I think about goals like driving down a road. I have milestones I want to reach as I continue to move forward in life. One important aspect of this is evaluating the potholes along the way; these will slow me down from moving as efficiently as I want to.
Too many times people say to themselves, I’m just going to have a better life, or, I want to get healthy, or more close to home: I want to get my finances in order. But they’re often nonspecific about their goals, and they don’t put them into the context of their entire life. As a result, they often end up failing to achieve these goals.
I understand—I’ve been there, too.
The other problem is that we can be too broad. We might say to ourselves, I want better finances, health, or friends, but we need to make these more specific. We can get overwhelmed by all the things we want to do and not do anything to move forward with them.
We need a process, one I call “Clarify Your Vision” and it’s a few steps:
Step 1: Examine the Potholes
The first thing I do is break my life down into the most important areas, and then I rate each area on a scale of 1–10. This allows me to get a clearer picture of the road I’m on—to use the journey metaphor—and which areas need the most improvement. Then, I can focus on just a couple of the biggest potholes in my way for a smoother ride.
So for you: Start by breaking down your life into the 6–8 most important areas. For me it’s spirituality, marriage, family, health, career, finances, friends, and hobbies.
Then, look at each one and rate it in terms of how well you are currently doing—1 being, “I’m doing terrible in this area”. I’m a visual person, so I like to draw a bar graph like this:
Maybe you’ve got a solid career, so you would draw the bar way up on the scale, and then you would say to yourself, Well, where am I with my family? Maybe my kids hate me—hopefully not!—so you say, Well, that’s not doing so well, and you put a five there. You get the idea.
Go down the line, rating each of the most important areas of your life.
You might find this painful at first, but it’s important to be honest with yourself. I think you’ll find when you’re done, it’s a freeing exercise.
Now that you have this picture, you can clearly see which areas you need to work on the most. I think of these as “potholes.” That’s first.
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Step 2: Mark Areas for Improvement
I recommend picking 2 or 3 of these potholes and setting some goals in those areas. It’s important to remember that life is a journey, and you can’t fix everything all at once. Focus on a few of the most important things at a time, and you’ll find your road getting smoother before you know it.
You’re off to a great start!
It’s important not to stop here, though, because many people don’t set good goals, and they end up failing to follow through.
Step 3: Make Your Goals SMART
I love to use the acronym of SMART goals:
- Time sensitive
Look at each goal you made from the exercise above (Step 2), and evaluate them according to the acronym, writing out how you can make them SMART goals:
Specific. For example, you might say, I want to get healthy. That’s not specific enough. What area of your health do you specifically want to work on? You might say, I want to lose weight, or, I want to get my cholesterol down.
Those are better, but let’s get even more specific: A good rule for this is to narrow your goals down into actionable items:
- “Lose weight” turns into “Eat better”
- “Eat better” turns into “Start this specific diet” or “Cut out soda and junk food”.
Now we’re talking!
You might say, I want to get my finances in order. Well, what part of your financial life? Maybe it’s investments, maybe it’s your will, or perhaps your budget or savings. Pick an area of your finances, and then get even more specific, I want to save X amount per month, by eating out less, so that I can have Y amount saved up in 6 months.
That’s a good specific goal!
Don’t settle for vague goals. Keep working on them until they’re specific enough where you can see a clear action path in front of you.
This leads us to the next one:
Measurable. You can’t just say, “I want to save more.” Maybe you only have one month of living expenses in savings and you want to have six. Now we can measure that by saying, I want to go from one month to six months’ worth of savings in a money market account, or something like that.
Specific and measurable go together. You want to make your goals so specific that they’re measurable. “Lose weight” turns into “Lose 20 pounds by doing this exercise every day.”
Saying, “I want more friends” is unhelpful. Let’s make it specific and measurable. How many close friends do you want? Maybe you don’t have anybody you call a close friend. Say, “I want to deepen my friendship with joe, so I’m going to get coffee with him once a month.”
Attainable I was talking to a guy not too long ago and he had $1,000 saved, it probably wouldn’t be a good goal for him to say, “I want to retire at the end of the year”. If they’re not attainable, you’ll end up giving up on them.
I know you want to save the world and have great success, but it can’t be done all at once. Remember our road, we don’t have to race to the end filling in every pothole immediately, work on the most glaring goal in front of you, and you’ll find the big goals you want to achieve will become more and more attainable.
Relevant. Look at your purpose. What is important to you? What do you want your life to be about? Make sure that the goal you pick is in line with that purpose.
Let’s say that for you, you’re here to share love and build people up, and you’re thinking, Well, one of my goals for the year is having a high-end car. Examine the goal, though, and you might realize you want the car to show off and feel successful in front of other people. When in reality, it will create jealousy for other people, and it’s at odds with your overall purpose in life.
Time sensitive. This means creating a deadline for your goals. Smaller goals with shorter time horizons are more attainable. There’s an old saying, “What’s the best way to eat an elephant? Not all at once, but one bite at a time.”
Without a deadline, you’ll be more likely to put the goal off. Also, this goes along with attainable. Set an attainable deadline, otherwise you’ll give up too quickly.
Bonus Tip: Find somebody next to you that knows what you want to achieve and they will hold you accountable. Tell them about your goals and ask them to check in on you from time to time. From a psychological standpoint, when you know somebody else is watching, it will be easier to stay on task.
Happy New Year, and I hope this helps you achieve your goals in 2020!
By Paul Winkler
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