The Importance of Setting Goals
After another lap around the sun, the vast majority of the population are feeling super positive about the year ahead. Particularly when you compare it to the year of 2020. Entering a new year comes with a revitalized zest to "do better" which is usually captured in the form of a New Year's resolution to improve something about your life.
The New Year's resolution is essentially a goal for what you want to achieve, but get this. According to a study conducted by the University of Scranton, just 8% of people achieve their New Year’s goals, while around 80% fail to keep their New Year’s resolutions. That's crazy!
There are several reasons why people may fall off track and fail to meet their goals. We will touch on a few throughout this post but we will focus mainly on why it's important to create good goals and how to create them.
What is a goal?
A goal can be defined as: A desired result a person or a system envisions, plans and commits to achieve a personal or organizational desired end-point in some sort of assumed development. This is a definition from Wikipedia, but in my words anything you plan to do in the future is a goal. Plain and simple. While it might seem trivial, planning to get out of bed and make breakfast by a certain time is a goal, albeit quite a simple one.
Why set goals?
Setting a goal is the first step in making the invisible, visible.
A quote from an expert in the self-improvement industry, Tony Robbins. Some people hate him, some people love him, but most would agree with his statement.
Whenever you create a goal you have some kind of desired outcome in mind. Whether it's learning to ride a bike or wanting to lose weight, their is an action that needs to be taken for you to achieve a result.
Here are some of the reasons for why goal setting is important:
1. Setting goals gives you focus
When you have a list of ideas rattling around in your head it can be hard to decide on what needs to be done or which idea should take priority and get most of your attention.
Getting those ideas out of your head and down on paper (or even notes in your phone) will give you clarity. You've turned the invisible into something visible. You can refine your list and follow the SMART goal setting principle which we'll speak of in a later section. Having this clarity allows you to focus. You're clear on what you want, which in turn allows you to create a plan geared towards achieving what you want.
2. Setting goals gives you a long term vision
Usually a goal is something that takes longer than a week to achieve. You can have short term (a week to a month), medium (a month to a year), or long term (multiple years) timeframes when setting goals and it's important to have a combination of all 3 timeframes for some goals.
Let's say you want to start saving money and you've never tried to do that before. "I want to save money" is a pretty weak goal. It's too broad and open-ended. Think about why you want to start saving money. Is it to get out of debt, afford that sunny holiday, spoil the grandkids for their birthdays, or some other reason?
Thinking about why you want to start doing something usually translates into a longer term vision of what you want your future to look like. "I want to save $500 per month, every month by cutting out unnecessary spending" is a much more specific goal which will get you into the habit of consistently saving money to achieve your future desired outcome.
3. Setting goals motivates you to achieve an outcome
Knowing what you want to achieve by when allows you to work backwards and develop a plan to achieve the goal you've created. "Beginning with the end in mind" is one of the principles Stephen R. Covey talks about in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (great read by the way) and it's a powerful way to visualize the desired outcome of your goal.
Think about setting a goal of being able to ride a bike without training wheels and not fall off by the end of three months time. This will require balance, coordination and focus. These skills will require practice and a steady progression from always using training wheels to not needing them at all.
So now you will have to schedule frequent times throughout the week to practice those skills and progressions to ultimately end up being able to ride unassisted. You began with the end in mind and had a clear picture of your future state, and with that clarity comes motivation.
4. Setting goals holds you accountable
Having goals makes you accountable because now it's more than just words. You've taken the time to decide that you want to do something and you've likely written it down. This now makes it real and not just in your head.
A great idea to help you stay accountable to yourself is to tell others about your goal. The more people you tell, the more people will check in and ask you how you're going towards hitting your goal. This can be a driving force for you to stay on track and keep striving toward your goals because if you don't you'll not only feel like you're letting yourself down, you'll feel like you're letting others down as well.
How to set goals
Now that we've covered what a goal is and why it's important to set goals, let's dive into the how of goal setting. There are many different methods and strategies used out there when it comes to this topic, however I believe the single best principle you should ingrain in your brain for how to set goals is the SMART principle.
SMART is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time Bound. There are a few slight variations on each of these words but the intent remains the same.
S - Specific (or Significant)
M - Measurable (or Meaningful)
A - Attainable (or Attractive)
R - Relevant (or Realistic)
T - Time bound
If we refer back to the goal of "I want to save money", we know that this is pretty broad and not a good example of how to set a goal. It's not specific, it will be hard to measure if you're successful or not and there is no timeframe in which you want to achieve the goal.
Instead if you were to write "I want to save $500 per month every month for a year ($6,000 total) by cutting back on unnecessary shopping", this is much better goal.
It's very SPECIFIC. You are going to save a certain dollar amount each month by cutting out unnecessary expenses, with a total saved by the end of the year.
Easy to MEASURE. If you save $500 each month you are on track.
It's definitely ATTRACTIVE. Who doesn't like saving money?! Enough said.
Is it REALISTIC? Only you could answer this one. $500 a month could be a lot, or it could be manageable. In determining your target amount to save some math will be involved to arrive at a certain number.
It is TIME BOUND. You've put a time cap on when you want to have the $6,000 saved by. The end of the year.
When it comes to setting goals understanding your WHY is a critical part of the journey. Knowing why you want to change something about your life and future gives you the driving motivation to keep progressing even when things get hard.
A well worded goal brings clarity to what you want to achieve and if you follow the SMART goal setting principle you'll be guaranteed to have a well worded goal. Writing your goals down makes them real and sharing them with friends and family is a powerful way to hold yourself accountable to keep striving towards achieving the goal you've set out to do.
It's the beginning of a new year and a perfect time to dive in and set some new goals. Now you know why goal setting is important and how to create them, you're well ahead of most of the population. Set a goal, make a plan and get after it. You've got this!
Blake - FIRE with a family