Have you ever wondered why some people achieve their dreams while others fall short, even when they seem to be working just as hard? Let me share a personal story that might shed some light on this.
When I was in high school, my greatest desire was to play college basketball. This desire motivated me to work hard on the basketball court, sometimes spending 6 hours per day shooting hoops, executing dribbling drills, and playing pickup games. I loved the game. I formulated a vision of my perfect future in my head of me shooting the buzzer-beating shot to put our team ahead in the NCAA National Championship game with 10s of thousands of fans screaming in the stands. I worked hard to improve my skills and eventually earned a spot as the varsity team captain of my school’s team, and one of the best players in my county.
As ironic as it sounds, while attempting a buzzer-beating shot during a state tournament game, I landed awkwardly and suffered a gruesome knee injury that sidelined me for one of the most important summers of basketball recruiting. When my junior season came around, I was still nursing the knee injury, and would never truly bounce back to the trajectory that I had envisioned in my head. I had a few small colleges interested in me for basketball, but my dream had fizzled out at that point.
So where did it all go wrong? I did everything right - I had a vision for success, I worked hard, I stuck with it - but I failed. Was it just bad luck? Were the odds just stacked against me? I refuse to believe those two things, and instead, I want to suggest a different explanation. I was not focused.
What!? You might think I’m crazy to offer that as an explanation considering I previously mentioned working on my basketball skills for 6 hours per day, but allow me to explain.
Yes, I had a desire to play basketball at a higher level. Yes, I worked very hard to get there. However, there was no specific target to aim for. If a professional archer is told to shoot their arrows at a tiny target, they will be very precise. If they are told to shoot blindly in a general direction, who knows where the arrow will end up?
The same can be said about goals. The more specific the goal, the more focused the work will be leading up to the achievement of the goal. If I had given myself a specific goal while working toward playing college basketball, perhaps my long hours of practice would have been more dedicated to improving specific skills for my position or eliminating specific deficiencies that were holding me back. Maybe then I would not have allowed my desire to fizzle out after suffering a knee injury if I had known what exactly I was working toward.
Take a moment to think of a recently set goal for yourself. If you can’t remember one, it’s a good thing you are reading this, because we’ve got a lot of work to do if you want to make improvements in your life. If you can remember a recent goal, what did it look like?
Was it super broad? “I want to get healthy.”
Was it super ambitious? “I want to start going to the gym 7 days per week, throwing out all my junk food, and never ordering carry-out again.”
Was it not challenging or motivating at all? “I want to cut down my screen time by 5 minutes today.”
When setting goals, most people think far too broadly, too ambitiously, or not ambitious enough. The “Goldilocks” rule certainly applies to goal-setting, so that they are not too far out of reach, and are not too easy either.
But before diving into the schematics of goal setting, I think it is important to clearly define what a goal is. To do that, I think it’s easier to first define what a goal is NOT.
A goal is not a desire.
A desire is a strong feeling of wanting something. I desire to be 6 foot 6 inches tall and play in the NBA, but that’s not feasible for me (the height part at least), and that is also not something I can develop a goal around. We all have desires, but desires do not ignite us with the fire of action. Sure, obtaining our true desires might sound great, and might even greatly motivate us, but they are limited by the lack of action.
Have you ever had a friend who always talks about his or her next big plan for getting rich? I used to have a friend who would always hype himself up to think that he had just struck the biggest opportunity since the gold rush. He would jump from job to job, side hustle to side hustle, always seeking the next shiny object that caught his attention. He would ultimately end up right where he started.
Desires alone are a natural thing. We all have desires for various things in our lives. Some people desire to be rich, to be healthy, to have a great relationship, etc. These are all great! But without any structure or planning, these desires can lead to a lack of direction and a lack of discipline.
Here are a few examples of “goals” that are more like desires:
“I want to be financially independent.”
“I want to read more.”
“I want to start working out.”
“I’d love to pay off my student loans.”
Are you starting to notice a trend?
An easy way to identify desires is the use of the words, “I want…” or “I’d love to…”. Perhaps these sound familiar to the way you’ve set personal goals in the past, and that’s okay. I hope that by continuing to read this, you will be able to structure your desires to give you direction and a concrete plan for obtaining them.
A goal is not an idea of the future.
For a very long time, I was a big fan of personal affirmations. I was a big believer that by manifesting and ruminating on what you want to achieve, your path to achieving them will be a lot more clear. So I practiced affirmations daily. I told myself things like, “I will be successful, I will be open to opportunities for growth, I will seek progress and advancement, etc.” It even developed to the point where I would play affirmation-style videos while I would sleep because I believed it would condition me to be more successful.
Now, a quick disclaimer, I do not know what current research says about affirmations as they relate to success or productivity. However, after going through this experience myself, I felt like, if anything, my productivity slowed down and it caused me to lose focus on my goals. Let me explain.
When I was going through this affirmational phase, I would conjure up perfect ideas of the future for myself. I would visualize myself achieving a 4.0 GPA throughout college, buying the house of my dreams, growing my social media following by the millions, etc. As a result, I would structure my goals as if they were destined to happen.
I will graduate with a 4.0 GPA
I will be fluent in Spanish in a year
I will be a millionaire by my 25th birthday
These are all great things to aim for, but what happens when you face an obstacle? What happens when you face a barrier and it significantly slows your progress? The affirmations did not prepare you for that, did they?
When you have a perfect vision for the future, you tend to assume everything will go right. I would bet my life savings that any successful person you ask will tell you that there are countless obstacles and challenges they overcame to be at the level they are today.
I am not trying to demonize visualization, because I believe that effective visualization can help someone achieve their goals, rather I am trying to warn you that a goal should not simply be an idea or affirmation of the future. A goal should have a structure that certainly motivates you, but also one that is realistic by preparing for the eventual challenges that we are all bound to face.
A goal is not a task.
Do you make a to-do list? Chances are, you probably have at some point in your life.
Have you ever been asked what your goals are for the day? Did you respond with items on your to-do list? I’m sure most of us would!
One fatal mistake in setting goals is treating them like to-do list items. When you diminish a goal down to a task, you are also diminishing the goal’s true value to you.
Your goals need to give you direction, they need to be specific, and they need to be something that you are committed to achieving. A true goal is only set when you feel as if achieving that thing is a part of your life’s purpose. A to-do list item is not important in the grand scheme of things. It’s just a task. A goal drives you and prepares you for the tasks you face ahead.
Save your to-do list items for actionable steps that you can take to work toward your goal.
Now that we have discussed what a goal is NOT, let’s dive into the true definition of a goal.
Defining A Goal
A goal is a desired result that a person or group envisions, plans, and commits to achieve.
Read that again. A goal is a desired result that a person or group envisions, plans, and commits to achieve. If you take the time to ponder that definition, you will realize that it holds a lot of weight compared to the aforementioned methods for constructing goals.
Instead of doing a deep analysis of these goals, I am going to provide you with a few goals, and I want you to identify which person will most likely achieve their goal based on how they structure it.
Objective: Run a marathon
Person 1: I want to run a marathon
Person 2: I will run a marathon in under 3 hours.
Person 3: My goal is to complete a marathon in under 3 hours on October 11th, 2024.
If you said person 3, you would be correct. But why? They all share the same objective.
Whose goal was the most specific? Whose goal gave them a time frame for achieving their goal? Who seems most likely to develop a solid plan revolving around their goal? Who seems most dedicated to the desired result? Person 3!
The more specific you can be with your goal, the more likely it will be that you can create a well-constructed plan for achieving it, which in turn will give you the right steps toward achieving it.
By combining the aspects of your desires, your visualization, and the actionable steps you can take, you can create goals that will keep you motivated, will help you develop a plan for achieving them, and will make you more likely to ultimately succeed.
Now, it's time to put this knowledge into action and transform your own life.
Review Your Goals: Take a moment to revisit your current goals. Are they specific, actionable, and motivating? If not, now is the time to refine them. In the next article, we will talk more about structuring your goals for success.
Remember, goals are not just dreams; they are powerful tools for turning your vision into reality. Whether it's achieving fitness milestones, launching a successful business, or pursuing your dream career, well-structured goals are your key to success.