Goal Setting: How to Set Yourself Up For Success
“The more you know who you are and what you want, the less things upset you.” —Bill Murray, Lost In Translation
Life can be rewarding without knowing exactly what you want. In fact, it’s unreasonable and limiting to think we should always know our destination before walking out the door. In many cases, we need to act first and experience many different things before we can discover what we want, create concrete goals, and decide how to achieve them.
As a long-time digital nomad, I learned that one way to discover what you truly want is to be open to the world, trusting and acting upon your instincts, even when a more “rational” choice seems easier and clearer. The subconscious often leads us in the right direction whether we’re paying attention to it or not. If we just sit back and let it guide us, we can end up reaching our full potential more deeply than if we try to exercise top-down control over every part of our life.
But once we start to discover what we truly want, it’s time to create clear goals to get us there. Goal setting means seeing not only the far-off future but also the next month, week, day, and hour. How do we create goals in a way that optimizes action, that gets us moving forward on a daily basis? Here are a few ideas to set your accomplishments into motion.
1. Think positively about the future.
When you hear someone talk about an internal versus external “locus of control,” what they mean is how empowered you feel to decide the way your life will go. Do you believe there are inherent limits to how much you can and can’t achieve, or do you find yourself saying “Forget that!” and going for it anyway? The former attitude reflects an external locus of control; the latter an internal locus of control. We need to cultivate an internal locus of control to think positively about the future, which is essential if we want to achieve our goals.
2. Make goals concrete and actionable.
It’s easy to identify the dreamy end result: the fame, the fortune, the freedom. But how are you going to get there? Which goals will you set for this year, this month, this week, today? Sure, there’s a chance we won’t achieve the goals we set. But there’s a good chance we will. And if we don’t set any goals, we definitely won’t achieve them.
3. Learn to manage indecision.
Any perfectionists in the room? People suffering from decision paralysis? There are many reasons people have a hard time making decisions, but to move forward we need to learn to let go of these fears. One way to do this, which may sound counterintuitive at first, is to practice acting without overthinking. The more frequently you make quick, concrete decisions and see that nothing terrible happened—or, what’s more, that you were rewarded by going with your instinct—the easier it is to make efficient decisions in the future.
4. Internalize goals as part of your identity.
In his book, Atomic Habits, James Clear writes about internalizing habits as part of one’s identity. The reason? We’re more likely to follow through with goals if they’re already in line with our identity rather than representative of some far-off optimal version of ourselves. If your goal is to finish a marathon, try identifying as a marathoner today rather than after you’ve actually raced one.
5. Keep an eye on the evidence.
To track and make sense of our progress, we should be taking an accurate look at what we’ve done and paying close attention to the habits we’ve exercised around it. What did we do, and how much time did it take us? How can we improve? It’s crucial to create clear goals from the beginning, since you won’t know how much you’ve achieved or how well you achieved it if you don’t know where your roadmap leads.
Finally, celebrate the progress you make and don’t fixate on the things you didn’t achieve. Positive mental momentum keeps us moving forward, creating a sense that we’re on the right path, which makes it easier to continue achieving our goals despite challenges that might crop up along the way.