I feel a little bit odd writing this article. It’s not revolutionary by any means, but enough people set absolutely useless goals it had to be written.
In my experience with people who set goals (for examples, New Year’s Resolutions) I’ve noticed a glaring problem. If you think about it for a minute it’s quite easy to spot. But maybe you’re the type of person who can see flaws in other people’s thoughts/ideas quicker than your own. I get it. So let me spell it out for you.
That glaring goal setting problem is specificity.
If you’re setting non-specific goals you have no way to judge a success or failure. It’s the ultimate goal setting cop out. “Ahh, I’ll set a goal that’s impossible to gauge! I will never fail because there’s no way I can tell if I’ve failed!”
That’s no good for you. You’re better off not setting goals than setting non-specific unquantifiable goals.
A few examples of very typical non-specific goals:
- I’m going to learn Spanish.
- I’m going to lose a lot of weight!
- I’m going to study harder.
- I’m going to learn computer programming.
- I’m going to learn to play guitar.
You should now see how useless these goals are.
Let’s take those same goals and make them success/fail quantifiable specific goals:
- I’m going to learn how to order food at a restaurant in Spanish.
- I’m going to lose 10 pounds.
- I’m going to study X (something you don’t understand) for 30 minutes today.
- I’m going to learn how to build a PHP form that takes a user’s information and inserts it into a MySQL database.
- I’m going to learn how to play Smells Like Teen Spirit on guitar.
These are all success or fail goals.
- You can either order in Spanish or you can’t.
- You either lost 10 pounds or you didn’t.
- You either studied for 30 minutes or you didn’t.
- You either built a PHP form and MySQL connection or you didn’t.
- You either learned the song that killed hair metal or you didn’t.
It’s scary setting a goal that has a definite conclusion.
“What if I fail?! I’ll feel so bad.”
Maybe, but we judge our future feelings much more poorly than we think. Daniel Gilbert’s book Stumbling On Happiness speaks to this at length and it’s worth a read if you want to delve deeper into this type of thing. And on the flip side, how will you feel if you succeed? Probably not quite as amazing as you think you will (sorry!), but you’ll feel good.
An interesting snow-ball effect happens with goals as well. Once you get into the habit or reaching goals it gets easier to reach your goals. Even when you’re setting seemingly impossible goals you’ll be able to see them from a, “you know, it won’t be easy, but I can figure this one out” angle.
On the flip side, you’re not going to reach all your goals, but by being in the habit of setting and achieving goals a few failures aren’t going to sink you into a pit of despair.
How to make every one of your goals better: time constraints.
One hour, one day, one week, one month. Set a time frame for your goal. I think shorter is better so break your big goal into smaller chunks. As mentioned in One Thing Self-Improvement I prefer one goal per day.
Like I stated, this wasn’t revolutionary, but it was necessary none-the-less. If you’ve already set a useless goal (maybe as a New Year’s Resolution) it’s not too late to make it specific.
Leo Babauta (the guy who kickstarted my blogging career a few years ago) launched a fun program called Sea Change that might help you with this whole goals thing. This month is Unprocrastination month and I think that’ll be especially beneficial. (I don’t get paid to mention this. Yes, I’m a member.)