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Clarify Your Goals

It’s typical, isn’t it? The moment we set a goal, all the little obligations and priorities of normal life jump up to get in the way. Then we naturally go with the flow which ends up maintaining the very lifestyle from which we hoped to escape when setting that lofty goal in the first place. Typical.

But because this is so normal, intelligent people have figured out how to stay on track with reaching our goals. I want to outline a few of these gems in this essay.

First, it’s important for every goal to be based in reality while also reflecting what others need of us. Divorcing these from each other is a recipe for failure. For example, it is tough to create a business product that goes “viral” without any marketing. If planning for serendipity in business was easy, then everyone would be doing it. Going viral depends on a lot of things that are permanently out of any person’s control, so planning a business around this strategy isn’t a wise move. Likewise, you can’t expect fate to deliver you’re the perfect romantic partner without asking the person on a date. Goals are not a wish list; they are a process.

What often complicates this process, however, is when our goals don’t fit into the personal narrative (or agenda) of the trusted people to whom we look for support. While support from people is critical when you are writing or researching a business idea, understand that this support has limits and it’s normal for a spouse to feel a bit aggrieved that you aren’t paying enough attention to the wider family. And although your friends will certainly encourage a dietary change if you want to lose some weight, you should expect them to be frustrated when you can’t split a plate of nachos at the bar on Friday.

But your support network can help define and clarify your goals. This happened to me. I always had big goals and dreams for spreading motivational material online and my digital strategist knew how to get this done correctly far better than I did. All I needed to do was listen and calibrate my goals based on her advice. Yet, there will always be limits on what you can do no matter the support because none of us are Superman. The whole idea behind “Live without limits”can be a dangerous philosophy for anyone trying to reach a goal.

In my experience, it’s almost impossible to find a goal that is truly selfish. All goals involve serving people in some way. Starting a company or developing a new product must begin by considering what customers are wanting. Even a personal goal of getting healthier, developing a skill or becoming a better person are ultimately about serving others. Statements like “find your passion”or“everybody needs to hear your story”are more about motivation to keep you from gettingbored while following the process towards a goal. Successful people know that their goals involve helping others which gives them an energy to push on no matter how scary or tough the path is.


Goal-setting Framework

In the book Smarter, Faster, Better, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Charles Duhig marries two popular goal-setting frameworks: SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound) and stretch goals.

Here’s how to think about “SMART” goals: 

  • Specific- Goals should not be vague. It is impossible to start a successful company, lose weight or write the next great American novel. But it is possible to write down specific business ideas, set up a diet plan and finish one short story each month as practice.
  • Measurable– As the great businessman Peter Drucker once said, what is not measured cannot be managed. Companies often use revenue, subscribers, conversion rates or other metrics to judge if they are on the right track. Dieters often use pounds lost or whether they can I fit into their old pair of jeans. Measurement matters.
  • Realistic – Ensure that your plans drive everyone forward, but that you're still responsible for achieving your own goal. Have you considered your spouse's goals? If you want to start a family, would training in your free time make this more difficult?
  • Achievable – It is unrealistic to expect a business to grow without marketing. After I finished college, I knew if I had any chance of achieving my goals I had to create my own job environment that adjusted for my disabilities and complemented my abilities.
  • Time Bound– The key to successful project management is deadlines. All goals need a time boundary, otherwise the process will drag on, with no defined ending. That can be poison for motivation.

 Duhig then describes stretch goals as any target presently out of reach based on your current lifestyle and resources. For examples, you might not know how to start a $5 million company or lose 100 pounds. But just because you lack the resources to achieve these goals doesn’t mean they are impossible.

Both the SMART and stretch frameworks have their own pitfalls. For example, SMART goals depend on doing the best with what you have. On the other hand, it is hard to know where to begin to achieve a stretch goal since, by definition, you will lack the resources to get there. But that’s why fusing the two frameworks can be so powerful.

Duhig says operating the two frameworks together requires setting a stretch goal then creating actionable SMART steps along the way. So, if your goal is to open a $5 million company (stretch goal), the first SMART goal might to draft a business plan within a six-week window. If the plan is to lose 100 pounds, the SMART goal might be to burn two pounds each week.


Outcome and Process

Every goal can be broken down into two parts – the outcome and the process. The outcome is a clear vision of what you want to achieve, which is where most goals start and, unfortunately, end. However, that’s where a good process can help.

Construct a good process by thinking about the habits you would like to adopt or give up. What time can you realistically dedicate to achieve your goal? Where do you need to be (location or mindset) to succeed? What resources can you invest at the moment?

When writing a business plan, define exactly where you will work on it and for how long. No process that depends on randomly plopping on the couch with a laptop can ever be successful. You must be committed to working in your home office or at a coffee shop every Thursday (pick a day) for one hour before the normal workday begins. By deciding on the process in advance, your brain will respond far better to the new demands for extra concentration and effort when the time for pursuing the goal arrives.


Key Activities

Brendon Burchard suggests finding five key activities needed to achieve a goal. The total number does not have to be five, the point is to not overcomplicate the process. The process must be clear and concise. When trying to lose weight, having a set of key activities set out means you will never wonder what to do next (such as exercise, weight training or eating correctly).

Help from other people can also be an important part of any process. If you are trying to eat healthy but your spouse keeps making delicious Italian meals, you are less likely to achieve that goal. Furthermore, seeking advice from an outside source – like a personal trainer or a nutritionist – can enhance both the outcome and the process. A keen entrepreneur might also find it useful to join a Mastermind or find a business coach early in the journey.

While it is important to be self-sufficient, engaging with others can be a great source of feedback. After all, no matter how good you are at something, there’s always lessons to learn from other people’s experiences. Where many folk with a clear goal fall short is they don’t have the proper support network to encourage or offer proper advice at the right times.

Above all, it is critical to regularly check in with your goals, unpack the progress and check the results of all your efforts. As your life develops, so too will your goals. That’s a good thing. Goals should change when you absorb new information.

However, every process needs time to cook, and changing a process too regularly can often be a veiled excuse to quit or procrastinate. Because no matter how focused you are on the outcome or how well-oiled your process, the main enemy will always your own mind.

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