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Goal setting has always been too much of a “type A” term for me. I’m a motivated, hard-working guy, but I’ve never really set goals. When I was younger, I wanted to play professional baseball, but along the way I didn’t have measurable, achievable goals to help me get there. I thought hard work alone was enough to keep me on track for success.
I was wrong.
Goal setting is something new I’ve learned in the past year of my life. I used to think setting goals was inhibiting, like a teacher in grade school assigning you to write a paper about Winston Churchill’s drinking and how it affected his law making. That’s way too specific! But for some reason it was easy to write the paper with the given guidelines. Now I’ve realized not setting goals was like a teacher asking me to write a paper about anything I wanted. At first glance it sounds freeing, like anything is possible and the sky is the limit. But then I sit there for hours on end with absolutely nothing to write about. Eventually, I’ll probably give up and go binge watch episodes of Friends and procrastinate the inevitable.
Here’s the truth: Goal setting is hard. It’s hard because you have to be willing to limit your options in the beginning, to ultimately free yourself up over time. It’s hard because you have to have forethought. You have to see where you want to be in 6 months or a year from now. You not only have to see where you want to be, but where it’s realistic for you to be. This is the part that’s taken me more time than I thought. I tend to create audacious goals, sometimes impossible ones.
When you set impossible goals, you give up because you realize it’s unrealistic for you to attain them.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a crazy optimistic person. I was born that way and by not watching the depressing evening news, I’ve held on to that optimism through my teens and early twenties. But when it comes to goal setting and progress, I’ve learned a term I used to loath with everything inside of me: realism.
Realistic goals for me this year looked something like this.
- Pay off $27k in student debt
- Build email list to 10k
- Finish our documentary (changed from “get into major film festival”)
- Visit 10 epic RV spots
- Read Meaning of Marriage with Alyssa
- Read 20 books
While you might be thinking some of these goals are a bit “optimistic,” I spent a great deal of time thinking through how I was going to practically achieve them.
- Pay off $27k in student debt: We are calling 2015 The Year of RV VS. Student debt. By living in an RV that we own, we don’t have extra expenses and bills stacking up. We came up with an actionable plan on how to pay off all our student debt in one year.
- Build email list to 10k: This one is a lofty goal. However, writing is a craft I’ve been working on for a long time now and feel as though I can reach this one through my free online RVing/travel course and upcoming ebook.
- Finish our documentary: We originally planned on releasing our film this coming Labor Day. However, editing film takes time, especially when you’re new to the skill. Instead of creating such an unrealistic timeline we are giving ourselves an additional year to work with. In 2015 our goal is to finish the documentary and in 2016 we will premier it around Labor Day.
- Visit 10 epic RV spots: Last year we drove to 48 states in our RV, 10 spots is totally do-able. Some of these we will visit this June in Alaska.
- Read Meaning of Marriage with Alyssa: I want to invest time in making my marriage better. I’ve realized there is no succeeding in anything else without first succeeding in my marriage. Reading through one big book together this year is one way we are working to keep our relationship strong.
- Read 20 books: Last year I read 12 books. I’m upping the pace this year to 20 with the hope that I can gradually keep increasing this over time.
By creating these attainable goals, it’s inspired me more than any of my formerly outrageous goals. While it’s fun to dream about making a million dollars next year, it’s not realistic where I am right now. I hope to eventually make in the high six figures per year, but in the mean time I have to put my head down and work at where I currently am.
Every day I write down these words that help me make small, baby steps towards my goals:
I’ll become a little better today.
I don’t try to kid myself anymore. I used to wake up feeling inspired and tell myself today was going to be the day that everything changed and I made monumental strides towards my biggest dreams. However, at the end of each day I felt uninspired and let down while laying on the couch, binge watching The Office.
My idea of improving so much in the time of one day wasn’t realistic. While making small steps towards dreams doesn’t sound sexy or enticing, I’ve found it to be the best and only way of working towards a big goal.
Goal setting is also a bit like looking at an investor pitch from a first time entrepreneur. You’re looking at the graphs and seeing the upward trend moving along the lines, while listening to their undying optimism. There are no dips, no setbacks, only upward trajectory and in two years a solid IPO with millions of dollars for all stockholders. My old goals kind of resembled this kind of unrealistic planning.
The truth is, goal setting and goal achieving is much more like a real company’s growth. While there might be upward trends at times, there will also be sharp, unexpected dips in profit and periods where you’re not sure if the company will make it.
It will most likely take twice as long and twice as much money to succeed as you thought. While it’s not a pretty graph, it’s a real one.
Here is a snapshot of where I am with my current 2015 goals.
- Paying off $27k in student debt: 22% complete
- Building email list of 10k: 1% complete
- Reading Through Meaning of Marriage with Alyssa: 22% complete
- Reading 20 new books: 20% complete
(Below is where I do a bi-weekly/monthly check in to see where I am with my goals)
I should be about 25% towards achieving my goals since I’m a fourth of the way through the year. While the numbers don’t seem all that bad (with the exception of my email list), I’ve dropped the ball on how often I’ve been intentionally working on them. Goal setting is the easy part. Goal achieving is a ferocious beast that will stop you at all costs.
Here’s what I realized about goal setting, THREE months into 2015.
- Being busy is not the same as being actively and intentionally working towards pursuing a goal. Just because you crossed off a to-do list for the day doesn’t mean you’re any closer to achieving what means the most to you. It’s so easy to take mindless action. What matters is how we can take intentional, smart action that has a specific purpose towards our goal.
- There might, and probably will be, a difference between your day job and your goal executing. If I want to achieve my 2015 goals, then I have to be willing to work all day on my necessary “work,” and then stay up a bit longer to make sure I’m also working on one thing for this year’s goals. For example, I’m currently planning out a 25 city tour for an author I’m working with. I’ve booked him to speak at 39 different locations across the country and while I’m proud of that hustle, it’s not one of the set goals I’ve created for myself this year. While the planning and booking events is necessary part of the work I have to do (and enjoy doing), it’s not directly correlated to me growing my email list or reading a new book. I have to work overtime to make those things happen.
- Don’t let your day job or goals suffer at the expense of the other. Finding a balance between your other work and your goals is important. The easy thing to do is forget about your goals and strictly focus on your work. Another thing you can do is forget about your work entirely and focus on your goals, but then, how are you making money? There has to be a period in your life where you’re working to support yourself and your goals.
In the end, your goals have to be measurable. I used to have vague goals such as “getting healthier” or “getting more fit.” These are terrible goals. Measuring how “fit” or “healthy” I am is not an easy thing to do.
On the other hand, if I were to make a goal of losing 15 LBS this year and improve my bench press to 250, then I have a real goal. Why? Because I can measure the progress and where I am at each step along the way. Being able to see progress is one of the biggest motivators towards continuing the process of achieving our goals.
Here are a few reasons we don’t set measurable goals:
- We have never been taught to do so (very likely)
- We’re afraid of setting a measurable goal and failing
- We are too lazy to think about what specific outcome we hope to achieve
Being realistic (and specific) about where I want to be and taking intentional steps towards getting there have been a game changer for me in 2015. I don’t want to be someone who aspired to do great things or “had a bunch of ideas”.
Setting goals requires you to take a step back and think big picture. While it requires this in the beginning, there is so much more to achieving a goal then your ability to dream it up. Setting the goal itself is a small part of the process. The rest is made up through intentional action, weekly or monthly check ins, and accountability from those around you.
Any progress towards realistic goals are infinitely better than the ability to dream up lofty goals that you never take action on.