Do you need goals in life to reach the pinnacle of success and happiness that you’re after? Is goal setting the key to making that happen? Maybe.
It depends on you.
On your temperament, on your preferences, on how you define success.
Contrary to popular opinion, goal setting may not be right for you. And that’s fine. You may not be the type that requires the structure and direction that goal setting provides. You may be the type that is better off going-with-the-flow and seeing where life takes you.
On the other hand, you may be the type that could largely benefit from the purpose and control gained from setting goals for yourself.
There are a lot of ways to get to where you’re trying to go.
I had two very different conversations recently. Both revolved around the topic of how to create a successful business. The first conversation went a little something like this: If you want to build a business that thrives, you need to be relatively uninterested and dispassionate about it.
That way you can make clear, unbiased decisions and stay neutral to the ups and downs that the business will go through.
The second conversation took a different route. This person mentioned: When looking back at my past, the projects that didn’t succeed were the ones that I wasn’t interested in.
To succeed with my businesses moving forward then, the best advice I’ve come across is to pursue something I’m passionate about. That way I love what I do and can enjoy the process even when times are tough.
Two viewpoints with sound, but opposite advice on the same topic. Both pursuing what they believe to be the “right” way of doing things. But who’s right? If there can only be one way of achieving success, but two roads to take, which is the correct path?
It’s a trick question.
There is no one path.
The world is massive. There are so many people doing so many things every single second. Everywhere. All the time.
And yet, we think there’s only one way to do things?
That doesn’t make any sense. There is no one path. There are dozens, maybe hundreds of ways to achieve the success that you want. You put five different people from five different countries that have all achieved your vision of success in one room and ask for their secret sauce, you know what you’d get?
Five different recipes.
Think about it this way – if you want to go from California to New York, you can take a:
- Boat (technically)
They all get you there. Sometimes a car is better than a plane if you have a lot of layovers. Sometimes a train is better than a bus. There are a lot of ways to get to where you want to go.
It’s just a matter of figuring out the best one for you.
Very successful people
I was listening to a podcast awhile ago where Ted Danson was the guest. He mentioned that early on in his life, things were generally unplanned. He was very much open to letting things unfold in front of him.
And that was the process that led him to his early successes, like Cheers.
From a financial and career perspective, for the sake of this argument, Ted Danson is widely viewed as successful.
On the other hand, you have someone like Tim Ferriss who often plans, experiments, and tries things in a methodical way. Many of his most popular books revolve around the practice of being highly intentional with his time.
And again, for the sake of the argument, from a financial and career perspective, Tim Ferriss is also widely viewed as a success.
Both very successful people. But both took very different routes.
Which way is better? And how does all this relate to goal setting?
Is goal setting right for you? Do you need goals in life?
As far as I can tell, there is no one path that leads to success. It’s not like a maze with only one way in and one way out. It’s more like sailing a ship.
You can take whichever route you want, just don’t get distracted by the islands you pass along the way.
You could take the path of Danson and let the path unfold before you. Or you could take the path of Ferriss and chart a course in the direction that you want to go. You could start a business that you are passionate about, or you could start one that you are indifferent towards.
There is no right way of getting “there.” There is only the way that works for you.
Goal setting is no different.
If you feel that setting goals for yourself will help you achieve your vision of success, go ahead and set some. If goal setting feels a little too forced to you, try imagining a vision for your ideal future and then let things happen naturally. Or if it all feels a little too constricting, skip everything and just take it day-by-day.
An easy exercise
Still not sure if goal setting is right for you? Here’s an easy exercise you can do. Think of a few people in your life that inspire you; who have achieved some version of the success that you want.
Are they the kinds of people that would set goals? Or are they more the type to go-with-the-flow?
I’m not suggesting you try to copy or emulate their life. Just notice the type of people that inspire you, those you identify with. If they seem to be the type that benefits from goal setting, it’s a fair assumption that you may as well.
Don’t like that idea? Here’s something else you can try – run an experiment.
There have been periods in my life where I both have and haven’t set goals for myself. And guess what? The times where I did have goals set were times where I felt purposeful and like I was working in the right direction. The times where I didn’t have goals in life I felt disorganized and largely aimless.
I learned that I am better off doing goal setting than not.
Personally, I like feeling in control and taking deliberate actions towards my vision of success. So I’m pro-goal-setting.
However, if you’re not sure if goal setting is right for you, try this – for the next six months, set goals for yourself. And then for the six months following that, don’t set any.
Then after a year, think back on those previous twelve months. Consider:
- The progress you made towards your version of success
- How fulfilled you felt during those times
- And how stressed (or not stressed) you were
Let that reflection guide your decision. For instance, if you felt less stressed, more fulfilled, and made more progress during the period that you set goals, then goal setting is for you. If you had the opposite experience, then they’re not.
You’ve decided you want to set goals in life. Where do you start?
Once you know that you want to set goals for yourself, you need to determine which goals to pursue. With that, I have a goal setting course that walks you through how to:
- Discover the best goals to work on
- Set them
- And stay accountable so that you achieve them
There are a lot of goals that you can set for yourself. How are you supposed to know which ones to focus on? Here is a simple exercise to do (borrowed and summarized from my goal setting course) that you can use to answer the question – what are your goals in life?
Goals in life: Where you are today
First, consider your circumstances today. How do you look financially? Do you like your career? Are you happy with your health?
Reflect for a moment on the you of today. On where you currently are and how you feel in relation to the various aspects of your life.
Goals in life: Where you want to be tomorrow
Next, look at your answers from the previous section and consider where you’d want to be in each of those categories in the future.
For example, if you are unhappy with your career today, does a better future for yourself include one where you have a new job? Or are running your own business? Or are a stay-at-home parent?
If you are unsatisfied with your health, does success look like gaining a certain amount of muscle? Or substituting certain unhealthy foods for more healthy alternatives?
Determine the brighter future that you envision for yourself.
Goals in life: The thing that stands out
When you think about where you are today and where you want to be in the future, what is the one thing that stands out to you the most?
Is it your family?
- Today: Your work bleeds into family time
- Tomorrow: You want to spend each evening and every weekend with your family
Does it revolve around education?
- Today: You rarely read anything educational
- Tomorrow: You’d love to see a version of the future where you read more books
Is it something else entirely? Consider what one thing stands out to you the most. What one thing would most help you push forward and reach your vision of success sooner.
Goals in life: What you need to do
Next, once you know what you want to work on, consider what you need to do to get there. Keep in mind, these actions should be something that you can control.
For example, if you set a goal to sell twice as many products to your clients next month compared to this month, you’re setting yourself up for failure. You can’t control whether or not people buy the thing you are selling.
What you can control, though, is how many emails you send.
As a result, your goal could be to send five cold emails a day. It’s something that you can control that will hopefully result in more sales.
Decide what controllable action you can take that will help you achieve your goal.
One simple life goal that yields tremendous results is reading more. The more you read, the more you learn and grow. A simple action you can take, then, is to read a certain amount of pages each day.
Goals in life: Take action
You know where you are today, you know where you want to be tomorrow. You’ve decided what the most important thing is for you to be working on and you’ve defined the steps required to make it happen.
You have your goal and now it’s time for you to take action.
Start pursuing it and start moving towards your vision of success!
Goals in life: The why
One thing I’ve yet to point out is that when setting goals for the future, you want to make sure they have a strong why associated with them. Meaning, ask yourself:
Why is this goal so important to me?
Write that down somewhere you’ll remember it. That way, when you run into a challenge or bump in the road, you can see it and remember the value it represents.
Moving forward with your goals in life
Goal setting isn’t for everyone. There are a lot of ways to attain success in life. Consider if you’re the type that can benefit from setting a goal or two.
I know I am. And, considering you made it this far, chances are you are too.
However, if you’re still on the fence, give the experiment I mentioned above a try. Set goals for six months, then don’t set any for the next six. Afterwards, compare and see which was better for you.
There’s no harm in trying, right?
When given so many options in life, it often seems that the best way to uncover the answers isn’t to just ask around, but to try for yourself. So set some positive goals in life and see if that’s the road that will lead you to where you want to go.