In a research study conducted by Dr. David Kohl, professor emeritus at Virginia Tech, he discovered that 80% of Americans don’t have goals. Sixteen percent have goals, but don’t write them down. Three percent have goals, write them down, but don’t review them. Only one percent, the highest achievers, have goals, write them down and review them on an on-going basis. But do we really need to set goals to enjoy life? No, but you can’t reach your potential without them. Here’s how goals make us a better person.
1. Improves Self-Confidence
If we set a goal and reach it, it builds our self-confidence. If we don’t reach our goals, it feels like failure. Fear of failure is one of the main reasons why most people don’t set goals. However, when we don’t set goals the message we convey is that we are leaving our life up to chance. In other words, “We’ll just see what happens.” Without goals, you hold yourself back from reaching your potential and making a difference in the larger world. You don’t want that. You want to be an inspiration to your family and friends. People who set goals and achieve them become role models. They are looked up to. They leave a positive legacy as someone who accomplished a lot during their life. The very first step in goal setting is having the courage to deciding that you want more out of life. When you set goals you are telling yourself, “There’s more than the status quo.” Goal setting helps you live life on the highest level.
2. Prioritizes Life
Goal setting defines what you really want out of life. Goals give you direction and purpose. Goal setting allows us to suspend reality and dream. Use your imagination. Without a dream, you don’t have much. By writing down your goals, you are clearly saying, “These are the things that are really important to me. These are my priorities.” Goals are rooted in your V.I.P.S. (Values, Interests, Personality-traits and Skills). In other words, goals must be in alignment with who you are. Start by creating a list of five Values, Interests, Personality-traits and Skills. Next, write a one sentence vision statement for your personal life and another one for your professional life. You can then create a list of short-term, intermediate-term and long-term goals in these nine areas: Faith, Family, Friends, Finances, Fitness, Fun, Future Career and Further Learning. Make sure the goals are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Action-Oriented, Realistic and Time-Sensitive). Be sure to create “Micro-goals,” ones that are so small that it is impossible to fail. Surround yourself with a “Dream Team” of close family, friends and advisors that will encourage you. Be flexible and add and subtract from your “Goals List” as you measure your progress periodically. Don’t beat yourself up if you fall down. If you reach all your goals, you set the list too low. If you hit at least 70%, you are on target. Do this, and you will be well on you way to a balanced and happy life.
3. Prevents Distraction
Americans are busier than ever before, but we are accomplishing less and less of what we really want. We are simultaneously procrastinating what we want and don’t want. Technological devices that promised to save time, in fact, have created a culture where the office never closes. By spending a majority of our day reacting to email, phone calls and social media, it can feel like we are merely running in place and never getting ahead. Too often we are passengers on the road of life, frequently feeling that we are not in charge. It’s easy to get sidetracked by every little distraction. When we set goals, we are in the driver’s seat. We get to choose where we want to go in life. Goal setting prevents us from getting lost. Goal setting allows us to take a time out to reflect and get refocused. Goals guide your decision-making and time management. Without goals, you run the risk of being impulsive and reactionary. Your goals should also motivate you to take action. When you begin the process, ask yourself, “Is this goal worthy of my time?”
4. Fosters and Energizes Growth
Goals push you outside the comfort zone where real growth happens. When we achieve a goal, we are energized. Reaching your goals makes you feel productive. You feel positive each time you check off something on the “To Do List.” Unfortunately, most “To Do Lists” are a result of small thinking. We all need to go to the cleaners, bank, post office, grocery store, mow the lawn, take out the garbage, do the laundry, clean the house, etc. But if that’s all we do, it will make for a life of regret. People spend more time writing their grocery list than a list of goals. Don’t let that be you. Being happy is a by-product of achieving goals. Without a plan, everything is left to chance. Ask yourself, “In what areas can I learn and grow.” Spend more time looking through the wind shield of life than the rear view mirror. Setting and achieving goals helps you look and move forward. It gives you hope and optimism.
5. Gives a Sense of Accomplishment
My other passion besides career counseling is climbing mountains. I’ve climbed over 180 mountains, big and small. This includes over 70 with my 11 year old daughter, Rachel. Each year I climb one “Major Mountain.” I call it a B.H.A.G. – Big Harry Audacious Goal, a.k.a. a “Stretch Goal.” This year my team braved temperatures in the 20s and 65+ mph winds to reach the summit of Mt. Shasta (14,179 ft.) in the Cascade Range of California. We only grow when we are outside the comfort zone, and that was pretty uncomfortable! Our motto was: only look where you want to go. So we set our sights on the summit. It was an absolutely brutal climb, and despite the weather and altitude sickness, the sense of accomplishment is something I will have for the rest of my life. As a result of this charity climb, I raised over $3,000 to benefit the scholarship fund of Girls Incorporated of the Capital Region. Summiting a Major Mountain is not done serendipitously. It’s a deliberate endeavor. Climbing mountains is a metaphor for career counseling and for life. Goal setting is about getting higher. Now ask yourself, “What summits do I want to reach? What’s on my Bucket List?” I urge you to pick your peaks carefully, commit to something despite the price you may pay, and start living the dream!