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Goal setting is the most powerful habit you can have. All successful people around the world attribute their success to it. Therefore, if you are looking for the ONE thing you need to succeed, it is this habit. When you start setting goals for yourself and then doing whatever it takes to achieve them, soon you will see how your life starts to change. In this article, you will find all the information you need to get started with goal setting and finally achieve everything you want!
Quick note: this article on goal setting is part of How to Create Brand, Win Clients and Make Money series. This series is focused on helping you find the shortest and most effective ways to accelerate and improve your freelance career and business. Since the goal setting is one of the most important habits to acquire to succeed in anything, we are going to explore this topic as first.
Benefits of Goal Setting
We tackled a bit the benefits of goal setting in previous article focused on traits every freelancer and entrepreneur should have called What 5 Ultimate Superhero Traits You Should Adopt. Well, we did it in the opposite way. You’ve learned about various traits and how many of these traits can be developed and strengthen by goal setting. I recommend that you read that article. It will help you understand what traits and habits you need. It also includes steps to develop the traits. Now, I will quickly address the main benefits of setting goals and accomplishing them.
Let me tell you a secret only high-achievers know. With every goal you will achieve, your body will release a nice dose of chemicals of happiness called endorphins. These chemicals are opiates released by your body during or after certain activities. These activities include examples such as exercise, sex, adrenalin sports, eating spicy food and more. By the way, it also works when you eat chocolate. You can think about this “stuff” as a reward your body gives you. Luckily for you, setting and accomplishing goals will also trigger the mechanism responsible for releasing endorphins.
Let me ask you something. Have ever achieved some task on your list, no matter how big or small it was, and felt great after it? Well, that feeling was an endorphin rush. That’s also one of the reasons why many people who start with goal setting become addicted to it. Now you also know why many people are adrenalin junkies (addiction to endorphin rush). As opiates, endorphins are basically a drugs, and as such you can logically become addicted to it. Yes, you will become addicted to achievement and success.
Whether it is a “good” kind of addiction, I will leave to you decide. Anyway, if you are looking for some free and completely natural drug that can also have a positive effect on your life and work, you might give it a try.
The first and foremost and my favorite benefit is that goal setting will help you develop a discipline. When you commit to setting goals for yourself and doing whatever it takes to accomplish them, you are giving yourself clear instructions to follow. It will no longer matter how do you feel or if you are motivated. No. You’ve made your commitment when you wrote that goal on your list. Now, it’s time to do the hard work and deliver. Remember, you’ve made commitment to yourself. By breaking that commitment, you are screwing up with yourself.
On the other hand, with every goal you will accomplish your discipline will grow. With enough practice, you will be able to take on bigger challenges with less stress and effort. Soon, you will become the most disciplined person you know. When other people will start to perceive you that way, they will trust you more. As a result, you might even get more work opportunities. It’s simple. The vast majority of people will be much more likely to work with you if you will be known as someone who keeps his word. See how goal setting can bring you more business opportunities?
Another equally important benefit of goal setting that’s also closely related to discipline is that your self-belief and confidence will increase, too. Every time when you set a goal for yourself and achieve it, it will strengthen your belief in yourself. The best thing is that this works in direct proportion. In other words, the more goals you will achieve, the more you will know you can rely on yourself. This principle also applies to difficulty of every goal – more difficult goals will have bigger effect on your confidence and self-belief.
That being said, I don’t recommend that you to start with goal setting by tackling some extremely difficult goals. In a facet, I would suggest that you do the opposite. Instead of trying to accelerate the whole process by setting insanely high goals, start small. For example, you might think about setting a goal to increase your income from two thousand dollars per month to twenty thousand (10x-ing) in next month. This goal has couple issues. First, since your target income is ten times higher than your current, it can easily scare you, even paralyze you.
You will stay where you are because you will not know where to start. Second, the chances you will reach this goal are probably very small. What will happen when you will get to the end of the month without accomplishing this goal? You will get demoralized, maybe anxious. Your self-confidence will decrease. If your confidence will get too low, you may decide to avoid setting any other goals to avoid another failure. As you can see just on these three problems, starting with bold goal can be quite dangerous. Sure, there will be exceptions to this rule, but is it worth the risk?
Instead of committing slow suicide by setting outrageous goal, start small and go slowly. Think back to times when you were a baby. You didn’t start running and sprinting from day one. Instead, you first learn to stand up, then walk. Only when you were skilled enough in these steps you moved to another stage – running. In order to develop strong and stable self-belief, I suggest that you do the same. Start with small goals first and focus on accomplishing them. This will help you create solid foundation you can build upon later. What if you have a bigger goal? Don’t worry, I will answer this question later as well.
Finding What Matters
The last benefit of making goal setting part of your routine I want to mention is that it will help you find what matters. The thing is that you often write down a pile of task, but you really want to work only on couple of them. Soon, you will notice that you are rewriting some of the goals over and over again. The problem is often very simple. You don’t actually care about that goal at all. You are writing it because either someone told you so or you think you should do that. However, there is no intrinsic motivation to get it done.
As a result, these goals or tasks can inhabit your to-do list for days, weeks or even months. When this happens, you should take a break and ask yourself following three questions. First, why do I have this goal on my list (purpose of the goal)? Second, do I really want to achieve it and why? Third, will this goal move me closer to my long-term goal (is it relevant) and how? In order to find the real issue it is better to ask open-ended questions – what, how, why, when and where. Questioning recurring goals in this way will help you find out what your real stance is.
There is one last thing that needs to be mentioned. You should take this with healthy dose of skepticism. There will be probably enough of situations where you will have to deal recurring goal of task and will have nothing to with finding what matters. The cause will simply be your laziness or reluctance to do the uncomfortable work. When this happens, use the three-question process described in previous paragraph and focus mainly on the third question – long-term thinking.
Goal Setting 101
When we discussed some of the greatest benefits of goal setting, it’s time to learn how to use it and implement it. In this section, I will outline the whole process in couple simple steps. Quick note: these steps are applicable to both, short-term and long-term, goals. The only thing that will change is the time span. The rest will stay more or less the same.
Start with Big Picture
The first step you have to do is to think about the big picture – your long-term goal. This long-term goal can be virtually anything from small goals achievable in a couple minutes or hours to more complex project-based goals that will take couple weeks or months to complete. In both cases you should always start with the big picture. Stephen R. Covey in his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People included this step in his approach too. He called it beginning with the end in mind.
Whether you will call it this way or that way, the general message is still same. You must have a clear idea or vision of what do you want to achieve. Think about it as planning a vacation. You have to first choose the destination in order to find out how you will get there. How else would you know if you will need to book a plane ticket or rent a car? Without clear target, all the planning will be only waste of your time. So, take your time and decide what do you want to achieve and when.
This part is critical, so I will repeat it. You have to start with crystal clear vision of your long-term goal. From my own experience, annual goals work the best. It is also useful to create individual goals for all parts of your life – work, finances, health, relationships. This is a method I learned from Brian Tracy and his book Goals!. This makes the whole goal setting process and goal management much easier to handle. It will also help you think about your goals more holistically and balance the any potential extremes (with extremes).
Think about what do you want to achieve in this year. To make this step easier, imagine that you are already at the end of it. How would it look like in the best possible scenario? Don’t limit yourself, just keep it realistic. Meaning, goal such as landing on Mars is a little bit far fetched. When you have your answer, use it to create your long-term goal(s) from it. When you are done with that, it’s time for the step number two.
The problem with every long-term goal is that it is just too big to tackle. It can be scary and discourage you from pursuing it at all. For this reason, it is absolutely necessary to take this huge goal and divide it into smaller, easier to handle, parts. It is just like when someone would ask you how to eat an elephant. Simply, piece by piece. So, let’s go back to that picture where the year is over and you achieved your goal(s). Now, you will go backwards. Suppose you achieved your goal, think about how you did it. What tasks or activities were the most important?
What tasks or activities had the greatest impact on your ability to achieve your long-term goal? Although you could look for every task or sub-goal necessary, smarter way of using goal setting is to look for the minimum effective dose. In other words, what 20 percent of input (tasks) will bring 80 percent output? For example, let’s say you want your income to be increased by 20 percent at the end of the year. There will be many feasible ways to achieve this goal. However, some of these ways will work better than others.
Also, some of them will be easier to automate and will save you time. These activities can include networking, advertising, product development or, paradoxically, some pro bono work. Whatever the case may be, write everything down. Next, take these activities or tasks and transform them into SMART sub-goals. I dedicated a part of How to Handle Stress And Keep Your Hustle Insanely High article to SMART goals. Here is short info about how to create smart goals …
SMART goal has to pass couple conditions. It has to be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bounded. First, make sure your goals are specific. Avoid creating goals that are vague or general. This will only help you fail. The best way to set specific goals is by asking six “W” – Who, What, Where, When, Which and Why. Who is involved in this goal? What do I want to accomplish? Where do I want to accomplish my goal (location)? When do I want to accomplish my goal (time frame)? Which requirements and constraints I have to work with? Why I want to accomplish this goal (benefits, purpose, reasons)?
Second, make sure your goal is measurable and has a specific condition that will tell you if you reached your goal. Third, make sure your goals are attainable – you have the necessary skills and resources. If not, find out what do you need and how will you get it. Fourth, make sure your goal is relevant. Your goal must be important for you and help you move toward your long-term goal. Okay, I have to tell you something … The “default” definition of “R” is realistic, but how can you know if something is realistic if you’ve never done it?
Think about John F. Kennedy and the goal he set for America – landing a man on the moon. Back then, was that realistic? Decide for yourself. Fifth, SMART goal must have a specific time frame or a date when you will reach it. Otherwise, it will be only a dream.
That’s it. This is the brief theory for creating SMART goals. Now it’s up to you to use it and outline the whole journey from the final destination – your long-term goal – to where you are now. I recommend that you divide your long-term goal into sub-goals you will have to achieve on a daily basis. Or weekly at the worst. Remember that the smaller sub-goals will you create, the easier it will be for you to track and control your progress. With daily goals to accomplish, you will be able to spot issues quickly and do necessary corrections.
Otherwise, you might find out that your far from reaching your long-term goal when it is too late to do anything with that. Avoid this simply by making goal setting part of your daily routine.
Sort and Prioritize
The problem people often have when they start with some productivity or goal setting system is that they don’t know where to start. How could they without having clear priorities? Just imagine that you have a list of seven or more goals that you want to accomplish today. Unless you have some system of priorities, you have no basically no clue where to start. All these goals looks like they have the same importance. What’s even worse, they could have! Do you that saying: “If everything is a priority, nothing is a priority?” This is exactly what we are talking about.
If you decide to give the same priority to all your goals, the priority itself loses any meaning. According to importance, all goals will then look exactly the same. The same thing applies to situation where you don’t prioritize your goals at all. You will again end up with a pile of equal goals or tasks. It is a downward spiral. For me personally, this was a major challenge when I first started to experiment with several approaches to goal setting. I followed the instructions and created a list of tasks I wanted to get done in a specific day. Then … I became paralyzed. I didn’t have any system of priorities in place, so I had literally no idea what task to start with.
It took many failed attempts. Every attempt has also a direct impact on my confidence in accomplishing goals. Soon, I started to think about myself as a failure and was afraid to set any goals at all. Here is the thing … It is much easier to avoid failure if you will not try. Unfortunately, this is again a downward spiral that can slowly get you to the bottom. Trust me, it is not a place where you would want to spend your vacation. You feel like a failure. You think that you are incapable of accomplishing anything. You feel lost. Soon, you will become anxious, even depressed.
This is at least pretty much how I felt. Fortunately, a colleague of mine recommended me to prioritize my list of goals before moving any further. Let me tell you that this was a breakthrough! Sure, it took couple weeks till I got better at distinguishing and setting clear priorities. In the beginning, I had an inclination to give all goals the same priority. Soon, I was where I started. With practice, this bad habit started to fade away. There are many options to prioritize your daily goals.
The easiest one is to simply use ABCDE or 12345 system. Meaning, take every goal on your list, decide how important it is to accomplish it in that day and attach specific letter or number to it. A or 1 for the most important goals, B or 2 for less and so on. Attention! Never use the same letter or number twice, only once! If you have more than five goals on your list – five letters or numbers is not enough – add another. Just don’t repeat any already used. Otherwise, the whole process of prioritization would lose its meaning.
MIT First aka Eat the Frog
Okay, you have your list of goals that you want to get done today. If you’ve followed all the previous steps of this goal setting process, every task has now assigned specific priority. If you skipped the “sort and prioritize” step, you should do that now. It will help you bring more clarity into your to-do list. It will also make it easier to find the task you should start your day with. The next step is to look at your list, find the task marked as the most important (A or 1) and do it as the first thing in your day. Never ever start any task until you’ve completed the most important.
This method is something Leo Babauta calls MIT – Most Important Task (of the day). Brian Tracy calls it eating the frog. For those of you interested in this method, Brian Tracy even wrote entire book on it! Anyway, just remember to always start your day with the Most Important Task of the day. Again, don’t move to the next task on the list until you finish your MIT. It is MIT for a reason!
Do Regular Reviews
The last step of goal setting is to do regular reviews. You should do these reviews on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. As a part of your daily goal setting routine, set aside couple minutes every evening and go through your list. For every goal you accomplished you should congratulate yourself. This will keep you motivated in the long-term. For the goals you didn’t achieve, ask yourself why. Find what reasons that led you to miss these goals and how can you avoid repeating it in the future. Every review should help you find your weak spots and fix them.
You can think about it as alternative to build-measure-learn loop used in Lean Startup. You can call it set-mesure-learn loop if you want. As I mentioned, the point is to these reviews regularly – daily, weekly and monthly. Never skip them. These reviews will help you find assess your progress towards your long-term goal and do any corrections if necessary. Just like with everything else, it will take some time before it become a second nature to you. However, this final step is crucial for your success and accomplishing your long-term goals.
Closing Thoughts on Goal Setting
Here you have it! Now you know all you need to become a master at goal setting and achieve everything you want. As always, the best thing after learning anything is to put your knowledge into practice. So, craft your perfect year to set your long-term goal(s), divide it into smaller sub-goals. Then, fill your to-do list with daily goals, tasks and activities that will help you reach your desired outcome at the end of this year. And finally, get to work!
Thank you very much for your time. And, until next time, have a great day!
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