Over the holidays, I was visiting family and friends in the town where I grew up. In a conversation with one of my close friends, we got to talking about New Year’s resolutions and goals.
I told him that I set goals for myself every year and he responded by saying, “I should probably set goals too. But, I don’t really know how.”
What followed was an interesting conversation on setting and pursuing goals: are they important, how do we go about them, what goals should you set, and so forth.
This isn’t an unusual conversation for me to have around this time of year; I’m an avid goal-planner and the New Year is prime time for setting goals and resolutions.
But, it’s relatively rare to find people that set New Year goals or resolutions and actually stick with them for the whole year. I think the reason for that is most people have the wrong motivations, wrong goals, and/or wrong plan to reach them.
I’ve managed to stick with my goals consistently for years now and have found it is a very beneficial practice for my life. So, over the next few weeks, I’ll be publishing a series of posts on my motivations for setting goals, how I decide what my goals will be, and how I plan to reach them.
Without further ado, let’s jump in!
Before actually making any goals, I think it’s really important to ask yourself, “why am I doing this?” Your motivations will influence your results, so I want to take this first post to just talk about what I believe are good and bad motivations for setting goals.
Bad Reasons For Setting Goals
Let’s start by talking about some bad reasons to set goals.
Or, to put it another way, if the following statements reflect why you think you should set goals, I honestly would recommend you not set goals because you likely won’t have a good time.
I “feel” like I should
This first reason is one I’ve heard from many different people. It is basically what my friend said to me.
However, I find that “feeling like you should” is almost always a bad reason to set goals because that “feeling” is often driven by external factors.
This often comes from seeing other people set goals and having good results (or at least appearing to have good results). We see posts on social media about setting goals, how achieving goals changed someone’s year, or why you need to set goals to have a successful career.
Here’s the thing though, if you’re setting goals because of an external pressure to do so, then you’re unlikely to really stick with them.
The reality is social media posts about goals and goal setting rarely reflect the true experience of what it’s like to pursue challenging goals. They make it seem much faster and more glamorous than it really is (just like everything else on social media).
The result of this is that you set goals because you feel like you should and you wind up just adding stress to your life. And this stress that is motivated by external factors will make it such that you’re unlikely to stick with your goals. Not to mention stress is generally not a good thing.
So if you “feel” like you should be setting goals, be sure to do some introspection and figure out what is motivating that “feeling”.
It’s “good” to have goals
The second bad reason to set goals is this belief that goals are intrinsically “good”.
As I’ve alluded to above, this belief is wrong. It is not intrinsically good to have goals.
Having goals can actually be bad or harmful if they’re only causing you stress, anxiety, and/or self-esteem issues.
Pursuing goals generally involves pushing yourself out of your comfort zone which inevitably brings discomfort. So if your belief that having goals is “good” is the primary driving force for you, then when things aren’t going “good” you’re again likely to give up.
So, once more, having goals is not necessarily a good thing.
Good Reasons For Setting Goals
So, now that I’ve sufficiently dissuaded you from wanting to set goals out of external obligation. Let’s talk about a couple good reasons why you should set goals.
To challenge yourself to grow
The first reason is to challenge yourself to grow.
I don’t mean grow in some cheesy sense of “growing into a more well-rounded person” because often our belief of what a “well-rounded person” is, is again driven by external factors. Some of the common ones are weight loss, career progression, and finances.
But, if you’re happy with your weight, then don’t worry about goals for losing weight. Or, if you love your job and where you’re at in your career, then don’t worry about career goals. Or, if you feel financially secure, then don’t worry about financial goals.
Don’t worry about goals in areas that you don’t desire improvement in.
Rather, ask yourself, who would I enjoy seeing myself become? Then, you can set goals to “grow into the person you want to be”.
You have to sit down and really think about areas that you would enjoy seeing yourself grow in. (We’ll talk more about this in the next post.)
This positive, internal belief that you are working towards becoming a better version of yourself, will make it a lot easier to stick with your goals.
To understand what things you like (and don’t)
The second reason is one that flows from the first. In the process of setting goals to become the person you want to be, you’ll likely discover new things you enjoy. But, you’ll also likely discover things you thought you would enjoy but actually do not.
This is something I didn’t realize until a couple years ago actually. Setting goals really has helped me better understand what things I actually enjoy and what things I thought I did or thought I should.
For example, a few years ago I was encouraged to try giving tech talks in public. So, I set a goal to give 3 public talks before the end of the year. Enough to get a feel for what it is like, but not so many that if I didn’t enjoy it, I would be unhappy.
Well, it turns out that I really enjoy public speaking. So now I regularly speak at conferences.
On the flip side of the coin, however, is writing technical blog posts. I’ve set tech blog writing goals several times before and I’ve never completed them. At first, I thought it was just because I was busy and didn’t make them a priority. Now, however, I’ve come to realize that I don’t make them a priority because I don’t actually enjoy it.
I understand myself better because of this.
So now, when I set goals I can think about things that I think I’d enjoy and motivate myself to try them, but I also feel free to accept that sometimes I won’t actually enjoy them. And that is okay.
(This even applies to goal setting. If you try setting yearly goals and realize you don’t like it, then it’s not wasted because you learned something!)
Bonus Reason: To grow more comfortable with yourself
Those two reasons, to grow and to better understand myself, are the primary reasons I set goals and they’re reasons I think others should try setting goals as well.
But, there is one other reason which is really more of a “secondary” motivation for setting goals: to grow more comfortable with yourself.
Here’s the deal, you shouldn’t achieve all your goals. If you do, you’re not challenging yourself enough.
However, in order to be okay with this, you need to be comfortable with yourself. You need confidence that is able to say, “Hey, even if I fail at this, it’s not a reflection of my worth”.
I’ve found that this confidence develops over time. As you learn to accept that you won’t meet all your goals and that sometimes they teach you things you don’t actually enjoy, you’ll be more comfortable with yourself.
That’s why I say this is a “bonus” reason to set goals.
There you have it. Don’t set goals because you feel obligated to or because you’ve been told they’re intrinsically good to have. Set goals to better yourself, understand your likes and dislikes, and become more comfortable as yourself.
Next week, we’ll be looking at how to set worthwhile goals with these motivations in mind.