by Ryan Eliason

If you actually apply the simple ideas in this article, it might turn out to be the most powerful thing you ever do to chart the course of your future. Unfortunately, the land of good ideas and the land of commitment are worlds apart. If any of the ideas in this article appeal to you, I invite you to take action on them, otherwise reading this will have been a waste of your time.

Have you heard about the Harvard study of business school grads? The study monitored graduates of an MBA program from 1979 to 1989. Researchers found that ten years after graduation the three percent who had written goals were making 10 times as much money as the other 97 percent combined!

Other studies over the years have produced similar findings: setting specific goals is the key to all sorts of success. In another study surveying salespeople they found that 6 out of 10 do not set outcome-based goals at all and this group earns the least amount of all salespeople. Three out of 10 set earnings goals and this group earns double the income of the no-goals group. Only 1 in 10 people set specific goals but they earn 3 times as much as those who set no goals at all.

Goal setting can be a confronting process. It takes us from the abstract to the concrete. You might make excuses for not setting goals, such as not having enough time to sit down and write goals. Ask yourself, Do I have the time not to set goals? From the moment you set your goals you will be more focused, efficient, productive and on track with what really matters to you. It’s one of the wisest investments of your time that you could ever make. And it doesn’t take very long!

You might think goal setting doesn’t work for you. To that I would say please take another look. Give it another try. We all want things in life. It’s just that we usually aren’t very clear about what we want. Rarely are we specific enough about what we want that effective strategies can be easily discovered. Clarity is a powerful thing. It gives both your conscious and your subconscious mind something to focus on. It’s a way of setting priorities.

Some people don’t set goals because they don’t know what they want. To that I say, goal setting is one of the best processes for discovering what you want. You’ll discover a lot when you set your goals, and you will discover even more as you begin to work towards them. Some goals will fall away while new ones will emerge. It might help to start by asking yourself a few questions such as, “What’s missing in my life, the presence of which would have my life be more fulfilling?”, “If time and money were not a concern, what would I do?”, and “What would I have needed to do and experience in order to have no regrets on my deathbed?”

Another reason people avoid setting goals is fear of failure. Fear of failure is really fear of your inner critic. It’s fear of that part of you that you know is going to attack, criticize, and say “I told you so”. That same part of you might be an expert at making you miserable by being a very unforgiving taskmaster. Instead of allowing your inner critic to stop you from setting goals, I invite you to make one of your goals to master your inner critic. You will never be able to make him/her go away entirely, but you can learn to pay less attention his banter. You can learn to be your own best friend. The kind of friend that believes in you, comforts you when you fall down, helps you get back up, encourages you to learn from your mistakes, and supports you to keep going.

Another excuse I’ve heard is the spiritual one, “I want to live in the present moment. I don’t want to be future oriented.” That’s wonderful, however no matter how enlightened you become, how skilled you become at living in the present moment, how many times you tell yourself that the future is an illusion, you are still going to end up somewhere. It’s true that you’ll probably enjoy wherever you end up more if you’re skilled at enjoying the present moment. However I believe you’ll enjoy it the most if it’s somewhere you intended to go, somewhere that reflects your deepest values and your unique passions. Additionally, and more importantly, the future that you’re living into is what gives you the quality of your present moment. If the future you’re living into is a future of exciting possibilities, your present moment will be rich with energy, meaning, and purpose. Conversely, if you don’t consciously design the future you’re living into, you’ll probably fill that void with thoughts of your future being another version of your past. That might be acceptable to you, but is it compelling? Does it get you out of bed in the morning and fill your cells with energy for living?

The most effective goal setting involves developing a clear, concise statement of your main objective or long-term goal and then following up by setting measurable short-term goals which lead toward the main objective. Often these are defined as S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-Framed) goals.

What’s the process for achieving your goals?

  • Decide exactly what you want
  • Write it down
  • Set a deadline
  • Make a list of everything you could do in order to achieve this goal
  • Turn that into a plan
  • Resolve to take regular and consistent action on your plan
  • Create structures to support you to stay in action (schedule your plan in your calendar, hire a life coach, find an accountability buddy, create a team, enroll your friends and family, etc.)
  • Create a way to measure your progress (I suggest you schedule a regular time to review your goals and your plan, either monthly or more frequently)

When choosing your goals I recommend you think deeply about who you are and how you operate with regard to goal setting. How challenging should your goals be? Do you respond better to fairly easy or very difficult goals? What are you basing your goals on? I suggest your goals be a “moderate stretch” or a “happy medium.” Ideally, your goals should excite you and keep you moving forward, but not paralyze you, as can sometimes happen if you set your goal very high and then neglect to break it down into manageable steps. On the other hand, don’t sell yourself short. Just because you don’t know how you’re going to get there yet doesn’t mean you shouldn’t set your intention. Usually the “how” will come after you have set a clear intention, and after you have begun taking action which provides feedback on what works and what doesn’t.

The process of goal setting can be simple. Don’t overwhelm yourself by thinking you need to sit down and create dozens of goals with elaborate plans to achieve them. I suggest you start by simply creating one meaningful goal for each area of your life including: Career, Money, Health, Romance/Significant Other, Friends & Family, Fun & Recreation, Personal Growth, and Physical Environment.

Finally, keep your sense of humor about all this. Take yourself lightly. Hold your goals lightly. They will change and you need to be flexible enough to honor your true passions and desires on an ongoing basis. Has anyone ever told you how to make God laugh? . . . Tell her your plans!

If any of this makes sense to you, TAKE SOME ACTION!!! All you need is a pen, some paper, and some quiet uninterrupted time to create an exciting and wonderful future. I suggest you do it right now. If you can’t do it right now, schedule some time in your calendar when you’re going to do it. Make the process fun. Be creative. Put on some music. Use colored pens. Do whatever works for you.

You can find out more about Ryan and get some free help at RyanEliason.com

1 Comment

  1. betty on April 9, 2009 at 9:59 am

    Wow, goals… such a simple concept can be the difference between being ordinary and extraordinary. I found this to be very enlightening, especially because it is backed by actual data. I haven’t had a concrete goal in a while, just the general goal of surviving and paying all my bills. Specific goals did give me a kind of zest for life. It’s time I come up with more of those, thanks!

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