How To Set Helpful Goals
A well designed goal can change your whole year.
It can improve your health, your mood, your mental clarity, your business and your relationships.
Good goals help motivate you to achieve things you previously deemed “too hard”, and give you an excuse to fix the issues that have been on your mind for years.
It’s also easy to set poor goals – like new year’s resolutions – that fade away after a few days.
Here are some tricks for creating meaningful goals:
Your goal should make your stomach jump
There has to be something exciting about your goal; it should make you feel…tingly.
It has to be something that holds serious value to you, because you’re going to pay a fair price in achieving it.
It might be something you thought you’d never be able to do, or something that’s traditionally only for professionals.
For example, it might be running a half marathon, building a tribe, becoming proficient in a new skill, create something artistic, visiting new places, etc.
It doesn’t have to make sense to other people, but it does need to make you spring out of bed.
That thing you’re thinking of right now – what if you doubled it?
Your goals should be measurable
How will you know you’ve arrived at your destination?
Once you’re a few months in, you’ll have lost all perspective of your development and how far you’ve come.
That’s why it’s unhelpful to set goals without clear metrics, like I want to read more or I want to learn an instrument.
It’s better to set a number that is clear, measurable and impressive.
e.g. I want to read 20 books, or I want to pass the level 3 violin exam.
As Peter Drucker famously said: What gets measured gets done.
Your goal should match a long term ambition
It’s easy to set a “vanity metric” goal, one which sounds impressive but doesn’t achieve much.
This might be to add followers on social media, weigh a certain amount, or sell a certain amount of something.
You can buy followers who don’t grow your brand.
You can lose weight without getting healthier.
You can boost your turnover and make a small loss.
In each case, you hit the goal but miss the point.
For this reason, the goal should be tied to a genuine improvement you want to see.
e.g. I want to drop my body fat percentage, or I want to make a $30k profit.
It’s also important to not idolise the goal at your own expense.
Some businesses set sales goals that promote poor behaviour – like fiddling with invoice dates so that you hit monthly targets.
This doesn’t create any extra sales, it just shuffles numbers around, and doesn’t help your business in the long run.
If meeting the goal undermines your intent, pick a better goal.
Your goal should not rely on other people
Since you are the person who is the manager and beneficiary of your goal, you don’t want to depend on other people to achieve your goal.
For example, if your goal is to win an award, you’re at the mercy of the selection panel.
If your goal is to play tennis twice a week, you’re at the mercy of the weather and your partner.
These might be nice bonuses, but it’s better to be able to make progress on your own.
Once you’ve set the goal, get the ball rolling
Zig Ziglar said “People often say that motivation doesn't last. Well neither does bathing - that’s why we recommend it daily”
Once you’ve set your goal, your motivation tends to decrease.
You tend to get a boost once you’re on the home stretch, but that middle section can be pretty bleak.
For that reason, it’s worth making commitments when you’re motivated, so that it’s easy to run on momentum further down the track.
e.g. if you want to read 20 books this year, order the first 10 of them today.
If you want to stick to a gym program, make a PT appointment for six week’s time.
If you want to redecorate your house/office, throw out something important – it’ll force you to commit to the schedule.
Get an accountability partner/group
I host a group of nine young people who have dinner together each week - we set our own goals, then hold each other accountable.
Each of us picked something we’d been meaning to do, then set a collective penalty/reward.
In this case, we each committed $60 for a fancy dinner at the end of the year, and committed to a goal.
If we hit our goal, that $60 paid for our food and drinks.
If we missed, that $60 went towards everyone else’s food and drink, and you had to pay again.
This worked remarkable well.
Once a week, someone would cheerfully ask how your progress was going.
And because you didn’t want to sound slack, you always made sure you had a little bit of good news to report.
Seeing other people make progress is also really inspiring, and it’s great to see your friends doing cool things.
Set a reward
As we discovered, carrots and sticks are powerful motivators.
By setting a matching consequence, you’re not just relying on motivation, but on pain avoidance and greed.
These are powerful incentives, and will nudge you towards doing a series of small uncomfortable steps that add up into serious progress.
The reward has to be good, or the penalty has to hurt.
If it’s too cheap, you’ll take the easy road and flake out.
You shouldn’t be able to fail on Day Two
There’s a great trick for making progress called the Jerry Seinfeld Strategy.
Essentially it says that every day you should do something, no matter how small, that contributes to your project.
This is also known as “Don’t Break The Chain” and is a really good idea.
However, it makes a crap goal – what happens if you break the chain?
The whole thing falls over, and the motivation evaporates.
Instead, set a goal that you can catch up on if life becomes a bit messy.
For example, if you miss a day/week, do triple the next week.
It might mean that you do 70% of the work in the last 20% of your time.
You still got there!
Your goal should stretch you (a bit)
When things get tough, your brain is going to start looking for excuses to drop the goal.
You’ll rationalise reducing the amount, or delaying the finish line, or tell yourself it was silly to even try.
Therefore, you want a goal that isn’t demoralizingly high, but also one that you wouldn’t have normally achieved.
I highly recommend setting 2-3 goals for the coming year.
One for your work, one for your hobbies, and maybe one for your relationships (this article always reminds me why that’s so important).
Once you’ve made your choices, write them up somewhere you’ll see them every day, and pick your reward.
Let me know what you’re going to achieve and I’ll do a follow up post later in the year.