What people don’t tell you about setting goals?
What is the goal?
It’s something you want to accomplish.
Without a goal, you’d like a ship drifting along the sea. No destination to look forward to. You don’t know where you’re gonna go. You don’t know if you’re going in the right direction.
Setting a goal is like finding a source of light in a dark tunnel.
You have something to look forward to.
When you are lost, you can look for the light, and get back on track.
But you’ll still stumble in the dark a lot. Because the light might flicker when the wind blows.
And even with the light, your path isn’t a linear one. There will be full of distractions, obstacles, rocks to climb, traps to watch out for.
While facing dangers in the cave, your journey may change. Perhaps you discover a faster way to reach the light. Perhaps you decide to hang around in the cave for a while before getting out. Perhaps you see another light source.
This is the same as goal setting. Your goal will change. Because you change. And your journey changes.
You create your goals based on your current values and beliefs. But as you grow and experience different things, these values and beliefs will change. And thus your goal will change.
Here’s a better definition of goal-setting:
It’s not something you know for sure. It’s something that can change as you change.
So you don’t need to have a fixed goal. You can update your goal to match the circumstances. Or if it no longer aligns with your values, scrap it off and make a new one. Don’t beat yourself up. Don’t feel guilty about it.
To give you an example,
I once set a goal of starting a newsletter about mindful eating. I spent a couple of days mapping out a content plan, drafting a lot of ideas to write about. I wrote a few issues. But then I realized it’s not something I know a lot about or what I enjoy writing forever.
I find the concept of mindful eating inspiring, but I can’t continuously provide value for other people on this topic. And yet, all this time I’ve been so eager to start a newsletter, to find an angle, to build connections in this niche.
While writing the newsletter, I discovered something I’m more drawn towards sharing my self-development journey. Health, happiness, mindfulness, writing. Something I can write forever without running out of ideas.
So I changed the target of my newsletter, to share inspiring content on these topics. Personal learning, resources I read during the week, people with great messages I found on Twitter.
All this is to say:
Setting a clear goal is a blurry concept.
I can bet you anything that anyone who claims to have a clear goal changes it once or twice as they realize it.
What doesn’t change, perhaps, is their vision. Who they want to be? What change do they want to make? The one purpose that drives them. Their calling. What the muses breathe into their ears that only they can do, not someone else.
Vision is different from a goal.
That’s why companies change their goals annually and stick to a vision for a long, long time.
Take Coca-cola for example.
During the 2020 year, they have goals of:
- Reduce CO2 by 25%
- Work with WWF to source sustainable ingredients for their products.
- Replenish all the water used in their industrial process…
But only one vision for many years: “Refresh the world. Make a difference”.
So don’t mix these two concepts in one.
A vision: something you don’t change often.
A goal: something you can update as you grow.
Don’t set too many goals. Don’t change your goal too often if you don’t have a good reason for it.
Okay, that’s a hell lot about goal definition, how about some actionable tips?
Bear with me, I’ll walk you through it now.
How to set a goal you’ll commit to?
1. Back it up with a purpose
Your purpose is your vision.
Again, the definition of a vision:
At the very basic, it means knowing why you do something.
Say you want to be a writer. Don’t just make peace with a plain purpose “I enjoy doing this”, “I want to make a lot of money”, or “I want to give value”.
Everyone can say that.
Dive deeper. What topic? Which group of people do you write for? What message do you want to spread? How does it help them? What is your drive?
Check out The Writer’s Manifesto by Jeff Goins:
The Writer's Manifesto: Stop Writing to Be Read & Adored
Today, I'm excited to announce the launch of my first ebook. After weeks of writing, editing, and formatting, I'm…
Why is having a purpose important?
Because it will sustain you through tough times. I don’t want to discourage you from setting goals. But it’s only the first step. The rest of the journey is long and winding. With many slippy rocks and hidden traps. You will despair. You will want to quit.
In such times, if you can sit down under the moonlight, open your life’s manifesto, you’ll feel empowered again. You’ll keep walking.
2. Be less efficient about setting goals
Another aspect of setting a goal you’ll commit is to not be too efficient about it.
Don’t feel too eager to do everything.
I know it. There are moments you feel like you can win the world. You’ll want to start a blog, build an audience on Twitter, be on many platforms, and win the game.
That feeling is good. It’s the fire you need to get started.
But beware. Because as I have mentioned the journey is your goal is full of challenges and obstacles.
When you set a goal, you might feel enthusiastic about it. You feel like nothing can stop you. But the wind will blow, the obstacles are inevitable. You’ll face failures. You’ll get hit by the cold. You’ll be bored. Doing one thing every day. You will face resistance.
So why you shouldn’t set too many goals?
- The enthusiasm feeling doesn’t last.
- You’ll spread yourself too thin. You will feel burnt out.
- You’ll quit.
What’s the solution?
Get back to the first step: Set a clear purpose. Then make one goal that aligns with your purpose.
A couple more tips:
- Expose yourself to less information. Give yourself enough time to test the idea out.
- Stop jumping between different projects.
- Be persistent. Most people quit too soon.
- Set a goal related to what you enjoy doing.
- Keep out the distractions.
How to know if you overcommit yourself or not?
Josh Spector has the answer in his post:
(Note: if you want to learn more about producing, promoting, and profiting from your creations, Josh’s For The Interested newsletter will give you the best tips every week)
3. Create a strategy to achieve your goal
Here’s where things get fuzzy. Different people have different ways to achieve their goals.
Some don’t have a strategy at all. They just go with the flow. Every day, they wake up, find something that aligns with their value, and do it. They focus on the experience of doing rather than getting things.
Others have a whole roadmap to reaching their goal. They know what they have at certain points. For example, 100 subscribers, 1000 followers, paying clients, etc.
I hover somewhere in the middle. I don’t like floating in free space. But I don’t want to focus too much on the numbers at the moment either. Because (1) I’m at the very beginning stage and (2) I don’t think it’s something I can decide. For now, I just want to provide value through my passion project. Test out a lot of ideas to see what works. I want to keep learning new things every day, document my journey, and share about it.
I guess it’s how things should be in the beginning. You don’t try so hard to make it work. You don’t need to place a lot of pressure on yourself. You just work on what you love. Put out valuable content consistently. If that helps someone, you’ll build your audience. Then you can learn from your audience, update your knowledge, and then create something.
If you just begin something (a blog, a newsletter, etc), can I share with you my personal story? Maybe you’ll find something helpful to set and achieve your goals:
A case study — What I do currently
My purpose: Become better at writing and make a living out of it so that I can write all my life.
My goal: Build an audience and create a product for that audience.
I write Mind Your Bite weekly newsletter which helps people to live a healthier, happier, and more mindful life. Each issue contains 4 articles I read each week, 2–3 inspiring tweets I found on Twitter, and 1 tip on the creation process.
The best part of writing a newsletter is you not only learn to write but also how to build an audience, how to promote it, how to connect with others, what to create, how to create effective content, etc. All of these I suck but I want to learn more. And I know if I persist, I’ll attract like-minded people. I’ll know the right question to ask and perhaps I can craft up an answer to that.
What I do:
- Tweet valuable content on Twitter daily: Write 2–3 original Tweets, reply to other accounts, save Tweet threads for further examination.
- Write a blog post every week: I don’t have a content plan at the moment. I just write what I’ve learned in the past few weeks. But the topics revolve around self-improvement: mindfulness, productivity, time management, etc. Right now I’m exploring time management and productivity, and gonna talk about it in a future post.
- Write a newsletter weekly: Summarize articles that I read each week 4–5. Discover 1–2 newsletter in my niche and with great content. I write my newsletter on Friday or Saturday. I often tweet about what I read, so basically, I just rewrite my tweets. Or sometimes I free write with the main content of the article in mind.
Other work I have to do:
- Read articles (Find articles I want to read in the newsletter I sign up and save to Pocket to read when I have time).
- Promote my newsletter and content.
- Connect with other newsletter creators in my niche.
- Document what I learn.
(The last three I still struggle a lot. Because I couldn’t find time to do all that with a heavy workload at school. Still testing out some ideas to find a minimalist way to make this work. I’ll update you on the result in a later post.)
A bonus tip
That’s all I can share with you about goal-setting for now. But if you can give one more bit of helpful advice, it will be this:
Consume less. Do more.
- Don’t read things you don’t care about. Read less news, books on different topics. Even what you enjoy reading, limit the sources you consume. Read what you care about.
- Create something based on that consumption or apply the ideas and test it out to reach your goals.
- Sign up for fewer newsletters. Read articles or watch podcasts they recommend. But be picky about what you consume. Don’t save to read more than 1–2 posts from each newsletter.
- Challenge you to pick one idea and test it out right away. Take advantage of your beginning exposure to the idea, when you are super energized to test it out, give it all out.
- Brainstorm a bulk of ideas. Write a bulk of tweets. Come up with a bulk of headlines for future blogs. Consistency matters. But sometimes intensity beats consistency. You may work every day, but not every time you make a breakthrough. When you can’t think of everything else but work, when you can give the work 100% of your energy, the magic happens.
The story by Steven Pressfield in The War of Art is a great demonstration of this:
“I was determined to keep working. I had failed so many times, […]. The closer I got, the more different ways I’d find to screw it up. I worked for twenty-six straight, taking only two out for a stint of migrant labor in Washinton State, and finally one day I got to the last page ad typed out:
P.S. If you like what you read here, you may also like articles I curate in Mind Your Bite newsletter about mindfulness, healthy living, productivity, and other self-improvement topics.
This is what I sent to my subscribers last week. You can check it out here: