Nearly a decade ago, I set my first cohort of goals. Since then, goal setting has been part of my life. At present, it’s what I do for a living, so it’s even more part of who I am. I have ten+ goals as of this writing. When one concludes, there is usually a new one right behind it. I’ve made the classic errors. I’ve set the stereotypical goals. And from the archives, three stand out. Three types of goals that aren’t worth the effort.
Don’t let their appeal seduce you like they did me. Instead, use them to inspire your future goal setting endeavors: once you know what isn’t worth the effort, understanding what is becomes all the clearer.
Competition leads to dissatisfaction
The train ride was to take four hours. I sat to the left of my wife. In her hand was a book. In my hand was a book. Her face reflected tranquility, peace, serenity. My face reflected annoyance, irritation, frustration. She was merrily reading. Turning one page after another. Really enjoying the storyline. I was not having that experience. Instead, all I could focus on was the pft, pft, pft of her turning one page after another. Somehow I had never noticed just how fast my wife could read.
The insecure, envious boy in me was not having it. The enjoyment I could have had on the train took a backseat to the toddler-ish tantrum I was to soon throw. I’ve since worked through my childish behavior. But not before learning some valuable lessons. Two of which I will now share.
First, never challenge my wife to a read-off. She’ll always win. I may read 200 books in a month. She’ll somehow read 275. Further, would I celebrate the fact that I completed such an insane amount of books? Of course not! I’d be aggravated over my defeat. Which leads me to my second point: avoid goals that compete against someone. Best case, you win and demoralize your friend. Worse case, you lose and become demoralized yourself. Either way, your life satisfaction diminishes.
Instead, set goals that are a one-player game. For instance, I have a goal to complete two books a month. Since setting it, I’ve found myself going above and beyond, often finishing four or five books in a single April. But had I set a goal to complete two books more than my wife each month, I’d have quit long ago. If you want to include others in your journey, you can start a support group or be an accountability partner to a friend with a similar goal. Competition leads to dissatisfaction. Support leads to encouragement and growth.
Money isn’t within reach
100 million dollars. That was the number I aspired to call my net worth. The time frame to achieve that feat: three years. In a mere three years, I was to go from living at home with my parents to private island owner. It didn’t seem all that realistic, but I wrote it down anyway. I set the goal for myself. The three years came and went. I no longer lived with my parents, but I still drove my dad’s old hand-me-down car. I couldn’t afford a trip to the island, let alone to become an owner of it.
Weight and money. Two goals people generally focus on. They’re both important parts of your life and you’re justified in setting them. However, what you’ll find is that people set these goals in a peculiar way. They are set outside of their control. Notice how these two goals look similar:
- Lose ten pounds
- Make ten grand
Their commonality: lack of control. You have no control over how much weight your body gains or loses in a given week. You can influence it, but you can’t control it. Same goes for money. You have no control over how much money you make at a given time. Again, you can influence it, but that’s where it stops. Instead of focusing on the thing you can’t control, focus on the thing you can. Set a goal that addresses the influential factor.
For instance, instead of setting a goal to lose ten pounds, you can set a goal to run once a week, consume a certain amount of calories each day, or go to bed at a certain time each night. These things are all within your control. Instead of setting a goal to make ten grand, you can set one to make 100 cold calls each day, or apply to three freelance gigs each week, or spend an hour each day honing your craft. When you control the goal, you own the result. Persistence rather than chance becomes the determinant of your success. That’s a good place to operate from.
Interesting isn’t interesting enough
Surfing sounds fun. Let me set a goal for it. That was the extent of my thought process in the early days of goal setting. It’s an obvious place to start from and I clearly fell for the trap. The thing is, interest is similar to motivation. Both start with passion. Like a match newly lit, you burn with intensity. But as the match dwindles down, your interest fades. Soon, waking up at five to get to the beach by seven is no longer an adventure. It’s a chore. Where there was once interest there is now boredom. Likewise, where there was once motivation, there is now irritation.
Instead of setting goals that follow your interests, set them for fulfillment.
An interest is fleeting and ever-changing. It is surface-level. Fulfillment is deeper. It’s meaningful. It taps into the core of who you are. For instance, instead of setting a surfing goal on a whim, ask yourself: what is it about surfing that appeals to me? In my case, it combined two major areas of my life: adventure and exercise. With that understanding, a better goal becomes clear. I don’t need to set a surfing goal. Rather, I can set a goal to do something physically intensive five days a week.
That could mean running, hiking, climbing, or, yes, surfing. It’s exercise and adventure. It is a goal that gets me closer to fulfillment in those areas of my life. Plus, it gives me options based on my mood and energy levels.
Some goals just aren’t worth the effort
Moving forward, learn from my early mistakes. Set single-player goals. Avoid competition and thus avoid dissatisfaction. Set goals within your control. Focus on things that you can influence. Finally, set goals based on fulfillment. Where interest burns like a match, fulfillment smolders in the most meaningful of ways.
Dodge the obstacles I had to overcome the hard way. Instead, take the lessons of this article to heart. Set better goals. And, in turn, achieve better ones.