THE IMPORTANCE OF RECORDING YOUR GOALS
I have a habit of writing down my goals and I find it fascinating to read what I identified over a decade ago. I created categories like Career, Physical, Financial, Relationships and identified at least three things in each category that I’d like to achieve over the next year. Every year I reviewed them and ticked the ones that were accomplished. The first time writing appeared in my list was in 2009 when I included ‘write an article’ under the Career category.
Fast forward to 2015 and I’m grappling with intense fatigue and stress-induced illness. I have little opportunity for any professional or physical goals since I’m unable to work and trying to find my way clear of my health crisis. I started reading about positive psychology, including the importance of goal setting and how it influences our happiness. As part of this work I was doing on myself to get well and rebuild my life, I recorded a goal of ‘write a book’ in March 2015.
Sonja Lyubomirsky writes in her book, The How of Happiness, about the important aspects of goal setting. In my recovery period, I learnt a great deal about how goal setting helps us. Here is what I learnt:
Goals must be inherently satisfying
I noticed that my list of goals around 2003 contained many things that I have no interest in. Back then, I thought it wise to up-skill myself and gain knowledge in areas aligned to my work but not entirely key to it. The problem with those goals is that they were extrinsic, which means that they were what I thought other people expected of me. I had no interest in understanding derivatives or reading the financial news. And of course, the goals were not achieved.
The ones that meant a lot to me and that held my interest, were achieved. These were intrinsic goals and I enjoyed pursuing them and achieving them. It’s important that our goals hold meaning for us and that pursuing them is inherently satisfying. That way, we are far more likely to achieve them and they are usually more relevant to our future and our legacy.
Commitment and accountability matter
Many of us are afraid to speak publicly about our goals. The fear of others doubting our ability to achieve them can be a factor and the fact that people may judge us for failing if we don’t achieve them. However, people who make their new year’s resolutions public are ten times more likely to keep them. It is highly beneficial to have an accountability buddy or a coach to hold you accountable to the goals you set. I have a coach who has been instrumental in pushing me towards my goals when I faltered and challenging me to push for things that I thought were out of my reach.
Flexibility is important
Sometimes we set out to deliver something and things change along the way. We need to maintain our long-term goals but be prepared to adjust in terms of sub-goals and the actions we take to get there. The method of achieving one’s lifelong dreams can be considerably varied and we must be prepared to rework our actions and short-term goals as we move closer to the person we desire to be.
Best Possible Future Self
One of the most meaningful goal setting exercises I have ever done, has been the Best Possible Future Self. This comes from research conducted by Laura King who instructed people to write about their goals for four consecutive days for twenty minutes each time. It must be written in the present tense, as if all the goals have already been achieved. The outcome of King’s research was that those who wrote about their goals had improved mood, health and fewer physical ailments, even for several months thereafter.
Since goal setting makes us happier and healthier, I decided to implement this practice. At a time when I was unable to work or achieve any personal goals, I wrote about my desired future and how I imagined my life to look. I included a paragraph on my family and personal life, my beliefs about what matters to me (a la Simon Sinek), and all the professional achievements I dream of, as if they had already occurred. My calendar reminder pops up weekly to read what I wrote so as to maintain my focus on what my goals are.
Implement Sub-Goals and Action Steps
Of course, it’s great to dream, but we need to create a feasible road map to get there. Sub-goals are useful in that they are more tangible and provide us with actionable items to implement. These sub-goals can take a few months or weeks to deliver but they always contribute towards the higher-level goals as expressed in the Best Possible Future Self. This year, completing my second book was a major milestone towards my New York Times Best Seller aspirations. I committed publicly to my audience of beta readers that I would deliver one chapter per month, starting January and I achieved each of these sub-goals.
In November, I stood at my book launch, feeling so successful, surrounded by people who held me accountable and who were there to celebrate my achievement of releasing Harnessing Stress. In 2009, I had no idea that I would write more than an article and in 2015 I could never have imagined releasing my second book already. Recording our goals allows us to commit to ourselves, and preferably others something that matters to us. Recording sub-goals facilitates taking action on the steps that build towards our ultimate aspirations. A written record also allows us to look back and to celebrate the things that were once mere dreams and that have now become a reality.
Kathy Mann is a writer and speaker, based in Johannesburg South Africa. She’s passionate about building a happy life, on purpose using the tools of positive psychology. Kathy guides people towards living their best life possible through what she has learned in becoming very sick from stress. Women often feel so stretched, trying to be everything to everyone. Kathy’s here to remind you that being true to yourself, connecting with your strengths and talents, is the best way to serve the world.