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G is for goals

Why is setting goals important in life?

We have one life. We can choose to drift aimlessly through life, going with the flow, reacting to circumstances or the needs of others etc or by clarifying what we want in life, we can then consciously design the life we want, as far as is in our capability, by setting goals and then working towards them with intentional, deliberate determination.

Goals provide the framework to organise our time and energy and direct our focus each day; without them we would lack direction and could by default give our power to other people as they would be more able to direct or manipulate how we spend our time and orchestrate what we do.

The process of setting goals involves much thinking and many steps. When we set goals, it causes us to reflect on life, assess where we are and think about the time-frame we have etc. The next step involves choosing where we want to go and how we want to achieve it, breaking it down into small, achievable practical steps.

When we know what we want to achieve and how, it is easier to focus, use our time effectively and concentrate our efforts avoiding distractions that can, so easily, lead us to expend our energy or resources in the wrong direction.

When we set goals it is easier to develop new habits to guide our daily actions because we have a clear sense of direction and a clear destination in mind.

Setting goals gives us greater freedom. When we are focused and know where we are going, it frees up the time and energy we would have wasted running around ‘from pillar to post’ like a ‘headless chicken’ going with whatever whim we have at the time. It will also reduce our stress because we are not constantly worrying about whether we are making the right decision, heading in the right direction, etc etc

Setting goals, helps us to create better time/energy boundaries and improves our ability to make decisions along the way. It increases our focus and improves our efficiency and productivity. As we work towards our goals, through clear steps, we have the means to measure our progress to ensure that our actions are aligning with activities.

Setting goals and measuring achievement gives us greater self-confidence because we are able to see what we have done and what we are capable of so we can make an accurate assessment of our strengths and weaknesses when approaching new goals.

How do we set goals?

Goals should be aligned with our own personal values. It is essential to ensure that the goals that we are aiming for are self-generated and are what we genuinely want to achieve ourselves, not goals or visions that are handed down by others who are trying to live their life through us or make decisions for us (however well-intentioned).We each have responsibility for our own lives and as such we are responsible for determining our own goals.

Intentions help us to focus on the bigger picture and use introspection to remember our ‘why’ or our purpose. The intentions we set describe how we desire to be in this particular point in time. i.e. how we show up rather than how we end up

We design our future by the amount of effort we put into working on our goals. Goals should be aligned with our values so as not to create a dissonance. When we have several goals, it is useful to give each a priority so that we can direct our attention to the most important ones that particular day/week avoid feeling overwhelmed by having too many goals in too many different areas of our lives.

Using the mnemonic SMART is a good way to design your goals






SMART helps you focus and be specific. For example, SMART, would translate

“I want to go on holiday” into

“I will book a holiday on (SPECIFIC DATE*) to (*DESTINATION) with (COMPANY/FERRY/FLIGHT*) visiting (X,Y and Z) with (PEOPLE*)” (obviously previous daily plans would include time spend researching locations, prices, etc and reflecting on your ‘why’.

I always find it useful to write down the steps required to realize any goal then get a buzz when I cross off each step or task as I work through it.

Another useful technique is to use an accountability buddy. Pearson's law states that,

"When performance is measured, performance improves. When performance is measured and reported back, the rate of improvement accelerates."

You are much more likely to stick to things if you have told someone that is what you are doing, and if you are getting distracted from the task in hand they can be there to give you a gentle reminder (or a kick up the backside when necessary)!

The first step in setting personal goals could be to list different areas of your life; health, family, finances, work, pleasure etc etc that you want to work on and then consider the long term to get an overview of what you want to achieve in the next 10, 20 years etc Setting longer term goals gives an overall perspective and helps to shape all other aspects of decision making.

Once longer term goals are set, a useful next step would be to create a five-year plan of smaller goals that will bring you closer to your long term goals.

Then focus your attention again by creating a one-year plan, a six-month plan, a one-month plan of progressively smaller goals that are needed to achieve your long term goals. (Each of these should be based on the previous plan).

Finally create a week’s plan with an itemised daily ‘To do’ list of activities that work towards your lifetime goals.

Breaking big goals down into smaller, more manageable steps is the embodiment of the practice of Kaizen and makes it far easier to see how any goal will be accomplished.

Setting goals doesn’t just involve planning. You can have all the intentions you want for your life and your future, but unless you take action in the present moment then your intentions will remain just vague aspirations but “If you commit to your intentions by taking aligned action, you will likely end up where you want to go” Christie Inge

Setting goals is not just a vague whim/desire to do or not do something it involves preparation and planning and determined action to create new and better habits.

“Intention is more than wishful thinking. It’s wilful direction” Jennifer Williamson

The words ‘intention’ and ‘goal’ are often interchanged but for me there is a subtle difference between goals and intentions. Goals are outcome (future) focused whereas intentions are to do with the present moment. Intentions are concerned with the reflective process you go through to achieve your goals; they also support your goals by helping you maintain motivation and a positive mindset whereas goal based orientation is only successful if you achieve your aim.

There will always be unexpected events that occur that throw off our daily plans but if we always have our goals in mind then it is easier to return to them whenever we have dealt with the latest chaos or enjoyed an unexpected treat

Within any of these lists it is essential to ensure that you create spaces for simply being, spontaneity and enjoying the present moment

It is also important to celebrate your progress along the way and enjoy the satisfaction of having got one step closer to your long term goals when you've achieved a goal. It is important to take on board the implications of your success, and observe the progress that you've made towards other goals.

Every day we have the power to grow and change as we accommodate and assimilate the experiences we have and the information we come across. When setting goals it is always important to regularly review them to see whether they are still relevant to the life you want to live

Another useful activity is to make the time to reflect upon and review how you felt about working towards a goal and what could be done differently e.g. If you achieved the goal too easily, you could think about making your next goal harder. If achieving that step was a struggle then you could see if you can break the steps down further next time or set a new goal to acquire the skills needed to make any further steps easier to achieve.

Setting goals carries with it the risk of failure. If you do not achieve your goals it is important to reflect upon the reason why. We sometimes don’t achieve our goals because our ideas evolve over time and our direction changes, sometimes things happen which are completely out of our control but other times we fail to achieve our goals through inaction, bad habits, lack of will power etc

“We have to be willing to fail, to be wrong, to start over again with lessons learned.”

Angela Lee Duckworth

Grit is required to reach our goals. Grit is about passion and perseverance and having a growth mindset and a willingness to fail but to pick yourself up again and learn from those failures. As we practise having grit and determination then we increase our capacity for resilience which makes it easier to stick to things.

Flexibility is key and if you do not achieve a goal in a certain time frame it does not mean that you are a failure as long as you can identify what happened and learn something from your experience and take appropriate action where necessary.

Final thought for the moment. Our daily choices, move us closer to, or further away from our goals.

"Every choice moves us closer to or farther away from something. Where are your choices taking your life? What do your behaviours demonstrate that you are saying yes or no to in life?" Eric Allen

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