Goal setting is a fantastic skill to develop, and how you design your own future. A life best lived is a life by design. Not by accident, and not by just walking through the day careening from wall to wall and managing to survive. If you can start giving your life dimensions and design and color and objectives and purpose, the results can be absolutely staggering.
Goal setting gives you the chance to experience the power of your imagination. Think about it. Imagination builds cities. Imagination conquers disease. Imagination develops careers. Imagination sets up relationships. Imagination is where all tangible values and intangible values begin. So what you’ve got to learn to do is use this powerful resource.
Tapping this resource of imagination for goal setting involves thinking about your future, thinking about tomorrow or the rest of the day, thinking about the rest of the year or five years or 10. You can use your imagination to start prospecting for the future, for what could be possible for you.
5 Things That Affect You, Your Life and Your Goals
But before you can do that, you need to know the five primary things that affect all of us:
1. The Environment
It doesn’t hurt to make a simple contribution to the environment; a little contribution costs nothing. Pick up a piece of trash and throw it in the receptacle. If everybody did that, what a better world it would be. If everybody contributed, what a difference it would make!
Think of any big event of local, national or global significance. There are small events and daily events and family events and community events, too. Events affect all of us—some small, some big, some personal, some national, some global.
Here’s a good phrase to jot down: Ignorance is not bliss. Ignorance is tragedy. Ignorance is devastation. Ignorance creates lack. Ignorance creates disease. Ignorance will shorten your life. Ignorance will empty your life and leave you with the husks, nothing to account for. No, ignorance is not bliss.
Here’s another note to make: What you don’t know will hurt you. What you don’t know will tragically affect your life. What you don’t know will leave your life empty. What you don’t know will leave you without a relationship.
We’re affected by whatever we know or don’t know.
Whether it’s business or personal, we’re all affected by results. Disciplines undone in the future give us poor results. Disciplines managed well give us good results.
5. Our Dreams
We’re affected by our dreams—our vision of the future.
The Pull of the Future
Some people live in the past. They let their life be continually pulled and influenced by it. Although we must remember and review the past to make it useful to invest in the future, here’s the key: Make sure that the greatest pull on your life is the pull of the future.
If you’re skimpy on your dreams, or your objectives and your purposes aren’t very well planned, then that doesn’t pull very hard. You might have more of a tendency to be pulled apart by events or circumstances. So in order to save yourself from being pulled apart by distractions or pulled back to the past, you need to start designing the future.
Goals are like a magnet—they pull. And the stronger they are, the more purposeful they are, the bigger they are, the more unique they are, the stronger they pull.
High dreams pull you through all kinds of down days and down seasons. They pull you through a winter of discontent. They pull you through distraction on every side. A bad day can almost overwhelm you if you don’t have something really purposeful to go for on the other side of that day.
If you’ve got excellent goals, though, they’ll pull you through all these things and very little of it will attach itself to you. You’ll be able to get through some of the most difficult times if you have this spectacular vision ahead of you of where you’re going and what you’re going to accomplish.
Learning to Set Goals
Learning to set goals can transform your life forever. There is power in reaching out into the future, designing something to the best of your ability, refining it as you go, tearing it up periodically if you want to, setting a whole new list. It’s your life. It’s your future.
3 Components of Powerful Goals
The major reason for setting a goal is for what it makes you do to accomplish it. This will always be a far greater value than what you get. That is why goals are so powerful. They are part of the fabric that makes up our lives.
Goal setting is powerful because it provides focus, shapes our dreams, and gives us the ability to home in on the exact actions we need to take in order to get everything in life we desire. Goals cause us to stretch and grow in ways we never have before. In order to reach our goals, we must become better—we must change and grow.
Powerful goals have three components:
- They must be inspiring.
- They must be believable.
- They must be goals you can act on.
Life is designed in such a way that we look long term and live short term. We dream for the future and live in the present. Unfortunately, the present can produce many hard obstacles. Fortunately, the more powerful our goals (because they are inspiring and believable), the more we will be able to act on them in the short term and guarantee that they will actually come to pass.
4 Tips for Setting Powerful Goals
So, what are the key aspects to learn and remember when studying and writing our goals? Here’s a closer look at goal setting and how you can make it forceful and practical:
1. Evaluation and Reflection
The only way we can reasonably decide what we want in the future and how we will get there is to first know where we are right now and what our current level of satisfaction is. With our focus on goal setting, the first order of business is for each of us to set aside some serious time for evaluation and reflection.
2. Dreams and Goals
What are your dreams and goals? Not related to the past or what you think you can get, but what you want. Have you ever really sat down, thought through your life values and decided what you really want? This isn’t what someone else says you should have or what culture tells us successful people do or have. These are the dreams and goals born out of your own heart and mind, goals unique to you and that come from who you were created to be and gifted to become.
3. SMART Goals
SMART means Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-sensitive.
- Specific: Don’t be vague. Exactly what do you want?
- Measurable: Quantify your goal. How will you know if you’ve achieved it or not?
- Attainable: Be honest with yourself about what you can reasonably accomplish at this point in your life while taking into consideration your current responsibilities.
- Realistic: It’s got to be doable, real and practical.
- Time: Associate a time frame with each goal. When should you complete the goal?
The word accountable means to give an account. When someone knows what your goals are, they help hold you accountable. Whether it is someone else trying to reach the same goal with you or just someone you can give the basic idea to, having an accountability partner will give you another added boost to accomplishing your goals.
So, evaluate and reflect. Decide what you want. Be SMART. Have accountability. When you put these four key pieces together, you put yourself in a position of power to catapult toward achieving your goals and the kind of life you desire.
Evaluation and Reflection
The basis for knowing where we want to go is knowing where we came from and where we are. It is also knowing how well we have done achieving things we have previously set our eyes on. This is the essence of evaluation and reflection. We need to understand how to look at what we have done and then use that as a platform for what we want to do next.
The process of evaluation is relatively simple but can be varied a bit. The important point is having a process. Here is the basic process for evaluation and reflection:
1. Find a quiet place.
Reflection is best done away from distraction. It gives your mind space to think.
2. Take regular time.
Whether it is once a week, every other week, once a month or quarter, be sure to set aside a regular time at regular intervals to evaluate and reflect.
3. Look back.
Look at what you have accomplished and where you are. Be specific. Be truthful. Be ruthlessly honest.
4. Write it down.
Keep a record. This gives you the chance at the next stage of evaluation to see exactly where you were last time and keeps it as objective as possible.
5. Look forward.
Set your next goal. Stretch yourself according to what works for you.
The purpose of evaluation is twofold. First, it gives you an objective way to look at your accomplishments and your pursuit of the vision you have for your life. Second, it shows you where you are so you can determine where you need to go. Evaluation gives you a baseline from which to work.
“The unexamined life is not worth living.” To evaluate and reflect brings us face to face with who we are. More important, it allows us the time to dream and create a vision for what we want to become. Only when we take time out of our busy schedules can we get into the state of mind and quietness of heart we need in order to find that inner place.
Those who never take time to evaluate and reflect will blow to and fro through this life, living by the forces of culture, circumstances, societal pressures and, unfortunately, personal weaknesses.
In contrast, those who take the time to evaluate will find they are like an oak tree in a storm: They have a firm foundation, they know where they are going, they know how to get there, and, ultimately, they will get there no matter what comes their way.
Take a couple of hours this week to evaluate and reflect. See where you are and note it in your journal so that as the months progress and you continue a regular time of evaluation and reflection, you will see just how much ground you’re gaining—and that will be exciting!
Dreams and Goals
One of the amazing things we have been given as humans is the unquenchable desire to have dreams of a better life and the ability to establish and set goals to live out those dreams.
We can look deep within our hearts and dream of a better situation for ourselves and our families. We can dream of better financial, emotional, spiritual or physical lives. We have also been given the ability to not only dream, but pursue those dreams—and not just pursue them, but the cognitive ability to lay out a plan and strategies to achieve those dreams. Powerful!
What are your dreams and goals? This isn’t what you already have or what you have done, but what you want. Have you ever really sat down and thought through your life values and decided what you really want? Have you ever taken the time to truly reflect, to listen quietly to your heart, to see what dreams live within you? Your dreams are there. Everyone has them. They may live right on the surface, or they may be buried deep from years of others telling you they were foolish, but they are there.
You have to ask the hard questions to get excited about your dreams, and then you have to translate that excitement into strategic action to pursue all that you want. These are the disciplines that will help unleash the power of the dreams inside of you:
Listen to yourself.
How do we know what our dreams are? This is an interesting process and relates primarily to the art of listening. This is not listening to others; it is listening to yourself. If we listen to others, we hear their plans and dreams, and, at times, others will try to put their plans and dreams on us. If we listen to others, we can never be fulfilled. We will only chase elusive dreams that are not rooted deep within us.
Instead, we must listen to our own hearts to hear the dreams born out of the passions and desires we each uniquely possess. Just like when you are quiet enough to hear your own heart beating within your chest, your dreams have their own rhythm. All you have to do is get quiet enough to hear the beat.
Take time to be quiet.
Taking the time to be quiet is something we don’t do enough in this busy world. We rush, rush, rush and are constantly listening to noise all around us. We must not get faked out by just being busy. Instead, we must constantly ask ourselves the question, “Busy doing what?” In other words, are the activities you are participating in moving you toward your goals? If not, then work to eliminate those things and replace some of that time with quiet.
The human heart was meant to have times of quiet reflection, allowing us to peer deep within ourselves. It is when we do this that our hearts are set free to soar and take flight on the wings of our own dreams. Schedule some quiet “dream time” this week. No other people. No cellphone. No computer. Just you, a pad, a pen and your thoughts.
Think about what really thrills you. When you are quiet, think about those things that really get your blood moving. What would you love to do, either for fun or for a living? What would you love to accomplish? What would you try if you were guaranteed to succeed? What big thoughts move your heart into a state of excitement and joy? When you answer these questions, you’ll feel terrific because you’re in the “dream zone.” It is only when we get to this point that we can truly realize and begin to experience what our dreams are.
Make a list and prioritize.
Write down all of your dreams as you have them. Don’t think of any as too outlandish or foolish— remember, you’re dreaming! Let your thoughts and pen fly as you take careful record.
Now look at your list and prioritize those dreams. Which are most important? Which are most feasible? Which would you love to do the most? Put them in the order you will actually try to attain them. Remember, we are always moving toward action, not just dreaming.
Why am I asking you to take part in this exercise? It’s because life is too short not to pursue your dreams. At the end of your life, all you will be able to do is look backward. You can reflect with joy or regret. And we all know that joy from discipline weighs ounces while regret weighs tons.
Those who dream, who set goals and act on them, are those who live lives of joy and have a sense of peace when they near the end of their lives. They will have finished well and possess a sense of pride and accomplishment, not only for themselves but also for their families. That feeling is priceless!
Remember: These are the dreams and goals born out of your heart and mind, goals unique to you, and they come from who you were created to be and gifted to become. Your specific goals are what you want to achieve because they will make your life joyful and bring fulfillment for both you and your family.
The acronym SMART is one of the key aspects of goal setting because we want to be smart when we set our goals. We want to intelligently decide what our goals will be so that we can actually accomplish them. We want to set the goals that our heart conceives, that our mind believes and that our bodies will carry out. Let’s take an even closer look at each of the components of SMART goals:
Goals are no place to waffle. They are no place to be vague. Ambiguous goals produce ambiguous results. Incomplete goals produce incomplete futures. When we are specific, we harness the power of our dreams and set forces into action that empower us to achieve our goals. We then know exactly what it is we are shooting for—there is no question.
As we establish our priorities and manage our time, we do it for a specific goal, to achieve the results we expect. There is no wondering or guessing. The future is locked into our minds, and we see it—specifically—and that is powerful! Never underestimate just how important it is to have very specific, concrete goals. They act as magnets that draw you toward them. A SMART goal is specific.
Always set goals that are measurable—“specifically measurable” to take into account the principle of being specific, as well. Our goals should be such that we know when we are advancing and by how much. Whether it is by hours, pounds, dollars or some other scale, we should be able to see exactly how we are measuring up as we journey through life using our goals. Imagine if you didn’t measure your goals. You would never know which way you were going, or even if you were going anywhere. A SMART goal is measurable.
One of the detrimental things many people do—and they do it with good intentions—is to set goals that are unattainable. While it’s very important to set big goals that cause your heart to soar with excitement, it is also imperative to make sure they are attainable.
An attainable goal is one that is both realistic and doable in a shorter period of time than what you have to work with. “Attainable” doesn’t mean easy. Our goals should be set so that they are just out of our reach, so that they challenge us to grow as we reach forward to achieve them. A SMART goal is attainable.
The root word of realistic is real. A goal has to be something that we can reasonably make “real” or a “reality” in our lives. There are some goals that are simply not realistic. You have to be able to say, even if it is a tremendously stretched goal, that it is entirely realistic—that you could make it. You may have to say that it will take X, Y and Z to do it, but if those happen, then it can be done.
This is in no way to say it shouldn’t be a big goal, but that goal must be realistic. This is, to a great degree, up to the individual. For one person, a goal may be realistic, but for another, unrealistic. Be very honest with yourself as you do your planning and evaluation. It might be good to get a friend to help you, as long as that friend is by nature an optimist and not a pessimist. This can go a long way toward helping you know what is realistic.
Knowing that perhaps you could use a bit of help differentiating between attainable and realistic, here is an example: Let’s say you are overweight and need to lose 150 pounds to get to your ideal weight. Is that goal attainable? Yes, if you also make it realistic. For example, it isn’t realistic to think you can do it in five months. Eighteen to 24 months would be more realistic (with hard work). Thus, losing 150 pounds in two years is both attainable and realistic, while losing 150 pounds in five months is neither attainable nor realistic. A SMART goal is realistic.
One of the powerful aspects of a great goal is that it has an end, a time in which you are shooting to accomplish it. You start working because you know there is an end, and as time goes by, you work because you don’t want to get behind. As the deadline approaches, you work diligently because you want to meet that deadline. It’s a good idea to break a big goal down into different parts of measurement and time frames. Set smaller goals and work them out in their own time. A SMART goal has a timeline.
Now let’s look at how to apply the SMART test to your goals and ensure they are powerful.
As a contract with yourself or someone else, accountability is a vital key in the goal-setting process. Accountability puts some teeth into the process. If a goal is set and only one person knows it, does it really have any power? Many times it doesn’t. At the very least, it isn’t as powerful.
When someone knows what your goals are, they follow up and hold you accountable by asking you to “give an account” of where you are in the process. Human nature is such that when we know someone else is going to ask us about it, we are much more motivated to get it done—if for no other reason than we don’t want to look lazy and uncommitted. This is why having an accountability partner is so important.
In the basic sense, there are two kinds of accountability: internal and external.
Internal accountability is essentially the level of integrity you maintain not only throughout the evaluation process but also in life. It means that when you look at yourself, you judge yourself with honesty. This is where you hold yourself accountable to doing what you said you would do. If you’ve messed up, say, “I’ve messed up,” but if you’ve done well, then you can celebrate your progress. Let the internal accountability prod you and spur you on to greater action in pursuit of your achievements.
So, first and foremost, it is our responsibility to hold ourselves accountable. We answer to ourselves. We take charge of ourselves. How do we do that? Here are a few ideas:
- Write down your goals so they become “objective.” You can’t go back and say, “That wasn’t really my goal.”
- Be ruthlessly honest with yourself when you assess whether or not you have met the goal. Of course, if you were specific in setting your SMART goals, you won’t have much wiggle room here, anyway.
- If you fall short of your goal, or if you are falling short while on the way, knuckle down and hold yourself accountable to do what it takes to make up the ground so that you can hit that goal!
- Set a time frame in which you will evaluate your progress and hold yourself accountable.
Find someone else or a group of others to hold you accountable. When we commit to giving an account to someone else for our actions and goals, we take it to the next level.
The external part of accountability will not work without the internal aspect. If you are not honest with yourself, then you will probably not be honest with others. Asking someone to hold you accountable and then knowing you won’t be completely honest with them will never work.
Having an outside source of accountability is a powerful force if done right. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you set up an accountability partner:
- Choose someone who cares about you but can be tough and honest with you. They need to care about you—and you have to know and feel that care—because you become vulnerable by making yourself accountable to them. They need to be tough and honest, though, because you don’t want to have them shy away from telling you to get on the ball when you’re slacking, getting behind or not doing the job. The expression “tough love” would fit appropriately here. In essence, they love us enough to be honest with us about our progress.
- Tell them specifically what your goals are.
- Commit to being honest with them.
- Give them permission to speak words of encouragement, as well as words of challenge when the situation calls for it.
- Agree on a reasonable time frame in which you will allow them to evaluate your progress and hold you accountable.
- Follow up on their words when they challenge you or call you to action.
Accountability can be a tremendous thing. There is an old proverb that says one can put a thousand to flight, but two can put 10,000 to flight. When we have someone holding us accountable, we bring others onto our team who will make us stronger, who will make us soar higher and who will cause our lives to be much richer because of their involvement.
Take a moment and really consider who you will make yourself accountable to in the pursuit of your goals. Now, go back through the words above and begin to work this process out in your own life. You will be extraordinarily glad you did.
Goal Setting Challenges You
Let your goals challenge you to become a unique person of incredible dimensions, not necessarily in anyone else’s eyes, but in your own eyes.
It doesn’t matter whether someone thinks I’m short or tall, but it matters if I stand tall in my own eyes—because I know my disciplines, I know what I’m doing, I know whether I’m doing it or not doing it. I know that I’m paying the price and that I deserve the applause and I deserve the prize. That’s what’s exciting. That’s why this goal setting is so important. It challenges you to grow. It challenges you to become more than you are, to move up to the next level. And that’s key.