The importance of goal setting

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” 

Winston Churchill

It’s almost impossible to do justice to this topic. In fact, part of me wonders if I’ve anything to contribute.

Notwithstanding this rather pessimistic start, my point is a simple one. The world might be replete with goal-setting material, but few people have written goals.

Why is that?

At its most elemental, it’s because we’re too lazy.

Or perhaps it’s because we don’t believe it will make a jot of difference.

Or we’ve tried goal setting and we fell out of love with the process.

In a sense, it doesn’t matter.

For me, the importance of goal setting cuts deepest if we want a different, more meaningful life. I was tempted to say ‘better’, but goals can be deceiving. There are many stories of people who have spent half a life to reach a goal only to find that upon reaching the zenith of their expectation that they are left short. For many, it’s the breaking of them.

Even if you’re unsure of exactly what you want out of life, you will know that the combination of a goal and goal-focused effort is much more effective than simply drifting along.

I’m not intending to go through the methodology of goal setting – SMART goals, weekly reviews and public sharing – but I would ask you to think carefully about what you honestly want out of life, or at least the next couple of years.

Ask yourself, absent a written goal, are you confident of knowing what you have to do with the next portion of your life? One thing I know about having goals is that it intensely focuses my action on doing more of the right things and a lot less of the pointless grunge.

Right now, I’m going through a process of looking at the various aspects of my life to make sure I focus on doing the things that will make the biggest difference to me and those around me. Goals are integral to that process. In the past, the majority of my goals were career orientated. Of course, looking back that was stupid. I was out of balance. If you take the time to write down the most important things you want to achieve over the next 12-24 months, you will quickly work out if you are in balance. Ideally, you should make sure that you have goals that cover:

  1. career
  2. family
  3. financial
  4. spiritual
  5. mental
  6. physical
  7. social

The thing is if you are one of the few people to have written goals, you need to work out a methodology to work backwards so that every day you do something to achieve your goal(s). You could try breaking your day down like Benjamin Franklin, and changing your habits to include something in pursuit of your goal. Then again, you might just go all out and focus everything on one goal. You have to play to your strengths. But more than that you have to be driven to want to achieve your goal. You have to feel, smell and taste the difference goal achievement will make. If it feels too ritualistic you will give up.

I recognise there is a huge overlap with procrastination, time management and intrinsic motivation, but all you need think about is that you will achieve more in your life, and be happier if you have a goal to pursue. Indeed if you think about it that’s what we do every day – we set out to get through the day as best we can. Surely that’s a goal. It’s just that I’m inviting you to expand your horizon to give you a purposeful, achievable goal.

If all this seems like too much effort, then you could do worse than write out the night before what you propose to do the following day. I know this too is as old as the hills, but it’s amazing how much more you get done if you do this every day. More importantly, you discipline yourself to work through your list doing the most important thing first and so on. If you’ve tried this and failed I bet the reason is because, like most of us, you’ve been over ambitious. Just imagine a scenario where you focus on no more than three things (or less) in a day and you do them.

It’s my intention to develop this theme, and refer to some of the scientific material that exists on goal setting. Of course, to say a science exists is a bit of misnomer. All we are talking about is studying those people that operate with goals and those that don’t. But I think it would be good to introduce a bit more rigour to the debate.

At this stage, I don’t have much else to add, save to encourage you to give consideration to your current life planning process.

Are you steering your ship or drifting with the tide?

It’s your choice.


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