it from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry:
“A goal without a plan is just a wish.”
It starts with a long-term vision. Goal setting involves carefully evaluating where you are now — and where you want to be in the future. By writing this vision down, it goes from being a dream to a target you’re actively working towards.
Then it’s about creating a doable strategy to get there.
This means laying out a step-by-step plan of what you need to do. Ultimately, you’ll be concentrating your time, effort, and energy towards this single focus. And that means a lot of work. Hard work.
As Estée Lauder put it:
“I never dreamed about success. I worked for it.”
Key to great goal setting is falling in love with the process. Too often, people get caught up in the outcome. They become consumed with envisioning this outcome, instead of giving enough attention to the day-to-day actions necessary to get there in the first place.
The harsh reality is, sometimes the outcome is out of your control. For example, if you want to land a high-paying job, you can’t control the skill level and experience of the other candidates. So focus on what you can control. Make a goal plan that puts the process front and center, and you’re good to go!
An Introduction to Goal Setting
Goals can be big, small, short-term, long-term, essential, or desirable. But they all share one thing: They will give you something to aim for.
This is important. As just like a ship without a destination, if you have no goals, you’ll end drifting aimlessly.
Goals give you purpose. They also give you drive and enthusiasm. In other words—they make you feel alive!
If you’ve never spent time setting goals before, then here’s what I recommend you to do:
- Take some time to evaluate all areas of your life (health, career, family, etc.).
- Determine which of these areas need a boost.
- Think of ways in which to achieve this (for example, if you want to boost your health, you could eat less and exercise more).
- Set some definite goals that you would like to achieve.
- Write down these goals, including the date you want to accomplish them by.
Now, before you get started on the above, I want to make one thing clear: Goals are not wishful thinking!
By this, I mean that while your goals should be ambitious, they shouldn’t be unrealistic or verging into fantasy land.
For example, wanting to be promoted at work would be a realistic goal while wanting to be President of the United States might not be. (Of course, feel free to prove me wrong!)
If you’re new to the world of goal setting, then I’d recommend you start with easy-to-achieve goals. These could be things such as eating a healthy breakfast, walking more, taking regular breaks from your screen, and sleeping early.
These simple goals might take you a month or so to achieve, including making the daily practices a habit.
Once you’ve successfully accomplished these goals, you’ll find your self-confidence grows, and you’ll be ready to set yourself some bigger goals.
Here are a few examples that you might want to choose or adapt to your personal circumstances:
- Run a marathon
- Buy a new car
- Learn a new language
- Travel around the world
- Change career
- Retire early
- Write a book
I’m sure you can think of many more things that you would like to achieve. As the famous Shakespeare line neatly states: “The world is your oyster!”
Now, the trick with big goals (as I’ll show in an example shortly) is to break them down into small, bite-sized chunks. This means you’ll have a big end goal, with smaller goals (sometimes referred to as objectives) helping you to gradually achieve your main aim.
When you do this, you’ll make big goals more achievable. Plus, you’ll have an easy way to track how far along the road to your goal you are at any given point in time.
Let’s see this in action…
Going from an Idea to a Global Success
Everything starts with an idea.
And there appears to be no shortage of good ideas in the world. But there is a shortage of people willing to put these ideas into action!
This is the essential step that will move you from being a dreamer to an achiever.
Back in 2005, when I first had the idea for Lifehack, I really only considered it to be a platform to record some of my productivity and self-improvement techniques. I’d developed these during my time at university and as a Software Engineer at Redhat.
However, based on the number of views and positive feedback I received on the first few articles, I quickly realized that Lifehack had the potential to be a popular and successful website—a site that could help transform the lives of people from all across the world.
It was at that point that I decided to set some goals in place for Lifehack.
The way I did this was to set specific targets for different areas of the business:
- Number of articles published
- Amount of time spent writing and promoting the articles
- Number of new readers
- Number of new email subscribers
- Revenue generated from ads
For each of the above, I set weekly, monthly, and yearly targets. These targets were realistic but were also ambitious. In addition, I wrote down the necessary steps to take to achieve each target within the specified time frame.
This goal setting had a powerful impact on my motivation and energy levels. Because I could clearly see what needed to be done to achieve each goal, I found a purpose to my tasks that made them exciting to complete. Each small target achieved took me closer to accomplishing the bigger goals.
For example, my initial goals for writing articles were for just five a week, which equated to 20 per month and just over 100 per year. However, as I dedicated more and more time to Lifehack, I found I was able to exceed my initial goals.
This led me to increase the numbers. Of course, there’s a limit to how many articles one person can write. So when the readership began to exponentially increase, I started to hire other writers to help me out with the site’s content.
From my initial goal of just over 100 articles per year, I’ve used goal setting to help Lifehack publish more than 35,000 articles to date. This is now the largest collection of original self-development articles in the world.
And in terms of readership—this has skyrocketed from a few dozen in 2005 to several million in 2020.
And of course, I have many new goals for Lifehack, including expanding our range of online courses.
My original goal has always remained the same though: To change people’s lives for the better.
Why is Goal Setting Important?
“Without dreams and goals, there is no living, only merely existing, and that is not why we are here.” — Mark Twain
Imagine a world without goals. We’d be aimless. There’d be no Egyptian Pyramids, no Great Wall of China… would we even have invented the internet? Probably not!
Goal setting gives us the vigor and direction to do great things. It’s fulfilling, making us more stimulated, productive, and engaged. Here’s why it’s important for you to set goals:
1. Goal Setting Makes You Self-Aware
Setting goals involves a lot of self-reflection. You can’t set strong goals without asking yourself tough questions. You’ll come out of the process with a deeper understanding of who you are and what you care about.
In a world of conformity, knowing yourself is powerful. If you’re secure in who you are, you’ll make better decisions that are more aligned with your goals.
2. Goal Setting Gives You Focus
Having a clear target gives you purpose. The nature of goal setting means prioritizing what’s most important to you. In pursuit of this goal, you’ll have to cut out the distractions in your life that aren’t serving you.
Let’s say your goal is to run a marathon. Your free time is going to be spent on long runs, workouts, and foam rolling. That hour you spend on the couch watching TV will probably fall to the wayside. Good riddance.
3. Goal Setting Is Motivating
If I told you you had to write a book in 3 months, how would you react? Probably with panic and terror. But I’d bet you’d also be excited to see if you could do it.
When goals test our limits, we’re motivated to work hard to achieve them. The challenge gives us the drive we need to kick into our next gear. And when we do that, we grow. That’s clear in Locke’s pioneering study. Overwhelmingly, goal setting led to better performance for the participants — and now for you too.
4. Goal Setting Keeps You Accountable
One of the great things about goals is that they’re measurable. (Well, they should be!) That means they give you a benchmark to evaluate your success. Without a goal, you might only have a vague sense that you’re getting stronger in the gym. But if you have a goal to do 10 consecutive pull-ups, you can measure whether you’re really making progress.
5. Goal Setting Gives You Confidence
Nothing boosts your confidence more than reaching a goal. Proving to yourself that you can do something you couldn’t a month ago is exhilarating.
For example, if you’ve never seen yourself as clever, but now have learned Python, you might re-evaluate your self-image. And that’s motivating. You’ll be excited to see what else you can do now that the limits you placed on yourself are proven wrong.
Factors to Consider When Setting Goals
Goal setting is a very personal process. Only you can set goals that make sense for your life and your dreams.
But there are some factors you should keep in mind when you set these goals. These include:
- Is this something that I really want for myself? Or is it a goal that society or a family member expects me to want?
- Is this goal realistic for me to achieve? Or on the other hand, am I challenging myself enough?
- How much time do I want to allocate to working towards this goal?
- Is this goal measurable? Have I used the SMART checklist when setting this goal?
- Am I prepared to make whatever sacrificed I need to reach this goal?
Consider these factors when setting your own goals.
Goal Setting Can Transform Your Life
If you haven’t yet experienced the incredible power of goal setting, then now’s the time to get started.
Build a definite picture of what you want to accomplish, break it down into small, achievable steps, and then start taking action!
You’ll be able to change all areas of your life using this method, including boosting your health, improving your relationships, and transforming your career. You may also want to use goal setting to start a new hobby or plot a path to a prosperous and peaceful retirement.
So please don’t wait for success to drop in your lap (which it is highly unlikely to do). Instead, decide on exactly what you want, then make a plan to get it. This is the secret to lifelong success.
Legendary motivational speaker and author Paul J. Meyer said it well:
“Goal setting is the most important aspect of all improvement and personal development plans. It is the key to all fulfilment and achievement.”
Now, let me leave you with five questions that will help you think about your future:
- What would you like to be doing in 3, 5, and 7 years?
- What things make you happiest?
- How can you share your knowledge and experience?
- Who can help you achieve your goals?
- What would you like to be your legacy?
Take plenty of time to think about these questions. When the answers come, you’ll be able to start building a picture of how you’d like your life to be—and what goals you need to set to make this picture a reality.
More Tips on Setting Goals
- 8 Reasons Why Goal Setting Is Important to a Fulfilling Life
- How to Set Goals and Achieve Them Successfully
- How Setting Personal Goals Makes You a Greater Achiever
Featured photo credit: Jealous Weekends via unsplash.com
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