The Process of Goal-Setting

Think back for a minute to when you were younger, and you were told by your parents and teachers about having dreams and goals. “You can be anything you want to be if you put your mind to it,” or “Don’t be afraid to reach for the stars.” And while the intent behind these statements is commendable, its lacks substance. Even as an adult, it can be hard to fully embrace the message when the idea remains so abstract. We’re told to chase our dreams, and then left to figure out how to get there on our own.

The problem is that life goals aren’t immediately tangible. The solution is therefore to break these broader goals down and make them so. Split up the end goal into more readily achievable chunks, and the path to achieving your goal becomes far more lucid:

Every duty is the completed sum of certain actions.” — Marcus Aurelius

As I eluded to in my last post, setting goals is not a one-step process. Its long, its detailed, and its iterative. You need a plan, a succinct strategy and framework for how to get to that end goal. Because shockingly, once you know where you’re going, you will find getting there a much simpler, though still arduous, process. One cannot expect to find El Dorado without a map. Likewise you can’t expect to run a company, become a professional athlete, or write your own book without direction and a vision of how to get there.

The steps below are how that map is created. It starts with finding out what your goal is, because how can you get anywhere without knowing your end destination? Then the map can be created. And that’s what this process is all about. Its a roadmap to keep you on the straight path. Its not meant to be created and then put away on a shelf, never to be seen again. Look at it often, not only for motivation, but for guidance.

So without further ado:

10 Steps to Goal-Setting

1. Brainstorm Your Goals – Block off an hour or two of time, and assess yourself in as un-biased viewpoint as possible. If you could only do one thing with your life, what would it be? What is the purpose of your life?

Also use this time to just brain dump. Write down every idea you have ever had regarding what you could do with your life. This can be as simple as write a song, or something bigger like become a governor. No judgments here, write it all down. Don’t be embarrassed if your thoughts are highly ambitious, or not at all. You have to become comfortable with who you are and what you want to do. And write down only what you want to do. Not your family, not your friends, and not your special someone. You can add them in later; for now, just focus on numero uno.

Additional prompts: What did you want to be or find yourself doing as a kid? Often your childhood interests can be a great indicator of where your heart and strengths lie. Also,assess what you naturally gravitate toward doing in your free time (aside from keeping up with Mrs. KKW).

– Recommended Reading: Essentialism

2. Assess Your Abilities – If you don’t know what you want to do yet, that’s ok. Even if you do know, this second step is the same: Continue assessing yourself, but look this time at your abilities. Be as frank with yourself as possible. It does you no good to sugarcoat things. What are you truly good at, and also what are your limitations/weaknesses?

– Recommended Reading: Quiet, Now, Discover Your Strengths

3. Re-Evaluate #1 – Use this new information to re-assess your goals from before. Which of these goals will leave you most satisfied? What should become your chief life goal? Do your strengths align with what is required to achieve your goal? If not, either find alternative ways to satiate your desires that play more to your strengths, or be prepared to take it head on, knowing this will be a much more difficult path.

4. Start Laying out the Path – Its now time to start reverse engineering the path you will have to take to achieve this goal. Take ideas from your brainstorming session, and see how they can align with the main goal. The point is to create a path for yourself, using these ideas as stepping stones to achieve it. If an idea doesn’t match up at all with either your personality or your main objectives, shelve it for now.

5. Fill in the Gaps – Most likely by now, your brain will be firing, and you will be thinking of new ways in which to achieve these goals, both the major and minor ones, and you can start filling in the gaps with new ideas.

So a simple exercise. Say you want to start your own company; what skills are you going to have to acquire to get this venture off the ground? How do you plan to acquire those skills?

The answers to that second question are what you begin filling into your tree, filling the gaps in the larger framework.

6. Create an Implementation Plan – Next you need to determine how you’re going to implement your plans from #4 and #5. Example: If you want to be a writer, your main benchmark could be to write a book. In order to reach that goal, you’ll need to work your way up to it, and so your steps could be 1) Start a blog, 2) Guest Post on other blogs’ pages, 3) Write an eBook, and 4) Write a book. If you’re currently in a situation you don’t like, here is where you lay out how to get out of that situation, in as objective a manner as possible, and how to start moving along the rest of the path you’ve laid out thus far.

The steps are ultimately up to you, the point is to start filling in exactly how you can get to your goals. Its creating mile markers and benchmarks along your path.

7. Quantify – With these steps created, you need to look into quantifying them. You cannot achieve what you do not measure. This will help make the goal tangible, and give you something to benchmark your progress against. You’re creating steps to keep yourself in check and in control of the journey.

Building on the previous writing example, possible controls you could set for yourself would be: 1) Write one blog post a week, 2) Write one guest post a month, 3) Write 1 eBook by next year.

With these benchmarks set up, track your progress. Whether through an app, an excel sheet (my preferred choice), or a good old fashioned journal, create some form of documentation to log your progress. If you go through a stretch of not keeping up with these numbers, you know you have strayed from your initial path, and it is time to do some analysis to see why; either you need to come back to your original path, or revise it to fit your new direction (we’ll touch on this point later).

8. Break it Down – Its time to start setting hard dates for these steps, and set your vision to the immediate horizon. Visualize the next 6 months (or whatever period suits you), and identify what you can realistically accomplish from #5 and #6 during that time to achieve the broader goals you’ve laid out.

No more dreaming here; its time to get real and look at what you can actually expect to accomplish. These small victories will only encourage you further, and start to snowball as you continue along this path. Because if you keep looking at the larger picture for too long, it can become overwhelming and paralyze you.

So building on the previous example, within the next 6 months you could try to start your blog, write 15 blog posts, and aim for 2 guest posts during that span. The rest is probably outside of that horizon, but you’re still aiming for it. You can even break it down further, by setting weekly goals, which build to monthly goals, which lead to these six month goals.

Side Note – #7 and #8 are really interchangeable. If you prefer to set the short-term before setting benchmarks, go for it. We’re drinking SoCo right now: whatever’s comfortable.

9. Check Back Often – It’s all downhill from here. Goals have been set, a framework has been worked out, and there is an action plan for the next few months with regular controls in place. Now all you have to do is stick with it.

Unfortunately this can end up being the hardest thing to do. We’re naturally extremely prone to distraction, wanting to chase the next idea that we have, or just kick it and take a few lazy Sunday’s (and by Sunday’s I mean the entire month of February. February sucks).

So set reminders to come back to this framework you have just created. You will become distracted and stray from this path. So come back to this frequently to re-center yourself, remember your vision, and make sure you’re making progress.

10. Rinse and Repeat – The constants in life: Death, Taxes, and Change. No one’s goals and ambitions stay constant forever. We all evolve as people, experience new things, meet new people, or think of new ideas. Your goals and personality will change over time. Don’t fight that, move with it.

Set aside time (I do it every six months, flows nicely with Step 8 above) to not only revisit this framework, but to re-do it. Go through the entire process all over again, and see what has changed. Because things will definitely have changed.

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