Truth be told, I’m terrible at goal-setting. For most of my adult life, I’ve either: 1) not set any goals at all, 2) vaguely visualised goals in my mind, but never took actionable steps to see them through, or 3) set goals so unrealistic, fall very short of the mark as I tried to reach them, then, feeling discouraged, I’d abandon the effort altogether.
Everything I’ve done up to this point in my life, such as getting good grades or saving money, unfortunately, wasn’t achieved through positive goal-setting. No. Instead, I achieved milestones out of sheer fear and panic that life would crumble right before my eyes if I didn’t. Obviously, achieving things by the manner of scaring yourself into them is very exhausting and unsustainable, and I don’t recommend it to anyone.
In 2019, I trialled another way of holding myself accountable. I wrote down goals I wanted to achieve here, publicly, on this blog. I thought that by solidifying these goals in words, I’d be motivated to achieve them.
But I made a critical mistake. I operated under the mindset that all I needed to do was write goals down, bank on my “motivation”, work things out along the way, and somehow, by the end of the year, voila, I’d achieve my goals.
In hindsight, this approach was naive and short-sighted. There were crucial pieces that were missing for goal-setting (and goal-getting?) to work well in my attempt last year.
In 2020, I’m giving this another go. This time, I approached goal-setting more thoughtfully and realistically. Here, I’ll go through my goals, the goal-setting process and what habits I’m putting in place to achieve those goals.
This isn’t anything new or groundbreaking. There’s plenty of material out there on goal-setting and habit-forming; you’ve probably seen familiar versions of this process either at your job or around on the Internet. However, I’m hoping that by writing and sharing my process, it will help me (and you) on my journey to getting closer to my goals this year.
Knowing my why
The key to any successful goal strategy is knowing why you’re setting your goals. And that comes down to knowing what your values are. When you set goals that don’t align with your values, you’ll have a harder time sticking to those goals. And you’ll have wasted your resources i.e time, money and energy on goals you innate didn’t really value at all.
Luckily, I have a pretty decent sense of which values I want to continue to instil in my life. For instance, I highly value knowledge and curiosity. So, I’ve set a goal to read 20 books this year. And these books can range from non-fiction to fiction, to children’s stories, poem, short stories and anthologies. The type of book is flexible because I like learning about all sorts of things such as history, economics, and human behaviour. However, if someone else valued utility of knowledge, for instance, then their goal might be, “read 20 financial books this year”. I don’t necessarily believe I need to utilize the things I learn; I just enjoy learning for the sake of it.
Setting up a process
I also needed to dispel the notion that setting a goal is a one-and-done thing. It isn’t. Reaching goals is a constant and continuous process. This meant that I had to develop a system to get to a goal.
Setting up a system sounds fairly obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people (myself included) just don’t do it. Because it takes up time and mental energy to sit down and properly work through a process, most people just don’t want to do it.
It’s much easier to say that you want to exercise more and hope that you’ll innately feel motivated to hit the gym every day than to actually develop a system to hold yourself accountable.
But before I committed to my goals this year, I tested out my processes to see if I could follow through with them. I discarded a number of processes, tweaked a few of them and incorporated them into my daily routine.
Setting committed goals and stretch goals
In eagerness, I can get carried away setting idealistic goals, especially when the year starts. Everything feels like a blank slate and I get a do-over. But if I set goals that, on paper, seem feasible but aren’t practical given my life circumstances, it won’t bode well for my self-esteem (and my mental health) because I can be unreasonably self-critical, sometimes, to the point of self-loathing. With goal-setting, in particular, aiming high just sets me up for failure.
So, I talked myself down from my enthusiasm and reminded myself of the fundamentals of goal-setting: S(pecific), M(easurable), A(ttainable), R(elevant) and T(ime-based).
My committed goals should follow this fundamental principle in order to work.
On top of my committed goals, I set a stretch goal. A stretch goal is aspirational. It’s the goal I’d love to achieve in the ideal scenario but realistically, if life stuff happens, there’s a much higher chance that I’ll fall short of it.
Even if I fall short of the stretch goal, I can still look at the progress I’ve made on the committed goal and say, “You’ve come this far, still, and that’s a pretty dang good job”.
I’ve got my committed goals, my stretch goals and my processes. Now, I have to track my progress on each goal. I never factored this component in my previous goal-setting attempts and because I didn’t track my progress, I never knew how far off from my goals I was.
Since I track my spending and investments monthly on a spreadsheet, I’ve added my goals into the sheet to keep track of my progress.
It’s tedious to manually track goals but the very act of taking time out to manually log and review my progress will give me the opportunity to realign if I’ve gone off-course. Or if a process stops working because…life, I can tweak the process during the review.
And, should I miss my committed goals this year, it will still be heartening to know how much I’ve progressed.
Accounting for possible setbacks
A journey to reaching your goals is not without challenges. At some point in the year, I’m sure I’ll face setbacks. I considered what those setbacks might be and how they might impact my ability to reach my goals. Knowing this, I can prepare to adjust my efforts to work around the obstacle. But there’s always a possibility that a setback could outweigh my effort and ability to reach my goal. In those moments, I have to remember that sometimes things are just beyond my control and be gentle with myself.
Be forgiving and enjoy the ride
In our pursuit of “being better”, I think we neglect to realise that sometimes not achieving something doesn’t make us failures. It’s okay to fall short of a goal, forgive yourself, you’re human. And enjoy the process. Self-improvement, and more importantly, happiness isn’t in the end result, it’s on the journey there.