Setting a goal is like getting a map and compass to orienteer your way to your desired end. In another section, I’ll talk about the value of a mentor or teacher and we’ll see how much easier it can make things. After all, asking for directions (though a possible blow to the ego, can help us get where we’re going better than having no one to ask).
The nice thing about goals as opposed to physical maps is that they don’t really have to correspond to physical reality as strongly to be useful. Again, if I have no wings, no fitness goals will make me strong enough to generate enough lift to fly.
Here are the features that distinguish a goal from a wish or unrealizable desire:
Possible – Again, no flying under your own power as a human, but… if we adjust our expectations of what human flight looks like to include mechanical contrivances? Now flight is a potential goal.
Achievable – A goal must have a clearly stated “win state”. You need to know that you achieved the goal. That means working on the clarity of your vision so that you know exactly what your desire looks like. The fewer words you need to define your goal, the more likely it is you can achieve it.
Time-Sensitive – You need to set an amount of time in which you intend to complete your goal. This will give you a sense of urgency, as well as help you for when you need to set the intermediary steps that will help break your goal into bite-sized chunks.
This is a hugely under-valued part of setting goals and one of the most important. A warning though: Urgency will add stress to your life. This is only a bad thing if you think that stress is something to be avoided. Stress can be quite beneficial, as with the case of building muscle via working and stressing the tissues, which become stronger and allow you to do more later.
One technique I learned from my father can be used to great effect: adding a non-goal-related reward for achieving your goal on time.
For instance, if I did X pushups with good form in a row, we would go out for Ice Cream.
You can do this for yourself, or better… with a friend. Then when they ask, why you’re doing the fun thing, you can tell them about the goal you’ve accomplished and reinforce the positive feelings associated with accomplishing what you’ve set out to do.
It is more useful if the reward is something special that you wouldn’t normally take the time or expense to do. For instance, if you always have a wednesday coffee date with someone, then taking them for coffee on wednesday isn’t much of a reward.
Taking a groupon for a spa or going away for the weekend might be a good idea, depending on the size of the goal.
Also, the goal’s reward should not undermine the work you did to accomplish the goal. For instance, if your goal is to lose weight via improved health habits and exercise, staying home to eat cake and watch a movie is a bad reward. It will reenforce the idea that cake = reward and exercise = punishment.
A better reward might be getting a new outfit (second-hand if you’re on a budget) to reward the work. Then, you’ve earned it and solved the problem of your now-baggy wardrobe. Plus, you’ll be amazed how great you look in your new (or new-to-you) outfit.
It is at this point that I should stress (hehe) the importance of taking small steps if you’re new to the goal-making habit. This can be done in two ways.
1) Make small goals- this is a habit and you’ll be tempted to overdo it and take on more than you can cope with at the beginning. Consistency and teaching you to associate goals with positive feelings of success is going to make building this habit a lot easier.
2) if you have a large goal, break it into manageable bite-sized chunks.