The Importance of Setting Goals

by Bruce Wares

Recently, there was a young man who graduated from college and decided to seek employment. He hoped to find a job somewhere away from his home town. He walked into the local bus station, approached the ticket counter and asked the clerk for a bus ticket. What do you suppose the ticket clerk asked the young man? He said, “Where do you want to go?” The young man said, “I don’t know. Just give me a ticket to somewhere.” He didn’t get a ticket! The moral of the story is that if you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there. Jim Cathcart, a noted professional speaker, once said, “Most people aim at nothing in life and hit it with amazing accuracy.” If we don’t specify exactly what we want, we have no reason to complain about what we get or where we find ourselves.

In her article “Success and the Goal Setter,” Bettie B. Youngs tells us, “Goals represent expectations, hopes and dreams, and to the extent our goals are achieved, we are successful.” The following ideas will help you define and establish realistic goals in your life. By setting and achieving worthwhile goals, you can give your life greater meaning and purpose. You will also find your work and personal life more exciting and fulfilling.

Goal Setting Guidelines

1.Your goal must be conceivable. You must be able to imagine, conceptualize and understand the goal or desired result. Top athletes practice visualizing step-by-step actual success in their sports competition. By visualizing your success in great detail, you are conditioning your mind and preparing yourself to achieve your desired success.

2.Make your goal believable. Your goal should be consistent with your personal values system, and you must believe you can reach the goal. It is critically important that you believe in yourself. You must see yourself with the goal in hand.

3.Your goal must be achievable. You must have the mental and physical capacity to reach the goal. It would, however, be important for your goal to cause you to stretch beyond normal self-imposed limits. You will find a goal that causes you to stretch and grow will be the goal that gives you the most satisfaction. Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself to go beyond old limits!

4.Make your goal measurable. Deciding to do better than last year or to be happy gives you no standard by which you can measure progress. Be sure to relate your goal to quantity, percentage increases, dollar volume, time or distance. This will allow you to measure your progress.

5.Your goal should be controllable. This means you must be able to achieve the goal yourself, or gain the willing cooperation of others to reach the goal. This emphasizes the importance of building team spirit. If you can have no control over the outcome of an event, it’s not realistic to set a goal in this area. It would be like gambling in Las Vegas. Without a proven system that beats the odds, lack of control will lead to frustration – and cost you a lot of money!

6.Be sure you have singleness of purpose. Make sure your goal is not in conflict with other areas of your life. For instance, if you decide to travel extensively in your business or work 80 to 90 hours per week, this will interfere with your personal or family relationships. The travel and long hours could lead to poor health or family discord. Some goals become mutually exclusive and create conflict with other goals.

To be a competitive tri-athlete you must train for four to six or more hours daily. That leaves little time from career and family. You must then decide what is most important. Be sure to set priorities so you can focus on what is truly important; not just urgent. Too often we spend our time putting out brush fires. We handle daily crises instead of dealing with top-priority activities, which will contribute to reaching the goal.

1.Your goal must be truly desirable. A goal that you really want, one that will be emotionally satisfying, will make you strive harder to achieve that goal. You will also feel better about yourself and the goal will be worth your time and effort. The emotional power of really wanting a new car, beautiful home or job promotion, will cause you to work harder to reach the goal.

2.Make your goal growth facilitating. Your goal should provide you with a real challenge. This will help you feel better about yourself when you actually reach your goal. Be sure your goal is beneficial, not destructive to yourself or others.

When you set a goal, does it satisfy all of the above guidelines? If it does, you will be more likely to achieve success and will be more satisfied with your accomplishments! How does your goal help you personally? Most people find that a goal generates enthusiasm, gives meaning and purpose, and provides direction. I believe that a goal accomplishes all of these objectives plus gives focus to your thoughts.

Personally Paying The Price

Why should you write down your goal? A written goal represents a real commitment. Without a commitment, a goal is only a dream. A dream is something we would like to have happen, but are unwilling to pay the price to make it happen. Any worthwhile goal has its price! That price may be confronting a personal fear or investing a certain amount of time and effort. Whatever the goal is, if it’s worthwhile, you can bet there will be a price for achieving it.

One way to motivate yourself to pay the price is to create a reward for reaching your goal. That reward can be a vacation or time off work, a nice dinner, a bottle of wine or time spent with friends. If you select a reward, you can focus on the reward rather than fear of failure in striving for the goal. If reaching the goal requires performing some tedious or boring tasks, having a reward in mind will give you something positive to focus on. Think about the fun just around the bend.

Fear Versus Reward Motivation

A few years ago I attended a National Speakers Association annual convention in San Francisco. In addition to the many career-related activities, they offered a 10-kilometer run for NSA members. It was part of a total fitness program of aerobics, jogging and calisthenics available to us. I signed up for the competitive run, which went through the streets of San Francisco early on a Sunday morning. Since I’d been both running and bicycling, I considered myself to be in excellent physical shape. I really want to win at anything I do, and I’m quite a determined competitor.

As the start of the race approached, I began to scope out the competition. As each runner entered the starting area, I’d say to myself: “He’s too heavy; he can’t be very fast,” or “She looks like the woman who beat me in the Milwaukee race.” As I compared myself to others, I made judgments about who would be the toughest competition during the race. I forgot that my former manager in Oakland, California had said I should never compare myself to others. He said that I would always end up with an inflated ego or be very discouraged!

The starting time quickly approached. I didn’t know my way around the city. I’d have to follow other people or be guided by the race committee. Because this was the first event conducted by the race committee, there would probably be a few glitches. I scanned the crowd once again for the fastest looking runner. My eyes fixed on the most obvious leader. He was a young, broad-shouldered, muscular man. Dressed in running clothes that gave him an experienced look, he also wore a gray plastic inflatable helmet with huge horns. He looked like Mercury, the fleet-footed runner.

We crowded to the starting line. I felt my heart pound. My nerves were keen; my muscles twitched. The starter’s gun went off, and 50 runners bolted down the street, leaving the hotel behind. Just as I had imagined, Mercury Man sprinted to the front of the pack. He was setting a blistering pace – for me, at least! I decided to fall in behind him and let him set the pace for the event. Five or six of us started to pull away from the rest of the runners.

It was clear that I was with the die-hard runners. I thought about my motivations. Why was I in this race? Could I win? What would it mean to me if I did? The answers came back quickly. This race was no different for me than most events in my life. I really like to win; I really hate to lose! I was going to tough it out, however tough the competition became. No matter what the cost. My pride was at stake.

Middle-age or not, I would compete like a true athlete. I would give my absolute best. I refused to quit despite the pain and shortness of breath. I said affirmations over and over to block out thoughts of failure.

Fear And Failure

Some game plan. I didn’t know the race route. I hadn’t run for several weeks. I was following a guy wearing inflatable horns. My heart was pounding so hard, I thought it would come right out of my chest. My legs and lungs were burning. I was pushing myself harder than I could remember. By now, Mercury Man had reached the halfway point, and he was headed back to the finish line. Someone was calling out times as we passed the 5 kilometer (3.1 mile) mark. I heard him call “19.10,” as I passed. That was about a minute and one-half faster than I had ever run the same distance! No wonder I felt so tired and sore.

The fatigue began to take its toll. I began to think about the other runners. I was in second place. Could I catch Mercury Man? Could I possibly hold my lead over the other runners? I became paranoid. Footsteps. Footsteps. I kept hearing footsteps. They sounded closer and closer. I just knew the other runners were gaining on me.

Instead of focusing on the lead runner (about 100 yards ahead of me), I worried about the runners behind me. I wanted to stay out in front, but I had already taken myself beyond my limits of endurance. My legs were burning incessantly now. My lungs begged me to slow down, but no, I had to keep pushing on.

The fear of being caught became an obsession. I couldn’t put the other runners out of my mind. I wanted to turn around to look at them, but I was afraid of losing my footing and falling on the uneven Embarcadero. Could I hold this pace and perhaps even challenge Mercury Man? Was he tiring, too? Would I be able to catch him? What about the others? Would they work as a group to catch me, then leave me behind as a fallen foe?

Footsteps. Footsteps. They sounded closer. I finally forced myself to change my pace enough to glance backwards over my shoulder. I was at least 100 yards ahead of the pursuit group. Could I hold this pace?

As I turned to face forward again, Mercury Man had disappeared! He had made a turn following the unmarked route. I ran straight ahead, fearful that he had simply sprinted beyond my sight.

I continued to run, by now numb to the pain. I was determined to finish this race at the best pace of my life. But, after about five more minutes, I knew that I was lost! I spent the next 30 minutes trying to find my way back to the hotel. My own course took me to areas of San Francisco that are not on the tour maps. Now I was afraid of being mugged, or worse.

I was either too stubborn or too afraid to ask local residents for help. When I finally did build up the courage to ask, I was sent in two different directions. Now I was tired, angry, frustrated, embarrassed and lost!

About an hour after the start of the race, I found the hotel. My aching legs carried me up the red-carpeted stairs. I re-joined the group of runners as they gulped down refreshments. Several people asked me what had happened. They said, “Bruce, you were so far ahead of us, we thought we’d never catch you! What happened?” In total embarrassment, I admitted that I’d become lost. I told a few people that 10 kilometers wasn’t enough challenge, so I thought I’d run a few extra.

That event provided a great learning experience: I had let fear destroy my singleness of purpose. I had taken my eyes off the goal and worried about other people behind me. Have you ever done the same? Have you worried so much about your performance that you performed poorly? Have you let fear prevent you from trying a new job, a difficult sale or some new experience? I really wanted to win that race but not enough to learn the race course and commit it to memory. I wanted to win, but my fear of losing held me back.

How do these goal-setting guidelines relate to your goal and your performance? What does success mean to you? To some people, success means a great deal of money or financial independence. To others, it means recognition for a job well done. To others still, success may mean freedom from worry or strife. What does success mean to you?

Bettie B. Youngs offers additional suggestions when selecting and striving towards personal and corporate goals:

1.Select a goal for the right reason. Choose a goal that makes you happy, not because it makes your boss or your spouse happy. Be sure that reaching your goal will help satisfy your needs.

2.Keep a copy of your goal plan in sight and refer to it often. This will help you concentrate on results, rather than on activities. It will also provide a constant reminder and help motivate you to the goal.

3.While approaching the completion of a major goal, begin formulating another important goal. Goals are like foundation-building blocks. Each goal provides the strength and direction necessary to help you attain the next highest goal. Every time you attain a goal you gain personal pride and self esteem. This increased confidence and more positive attitude will enable you to more eagerly approach your next challenge or opportunity.

How do you see unexpected road blocks on the path to each of your goals? Do you perceive each road block as a problem? Do you see it as an opportunity to test your skills and to learn? My running experience taught me I must learn from each setback. It’s usually easier to quit than it is to go on. By forcing yourself to persist until you reach your goal, you build greater character.

By building your character and adding in persistence, tenacity and determination, you can reach any worthwhile goal. Go for it!