An arrow pointing at a dart showing the important of goal setting

Why Is Goal Setting Important and How to Set Goals

A Three-dimensional Model Showing the Importance of Goal Setting and How to Realize Your Most Desired Goals.

“Give me a stock clerk with a goal, and I will give you a man who will make history. Give me a man without a goal, and I will give you a stock clerk.”

J. C. Penney.

We live in a VUCA world, as the U.S. Navy puts it: volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. What is the purpose of setting goals, then? Can I just accept whatever life brings? Doesn’t goal setting add to the paramount anxiety that life brings? The importance of these questions is the reason for this article. In the paragraphs that follow, I will share my thoughts on goal setting, drawing upon personal experience, reflection, and observation.

My time spent coaching and speaking on personal development made me realize in hindsight that the biggest mistake I was making repeatedly was to assume that people had predetermined goals. I would usually dive into a speech about time-management, talking about my daily routines, expecting the attendees to be on the same page. Questions regarding my motivation, special characteristics, and secrets emerged so much that they have prompted me to consider the effectiveness of goal setting and its relation to anything we do in life, especially how we use our time and energy. Today I am convinced that any meaningful and happy life stems from well-defined goals.

How Important Is Setting Goals?

Several years ago, Jean-Henri Fabre, a French botanist, conducted an interesting experiment. He took a flowerpot and placed processionary caterpillars in a single file around the circumference of the pot’s rim. Then he placed the caterpillars’ favorite food in the middle of the circle created by the procession around the flowerpot’s rim. The caterpillars turned aimlessly, following one another. After seven days and seven nights, they dropped dead of exhaustion and starvation, while their favorite food was six inches away. Regarding goal setting, we aren’t very different from the processionary caterpillars: often we navigate through life with no goals, confusing productivity and activity. We may not die physically like the caterpillars, but spiritual death is certain. Setting goals is one of the best investments we will ever make if we want to live a fulfilling life.

In 2016, I was about to complete my undergraduate studies in economics, making the dean’s list. I applied for nearly 100 jobs, spending a whopping five hours per day on average, searching for jobs, writing résumés, cover letters, and others. The result? Nothing!

It wasn’t until graduation day that I realized I was falling into a trap that most of us is a victim of. I had no goals. The beautiful transcripts, honors, and well-written résumé were excellent resources, but they were useless without a goal. I understood a meaningful life is impossible without goals, regardless of socio-economic situations, educational attainments, talents, etc. Never thought I’d say that, but my failures may have been the most fortunate occurrences of my life because they allowed me to reconsider my priorities and to invest in what really matters. They taught me the invaluable lesson of goal-setting, which I will share with you.

How Do I Set Goals?

What follows is a three-step method that I have used to guide my goal-setting endeavor. I call it the 3-D method: decision, direction, and discipline. The purpose of this method is not to give you answers, but to stimulate your thinking and allow you to ask questions that will take you toward attaining your desired goals. I’ve found this sequence useful, but it may change based on where you are on your journey. One fact to commit to memory, however: a decision will always be the starting point of your journey toward reaching your goal.

DECISION

 “It is in your moment of decision that your destiny is shaped.

Tony Robbins

This may sound counterintuitive and even illogical: How do I decide without even knowing what I want? The evening following my graduation ceremony; I went back to my room alone with my certificates, flowers, wishes, and, yet, an empty heart. The anxiety was so enormous that it triggered my momentous decision to transform my life. I had made a decision. Examples such as this are very common. Steve Jobs decided he would amount to something special when he found out that he was adopted. Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr., known by the name of Muhammad Ali, made the decision that he was going to be the greatest boxer of all time after they stole his bike.

They decided. These are famous examples of decisions that could be considered trivial but ended up triggering impressive accomplishments. The life transformation you long for has its roots in a decision. At that point, you don’t know what resources, efforts, and time it will require, but you decide anyway. Equally important is the concept of commitment. Your decision will need to be backed by commitment. Don’t just think it; ink it!

Life has a lot of beautiful things in store for you. Are you going to make the decision to realize your full potential?

DIRECTION

 “Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?

The Cheshire Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.” 

Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

In the first step, you decided to change your life, but that’s only a part of the puzzle. Now you must ask yourself, what do I want? Happiness? Money? Wealth? Ataraxis? These are general conditions we all want, but they are vague. They are a by-product of setting goals, not the other way around.

An effective goal statement should sound like this: I want to become a world-class speaker. For this, I devote my time to read five books on the topic each month, attend two conferences this year and deliver a speech at my local university.” In this simple statement, you set a big picture and very specific steps that you will take toward attaining your goal. It is actionable. Avoid chasing after the means before committing. The universe has its ways of bringing you the resources you need to accomplish your goals.

Society is caught up in the how; we want the means before considering the goal. The human brain acts like a supercomputer: through the reticular activating system (RAS), your brain will guide you toward the resources you need to achieve your goal. This doesn’t mean you must remain idle after you have found the what; instead, don’t waste valuable time and energy over-analyzing. Believe!

Here’s a small exercise that shows how the RAS works. It will take you only a minute to complete.

Step 1:

Get a timer ready. Wherever you are reading this article, look around you. How many items in blue can you see? (30 seconds)

Put the answer here: ______________

Note: For the sake of not influencing your judgment, you will get step two and three at the end of the article.

DISCIPLINE

“Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment.” 

Jim Rohn

Following a two-hour talk on time-management at a major university, a student approached me and asked, “I understand everything you said about time-management, I have tried hard to break my procrastination habit, but each time I start, I seem to relapse. How can I maintain my habit?” In one word: discipline. Discipline is the last piece of our puzzle. I understood her frustration because consistency is something we all struggle with. This article took me weeks more to finish than initially planned. Some days we possess all the energy in the world, others we’re in a slump. Just like training your muscles, we need consistent work to maintain a disciplined life. OK! But how? Researchers at the University College London purport it takes an average of 66 days to form a new habit. You need to spare sixty-six days to instill your habit.

We build discipline through willpower and the Ulysses’ contract. Willpower is the conscious effort to follow a course of action. There is no known willpower to start a bad smoking habit. But fighting the urge to stop pressing the snooze button requires an active fight. In December 2016, I decided I was going to sleep for six hours per day and read at least five books each month. Prior to that time, I had no reading habit, and I used to sleep for eight hours on average per day. I used my willpower to get myself out of bed and finish my reading every day. At the time of this writing, I can wake up without an alarm, and I’ve read over a hundred books. The second tip I found very useful is the Ulysses’ pact. Let’s say you want to start a workout routine. The best you can do is to set an appointment with a trusted friend. You will go to great lengths to honor your engagement. There are many ways to build discipline, but I have found these two very helpful.

Growing up, I hated my life. But now, I feel my disappointments have been a blessing in disguise. They taught me the value of learning and discipline. I wholeheartedly hope you found this article enlightening. Always remember, we may buy ourselves out of life as it happens to us, but we can’t buy ourselves out of a meaningful, well-designed, and happy life. 

Small exercise steps 2 and 3

Step 2:

Now without a timer, without looking around, answer the following question:

How many brown things did you see?

Put your answer here: __________

Chances are, you did not see any because you were focusing on blue items; your brain categorized everything except the color blue as irrelevant.

Step 3:

Now look around you and see how many brown items are there.

The result: You missed the items in brown because that is not what you were looking for. This is the same for your goal. Once you have set your goals, you will see, hear, and get feelings like never.

Schedule a free consultation with me for any inquiries regarding 121 leadership, personal development, and communication coaching. You can also connect with me via LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram. Until then, stay healthy, stay busy, stay happy.

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