I’ve always been fascinated with the array of goal setting strategies that people implement in their every day life. Whether the goal is related to health and wellness, spirituality, relationships or finances, the approach and mindset a person uses is often consistent across these media. Consciously considering your approach towards goal setting can have a significant influence on the amount of satisfaction you will garner when you reach your goal and throughout your journey in reaching it.
One common situation that I notice in many clients (and it was a personal trait I have overcome in recent years) is that of an individual striving for their goals, but never quite arriving at the destination they desired. I can recall several instances in my own life where I reached enormous milestones, but was surprisingly unfulfilled in the moment of attainment. One huge example I can provide to you was when I completed my Masters in Business Administration while working full time. I went through the motions of the graduation ceremonies, but never quite allowed myself the opportunity to celebrate (either mentally or physically). Without a doubt this was one of my biggest life accomplishments – so what was happening?
The wrong way to approach long term goals
Since that graduation date – now 5 years ago, I’ve learned a number of huge life lessons. I’ve also made it a personal mission to study goal setting and how to create long lasting, sustainable, and balanced lifestyle change. I now know that my approach to setting goals itself was the problem – not the actual goals I was setting.
To get specific, in the MBA years I was a man that could do anything on my own. I was young, confident, intelligent, and I could accomplish anything I set my mind to (or so was my mentality). I was like a bulldozer clearing the path of anything in my way that could prevent me from reaching my goal. That goal was the completion of the MBA while working. I had tunnel vision and nothing could derail the course I was on.
OK – yes, I met the goal of completing business school when I had intended and I did maintain a full time job at the time. But I did this without a sense of enjoyment, satisfaction or fulfillment – not to mention significantly impairing my health at the time (I was diagnosed with Chronic Myeloid Leukemia 3 days after I graduated – hard to imagine my immune system was functioning well during those years of school/work). Overall this was the wrong way and quite frankly I was operating with the wrong goal in mind. Here’s a breakdown of my approach:
- Set a specific and measurable goal
- Set a timeline on which to complete that goal
- Tunnel vision – ignored balance of relationships, personal time, enjoyment
- Allowed physical health to take a back seat
- Lack of vision after completion of goal
The right way to approach long term goals
If you’ve read my article on setting SMART goals, you’ll hear the foundational principles of crafting specific, measurable, attainable, and relevant goals that are on a timeline. Fundamentally this is a fantastic approach in the short term. You see from the list above, I did have a specific and measurable goal (completing MBA while working), and I did have a date for which I was going to complete the goal. It was also attainable (clearly I did it) and relevant (important to me). Regardless, as you might be guessing, the SMART format is missing something when it comes to setting long term goals. Its missing the vision and the potential for balance. Here are some tips about using SMART long term goals.
- A SMART goal is fantastic in the short term. When the time frame lingers past 3-6 months a couple things can happen. A) we can lose our enthusiasm for it and B) we can let it overwhelm and consume us. For example, 6 months into my MBA – I realized how much work it was going to be. I could only think – I’ve got 1.5 years more of this to go -aargh! My general overtone was not pleasant. On the other hand, its OK to have a long term goal – but focusing on the long term result can be overwhelming. Instead, break the goal up into bite sized mini goals that bring the sense of accomplishment closer to now.
- Root your goal in a bigger vision. For me, I had a goal of completing my MBA. Why was this important to me? What was I going to do next? What possibilities did this open up for me? I didn’t know! The goal was it. I didn’t know how it fit into my bigger picture of life. I didn’t know if I’d look for a new job, move, get a promotion – I had no clarity whatsoever. Furthermore, I was so busy thinking about the goal I didn’t even think about what next. I would have been much more excited if I knew that this meant a Senior VP position at my job. Make sure to root your goal in a bigger vision
- Celebrate the short term successes. Keep yourself excited about the big goal by celebrating the small goals. For example, rather than sighing and thanking God I was done with another quarter as finals came and went, I could have celebrated each accomplishment in a way that was meaningful for me. Not only does this acknowledge oneself for what you are doing, it makes the next quarter that much more exciting.
- Consciously assess the ‘Big Picture’. The big picture being life. Sometimes we are busy, even overwhelmed, and that is OK – so long as we are living the life that is in alignment with our big picture. My problem was that I didn’t even think about the big picture – let alone assess if I was living in accord with it. I didn’t think about health, relationships, or balance. I didn’t know what I wanted, and therefore I was willing to do anything – at any cost to complete the goal. This proved to be a poor choice. Today, there may be times in which I am extremely busy but knowing what I am willing to do and how that fits in with the rest of life helps me decide if I need to make any adjustments, and making it a conscious choice allows me to be at peace with doing what I am doing while I am doing it!
Striving but never arriving
The example I’ve provided above is a story of striving, but never arriving. I was pushing and pushing for a goal but because of the elements I was missing above, in hindsight, I never truly reached the goal that was most important to me. Yes, the degree is nice but I now know my goal was far greater than getting that degree. This is why I had no sense of fulfillment when it was complete.
Now, in a literal sense, some people strive for goals but never complete them because they make them to grandiose and too long term. For example, someone might want to landscape an acre property. This goal might take 10 years to accomplish. When the pool is put in, or the the grass is complete you may not appreciate the progress because there is so much more to do. That’s similar to the never ending home improvement project. If you are finding yourself in a situation where you are constantly striving but never arriving at your goals, ask yourself if your goals are designed for success. Can I ever accomplish this? Are my goals small enough that I can celebrate them, or do I quickly discount what has been done and start focusing on the next.
To provide another example, my wife and I moved into a new home 5 years ago. We did an enormous landscaping project that took over 2 years to complete (working almost every weekend). We set small goals throughout and celebrated in our yard after these were accomplished – ie: pouring concrete, building a shed, planting the flower beds etc. We sat it its beauty and enjoyed throughout. Without the proper mindset though, the tendency is to quickly discount what is done and say what next. After completing the yard, we moved indoors to paint and begin refurnishing the house. The home improvement saga continues and we are conscious to recognize the progress.
Even in these situations it is very important to celebrate accomplishments and create small goals that are in alignment with your vision. Without these, it is a natural tendency for many people to strive, strive and strive, yet never arrive at their destination. Take the opportunity now to look back, see if you’ve celebrated your successes and be sure that you’ve enjoyed the journey. After all – its how we manage the journey that counts, not simply the attainment of a goal.