We live in a VUCA world, as the U.S. Navy puts it: volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. If life is so risky, why bother setting life goals, then? Can I just accept whatever life brings? Doesn’t goal setting add to the paramount anxiety that life carries? In the paragraphs that follow, I will answer these questions by sharing five key benefits of goal setting, drawing upon personal experience, reflection, and observation.
A Goal Gives You Focus and Clarity
Goals activate the immense power of the human brain via the reticular activating system (RAS) that helps us discern opportunities in plain sight that would normally have eluded us.
Let’s do a brief experiment. Choose a color in the immediate surroundings where you are reading this article. Done?
Now, look around you. What did you realize? If you chose brown, you will identify more brown items than before you did the test. This is no mere coincidence, but the amazing capacity of the reticular activating system to filter out irrelevant details and to help us focus on what matters to us.
No longer will you navigate life, confusing productivity and activity. Your actions are deliberate and your outcomes are predictable. If you are a spontaneous person, I challenge you to center your actions around a specific goal for the next ninety days and see how your life changes.
A Goal Develops Mental Strength
A definite goal will develop our mental stamina and strength of purpose that will allow us to bring a problem-solving mindset instead of a whining and blaming attitude to the challenges of life.
Imagine, you are going home after a tiring workday, you can’t wait to see your family, take a warm bath and lie in your cozy bed, when on your way you encounter a fallen timber that blocks the passage to your house.
You wouldn’t stop, sleep on the sidewalk or go back to your office, rather, you would walk around the blockage so you can reach your destination.
With an unambiguous goal, the tree on your path represents a temporary inconvenience you must overcome to arrive at your destination. This is the same for life; we may get disturbed, but with a straightforward goal, we always emerge stronger after a defeat.
A Goal Motivates You to Give Your Best
I’m reminded of this truth each time I head to the gym. When I start my bench press sessions with a precise number of reps, 90 percent of the time, I will exceed my target. I behave differently on the basketball court. With no goal, I have no motivation to perform at my best when I play ball. Occasionally, I show up at the basketball court, play, and expect for the better. Specific improvement goals would have given me the motivation to try harder.
A Goal Begets Self-Discipline
After 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 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: self-discipline.
Some days we possess all the energy in the world, others we’re in a slump. With a life goal, you are more likely to increase your ability to remove distractions, beat boredom and complacency, and get things done.
A goal is akin to what psychologists call keystone habits. They affect every aspect of your life. In December 2016, when I started to set life goals, suddenly I developed the willpower to wake up early, read, and exercise regularly. Our willpower and goal form a virtuous cycle. With a goal, you can exert more conscious effort to beat laziness, which motivates you to set goals.
A Goal Helps You Measure Progress
Do you know where you are? How far you have gotten? If you don’t normally complete tasks deliberately, you probably don’t have an answer to these questions. A goal makes it easier to assess your situation and take corrective measures when you’re not satisfied with your results.
If the last seven years taught me one thing, it is that any meaningful and happy life stems from setting goals. I hope this article motivates you to get acquainted with the beautiful art and science of goal setting.