There's an old saying: "Most people aim at nothing in life... and hit it with amazing accuracy." It's a sad commentary about people, but it's true. It is the striving for and the attainment of goals that makes life meaningful.
People who have no goals feel emotionally, socially, spiritually, physically, and professionally unbalanced. This can only cause anxiety. People who have goals are respected by their peers; they are taken seriously. Making decisions that affect the direction of your life positively is a sign of strength. Goals create drive and positively affect your personality.
Time magazine reported on a national survey several years ago that only 3 percent of those surveyed had written personal goals; 97 percent of the people had no goals at all or had only thought about them. They had not committed their goals to writing. Interestingly, the 3 percent who had written goals were found to have accomplished much more than any of the 97 percent.
Achievements come from awareness, which starts with evaluating your strengths and weaknesses in the light of your current situation. You then expand your beliefs (assumptions) to accept more goals for yourself. This leads you to set plans and expand your actions to eventually achieve your goals. The model for this process is:
AWARENESS > BELIEFS > GOALS > PLANS > ACTIONS > ACHIEVEMENTS
One step leads to another. After an achievement, you reevaluate yourself and find that each new feather in your cap makes you feel capable of accomplishing more and more. Your beliefs (assumptions) then expand, making more goals possible. The effect gains momentum and grows like a snowball rolling downhill. In this way, greatness is achieved through small stepping stones.
Most people, when asked, "What are your goals in life?" say something like, "To be happy, healthy, and have plenty of money." On the surface this may seem fine. As goals leading to actions, however, they just don't make it. They don't have the key ingredients necessary to make them effective, workable goals.
Your goal must be personal. This means your goals must be uttered with sincerity. It must be something you want to do rather than something you think you should do. Know your reasons for having the goal - whether you want to achieve something for status, money, or good health is secondary as long as you want it badly enough to work hard for it.
Your goal must be positive. Try not to think of green elephants! You can't do it. It's an automatic response to think of the thing you're told not to think about. This is because the mind cannot not think of something when told to. We tend to focus on ideas and actions from a positive framework. When you think a negative thought such as, " I will not smoke today," your mind perceives it as "I will smoke today." You end up thinking more about smoking than if you phrased it differently. "I will breathe only clean air today" is a statement that serves the same purpose and is more effective.
Your goal must be written. Writing a goal down causes effects that are a bit difficult to explain. It does, nonetheless, prove effective. Written goals take a jump in status from being nebulous thoughts (which you didn't care enough about) to bona fide entities on paper. Perhaps their being written serves as a visual reminder and thus continually reconfirms their importance. Another possibility is that they can be seen in the statement from the movie, "The Ten Commandments": "So let it be written, so let it be done." When things are "put in writing" they become official in our minds. A written goal strengthens our commitment to accomplish it.
Your goal must be specific. If you set your goal by saying "I will increase my sales next year," chances are you won't do it. You need to be specific to avoid the lack of commitment that comes with being vague. A more workable and motivating goal would be, "I will increase my sales next year by 10 to 15 percent. This revised statement has several advantages. It defines the increase that you are striving for as well as the range of the desired increase. Giving yourself some leeway is more realistic than expecting to hit your goal at exactly 15 percent.
A goal must motivate you to work harder than you have in the past. It must move you forward. Set your goals just beyond your reach so that you'll have to stretch a bit. The more you stretch, the more limber your goal achieving abilities will become.
Everything is relative to time and space. What is unrealistic today may be totally within reason five years from now. For years it was believed that the fastest a man could run a mile was in four minutes. It was unrealistic to aspire to running any faster until Dr. Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile in 1954. Since then hundreds of runners have done the same. In any field, we never really know what the upper limits are. How, then, do we define realistic?
For our purposes, the best definition must come from you and your values. You must ask yourself, "What price am I willing to pay to accomplish this goal?" You should always weigh the payoffs and the sacrifices involved before coming to a conclusion. Realistic is ultimately your decision.
Now that you know the rules for setting goals, you can apply them to the goals you set for yourself.
Dr. Tony Alessandra is a behavioral and communication expert, and author of 17 books including The Platinum Rule, Collaborative Selling and The Art of Managing People. Today he is a leading business motivational speaker on communication, customer loyalty, and sales.
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