For anyone who wants to achieve significant things in life, maximize their potential, or even just go through a powerful and effective process of self-improvement – the idea of goal setting is virtually always at the forefront of that.
While there are some mixed opinions out there about how much benefit there is to goal setting versus the potential downsides, it’s worth keeping in mind that it’s impossible to do anything in life without some “goals.”
Even just getting off the sofa and grabbing something to eat in the kitchen involves the “goal” of satiating your hunger. It’s just that this is a very quick and short-term goal in most cases.
All the same, it’s definitely true that an obsession with goal setting, and the wrong approach to it in general, can be a pretty effective way of driving yourself crazy.
Here are just a few tips for effectively setting yourself goals without driving yourself crazy.
Once you set the goal, use it only as a point of reference, and don’t obsess over it day-to-day
First things first: if you’re going to set yourself goals, you should primarily view them as reference points, and not as things that you perpetually obsess over minute by minute, and day by day.
The real benefit of a goal is to give you a clear sense of the direction you want to head in, across various dimensions of your life. The more you fixate on how much you want to achieve the goal, and how far away from it you currently are, the more you put yourself in a mindset of lack and unhappiness and draw your attention out of the present moment – which is where life actually happens.
So, use your goals to help you figure out what sorts of things you should do on an everyday basis to move in the right direction, but don’t obsess over them day-to-day.
Make sure that you always have something practical to work on any given time, while pursuing your goal
A good way of ensuring that your goals cause you a lot more frustration and unhappiness than any sort of positive emotion, is to leave the steps to achieve those goals vague enough that you never actually know what you should be doing at any given moment.
Instead of falling for this trap, make sure that you always have something practical to work on, at any given time, while pursuing your goal. You certainly don’t need to have the whole picture worked out, and worked out perfectly from start to finish, but you do need to have a next action you can take.
Perhaps the next step towards a goal of remodeling your home, for example, could be researching sliding & hinged patio doors.
Use your goal largely as a means of figuring out which habits to emphasize
In recent times, various people have argued in favor of emphasizing “systems” and “habits” instead of goals – and there’s certainly something to this idea.
Essentially, the argument is that no goal is ever achieved in any way, other than by small daily actions – and as long as you have the right habits and systems in place, you can head in the right direction without radically removing your awareness from the present moment and buying into all the emotional and psychological turmoil that often comes with being goal-obsessed.
Nonetheless, though, is also true that to know which habits to implement and stick with – and even to be motivated to stick with them – you need some sort of a goal, at some level.
Consider using your goals largely as a means of figuring out which habits to emphasize. Clearly, if your goal is to become stronger and more muscular, a habit that involves regular resistance training with weights would be a good idea.
Make sure that your goal is something you are emotionally invested in
Many people get in trouble with goal setting because they develop the habit of setting themselves goals that they are not actually emotionally invested in, in any real sense – but that they feel they “should” work towards.
Many popular goal setting courses, methodologies, and books, for example, will ask you to come up with goals across the various dimensions of your life, including your job. But what if you are already content with what you’re doing for work?
Well, maybe you would set yourself a goal of “earning $1 million,” or something like that, or else “starting my own business.” But if those goals aren’t something that you are actually passionate about, and invested in, not only are you unlikely to achieve them, but you’ll almost certainly experience plenty of frustration as well.
Set yourself goals that you are actually emotionally invested in and restructure your existing goals in order to make them more interesting to you, if they aren’t already.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you have to be working “productively” towards your goal at all times
One of the biggest criticisms of goal setting, is that it can end up causing people to completely “check out” of the present moment and become incapable of enjoying the simple pleasures of life the right in front of them, as they are always thinking about, and pursuing, a goal that’s somewhere in the future.
One way in which this can be seen is through the belief that it’s necessary to be working “productively” towards your goal at all times – and that you should feel guilty if you ever so much as take a moment to go for a long and winding stroll or watch a funny film.
As already mentioned earlier in this article, though, life only actually happens in the present moment, and it’s those fun, beautiful, and silly day-to-day experiences and events that really end up being your life, when all is said and done.
If you’re going to set yourself some ambitious goals, just be sure to remember that there is always a time and a place for pursuing goals, and a time and place for just relaxing, having fun, and being present.