If you’re like most people, you’ve probably set a couple goals and forgotten about them just as quickly over the course of your life. You might not even have thought much about the process of setting goals since, or really considered it. Maybe you’re one of those people (no judgement!) who really only sets goals at the dawn of the new year, and then spends the rest of the year resolutely ignoring them.
You definitely wouldn’t be alone in that!
Although, if you’re here, it may just be because you’re ready to change that.
Because not only do I want you to set big goals – I want you to understand why you’re doing it, too.
What Difference Does it Make if I Set Goals or Not?
I’m about to throw some numbers at you.
In his book, What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School, Mark McCormack tells the story of a Harvard Business study on goal setting. They gathered a collection of Harvard MBA graduates (so, already people with a pretty good track record of achievements) and asked them about their goal-setting habits, then caught up with them 10 years later to see how they fared.
The study found that:
- 83% of the graduates do not set goals;
- 14% have goals and “a plan in mind”, but not written down;
- Only 3% had actually written down their goals
Ten years later, they found the following:
- The 14% with goals were ten times more successful than the 83% without them
- The 3% who wrote their goals down were three times more successful than those who had goals but didn’t write them out
Why Goal Setting Works
So we see that goal setting clearly does something – but what?
It actually does a number of things: Setting goals gives you focus, determination, drive, and control over your life.
Let’s start breaking these down.
Setting Your Goal Gives You Focus
You can’t get what you want if you don’t know what you want.
While that may seem really obvious, a lot of people don’t ever really take the time to figure out what they want out of life. We all know what we don’t want – debt, stress, uncertainty – but not very many of us take the steps needed to actually avoid those things in our lives. Even fewer of us take the steps to get our hands on what we actually do want.
No wonder so many of us are miserable, anxious, and worried about the future!
Setting (and writing out) your goals forces you to get specific about what it is you want. It removes the indecision – once you acknowledge to yourself that you have a goal and you know exactly what it is, you don’t have to waffle around with the “someday” and “wouldn’t it be nice if…” mentalities anymore.
You wouldn’t get in a car to go on a road trip without knowing where you were going, right? (Unless you would, in which case: Never change, wild thing!) But if you don’t set goals, that’s exactly what you’re doing with your one and only life.
If you can name your desire, you’re that much closer to making it a reality.
Owning Your Goal Gives You Determination
Something magical happens when you know exactly what you want and you’re not ashamed to admit it:
You start looking for ways to make it happen.
You’ll start seeing opportunities that you wouldn’t have noticed before.
You’ll start subconsciously avoiding things that you know will hold you back from that goal.
Even before you have an action plan or even really know how you’re going to do it, you’re getting yourself ready to set out anyway.
There’s something magical about realizing you know what you want, and that it’s an achievable thing. The whole world feels open to you in that moment. It’s fun and fresh and exciting, and that feeling alone can be incredibly motivating.
Goals Allow You to Continuously Improve
A key component to my goal-setting method is tracking my progress toward each goal.
I think it’s something everyone should do – it keeps you on-track, accountable, and focused on your journey.
And one thing I’ve noticed since I started doing this, is how much better I got at… well, at getting better.
When I’m focused on a goal I tend to get into high-performance mode – and that enthusiasm carries over into the rest of my life.
I eat better and drink more water, because I don’t want to get sluggish and tired. I make sure to get enough sleep to keep my mood up and my mind sharp. And even when I’m deep in a project, I’m also keeping my mind open for my next project.
I get excited about life again – and life is worth being excited about.
Before I started setting concrete, actionable goals I had the sense that I just was who I was and that wasn’t likely to change… like I was as good as I was going to get.
Now, of course, I know that’s not true. I am constantly improving and working on a better version of myself. And that, to me, is invaluable.
Related: The Lazy Girl’s Guide to Building Self-Discipline
Having Goals Gives You Control Over Your Life
Sometimes you hear about someone who managed to luck into incredible circumstances without lifting a finger. Maybe it’s a lottery win, maybe they got scouted by a talent agent and offered a leading role in a major blockbuster (does that happen anymore?). These stories are presented to us as feel-good brain candy, and make us dream about the same thing happening to us someday.
But the latest statistics on lottery winners show that 70% of large winners go bankrupt within a few years. Another study showed that 80% of millionaires worked their way to millions – they didn’t inherit (or win) it.
The fact is, our lives don’t change unless we change them.
Setting goals gives you the chance to alter the course of your life. It’s like taking hold of the steering wheel of your life, deciding that you’re going to get to a place you actually want to go for once.
Setting Goals is the First Step to Living Your Dream Life
So what are you waiting for?
Most people never make a move toward actually living their dream life because they simply don’t know how to get there.
Let me let you in on a little secret: Setting goals IS your step 1. No matter what that destination looks like for you.
You set a goal, hit it, and set another one. When every goal you set is aligned with your end purpose – that’s how you get there. That’s how you build your dream life.
Whatever that looks like to you.