When you were in high school, what was on your required curriculum? Math, English, Science, maybe a foreign language? Did anyone ever teach you how to set clear, measurable, and written goals? Probably not, even though this is one of the most crucial steps in getting what you want out of life. Less than 3% of Americans set written goals, and less than 1% review their goals daily. Why is this? Most people answer that they don't think it's important, they're afraid of failing, or that they simply don't know how to set them.
There is a lot of research to back up the importance of goal setting, but this is one of my favorites: In 1979, a study was conducted among students at Harvard University on the subject of goals. A group of graduates from the MBA program was asked, "Have you set clear, written goals for your future, and made plans to accomplish them?" Only 3% of the grads had any written goals. 13% had goals, but they weren't in writing, and 84% of the students had no goals at all. Researchers tracked down the same group of students ten years later, in 1989, to see how things were going. They found that the 13% of students who had goals that weren't in writing were making twice as much as the 84% who had no goals at all. But most interestingly, the students who had made clear, written goals back in 1979 were making TEN TIMES as much as the other 97% of graduates put together, on average.
Goals aren't just about financial gain (although this one can definitely help), they can be applied to any facet of life. As Earl Nightingale said, "Happiness is the progressive realization of a worthy ideal, or goal." A person is truly happy when they are immersed in life with a sense of purpose that is going in a direction toward things that they want. Do you want to take on a new skill or hobby? Travel? Improve your physical health? Achieve a deeper level of spirituality? Maybe you want to improve your family relationships, your community input, or have a child. Any of these subjects can be explicitly written out and planned with proper goal-setting.
In his book Goals!, Success author and speaker Brian Tracy says that proper goal-setting takes a few things:
- The first key is that your goals "must be clear, specific, detailed, and written down." The more specific you can be, the better your mind can wrap around creating the next steps for them.
- Second, your goals should be "measurable and objective." Writing down "I want to travel more" is so vague, that it remains a fantasy - but writing "I want to visit Machu Picchu in Peru by _____ date" is an actual goal.
- Third, your goals should be "scheduled and time-bounded, with deadlines, and sub-deadlines." Giving yourself time limits becomes a motivator to stay on task, which brings small achievements your way on a schedule, and keeps you excited with progress.
- Fourth, your goals "should be challenging" and cause you to stretch out of your comfort zone, even if by a little bit. How can you expect change without going beyond what you're currently doing?
If you're hesitant or not convinced that this can work for you, it's best to start small. After reading this, take out a blank sheet of paper. At the top, title the paper with "Goals for 2020" (or whenever you're reading this), and then list the numbers 1 through 10 down the page. Think about specific things that you would like to do this year, whether it be places you want to see, problems you'd like to solve, things you'd like to experience, or relationships you'd like to improve or start. Using the tips above as guidelines, write out your ten goals. Once you've written your list, put the piece of paper away. I promise that in a year, you can pull that list out again and find that you have accomplished at least one, and possibly many more of those ten goals, even if you never looked at the list again after writing it. Why does this work? Because it got you to thinking about the specific things that you want and would make you happy, which is the ultimate catalyst for change.
"Failing to plan is planning to fail." - Alan Lakein