Why set goals in the first place?
Setting goals will give you a sense of purpose, focus your limited time and energy on what's essential, and motivate you to achieve something meaningful to you.
Ultimately, setting goals is about intentionally creating the life that you want, one step at a time.
Let's start with the "wrong" goals.
A wrong goal is often a goal that's imposed by others, whether explicitly or implicitly. It's something we feel we should do based on our parents' expectations, what our friends and colleagues are doing, the societal norms that exist around us.
A wrong goal is not aligned with your values, it's inconsistent with your underlying beliefs, and it's not something you fundamentally and genuinely care about.
When we choose the "wrong" goal, we're inevitably going to be half-hearted in our attempts at achieving them, which means we're likely to fail. This has implications not just for the particular goal in question but more broadly, as we create a precedent for failure, and we start to think of ourselves as "quitters." It's much harder to achieve a goal where we've already failed in the past.
One of my favorite quotes is this:
"It doesn't really matter how fast you're going if you're heading in the wrong direction." - Stephen Covey, author of the classic, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
So even if you're achieving those goals, you're ticking them off at an impressive pace, what's the point if you don't care about the result? Or, worse, if the effect is detrimental to you in some way?
Having the right goals in place is fundamental to successfully achieving them, and for that achievement to contribute to your happiness and life satisfaction.
So what are the "right" goals?
A meaningful goal is one that you've been thinking about for months or even years. This shows commitment, which will be valuable in getting you over that finishing line.
A meaningful goal is one for which you are intrinsically motivated, versus someone else telling you that you should do it. Again, this will make sure that you're committed to working hard to achieve it.
A meaningful goal is one that is consistent with your values.
A meaningful goal is one that you're willing to work hard for. More than what you have to do to achieve it, ask yourself: what are you ready to give up?
And a meaningful goal is one that will genuinely have an impact on your life, in terms of your happiness, wellbeing, general life satisfaction, or any other aspect of your life that is important to you.
To get the ideas flowing, try asking yourself the following questions:
1. Do you remember what your goals were as a child? As a teenager?
2. Fast-forward to when you're sitting in that rocking chair in your old age: what advice would you give your younger self?
3. Fast-forward a little further: how do you want people to remember you when you're gone?
4. How do you want to spend your time? What does your ideal day look like?
5. What makes you want to jump out of bed in the morning?
6. What do you want to learn?
7. Who do you want to spend your time with?
Try to think of different areas of your life: health and fitness, career, family, personal development... And aim for a mix of ambitious and more achievable goals, personal and externally focused, educational and fun, short-term, and long-term…
For identifying priorities across different areas of your life, I like to use the Wheel of Life: Anna Lundberg's answer to How do you realize what is important in life?
Finally, we can make sure that our goals are "SMART":
S – Specific: Getting specific on the goals that you want to achieve will give you more clarity on what success looks like, and help you to identify the concrete steps that will get you there.
M – Measurable: If you can't measure your goal, then how will you know if you've achieved it? How will you track your progress?
A – Achievable: Goals that may seem entirely out of your reach can become achievable if you break them down into smaller steps and give yourself a reasonable time frame in which to achieve them.
R – Relevant: A relevant goal is a goal that is meaningful to you, as well as being related to the broader context of what's going on in the world around you, personally and professionally.
T – Time-bound: Finally, setting a deadline will help you to focus and will also give you a sense of urgency, which can motivate you to act now rather than putting it off until later.
When it comes to working towards achieving your goals, that's a complete answer in itself!
But I would always recommend that you start with ONE STEP. It doesn't matter how small it is; take one step today, and you'll gain confidence and motivation to make another and another... and before you know it you're moving full-speed ahead!