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Ready, Set, Goal: Pursuing Your Future With Goal-Setting

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Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Ideas drive actions. That’s the principle behind goal-setting. When we mindfully select a goal (or several) and write it down, it becomes our focal point and destination.

​Setting life goals is the best way to live meaningfully. Let’s look into goal-setting and learn how to turn dreams into reality.

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What Is a Goal?

Goals are what we want to achieve above and beyond basic survival. In Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, most desires fall in the top three tiers: Belongingness and Love, Esteem Needs, and Self-Actualization.

​Goals aren’t daily chores or short-term objectives. Rather, they are personal and unique long-term ambitions.

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Why Goals Make Life Better

Goal-setting makes you an active participant in your own life. It makes for more exciting, purposeful living.

Behind the sayings “the thrill of the hunt” and “the pursuit of happiness” lie psychological truths. It turns out our brains release dopamine, a feel-good hormone, during pursuits. We don’t even need to reach that something to get a hit of happiness, either. All we need is active participation in trying.

​In addition to happiness, other benefits of pursuing goals include:

  • Sense of control
  • ​Clarity
  • ​Purpose
  • Meaningful behavior modifications
  • Mindful living vs. numb existence
  • Exercise strengths, discover new ones, and develop weak and strong areas
  • Boosted confidence from achievements
  • Increased satisfaction
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Don’t Set Goldilocks Goals

What kinds of goals should you set? They can’t be too easy, or you won’t feel challenged enough and will quit more readily. They also can’t be too difficult, or you’ll get overwhelmed and give up. Only you can determine what goals stretch you just enough.

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Goal-Setting Guide

In addition to finding a sweet spot for challenging goals, other guidelines for setting goals include:

  • Specificity: Set a detailed goal. The more specific you can be, the better steering you’ll gain toward your destination and the better you can track your progress.

    For example, “getting healthier in the New Year” isn't specific enough. Dig deeper–what does “healthier” look like? Exercising five days a week? Eating one cup of vegetables at every meal? Losing two pounds a week? Do your research to determine what’s realistic and achievable.

  • Meaning: Determine how much your goal(s) mean to you. Are they realistic? Did you understand all it involved? Does it align with your values? Do you need to tweak yours based on anything you learned during research and trials?

  • Feedback: You must be able to measure your progress. Comparing where you are to where you were will motivate you to keep going.

  • Flexibility: Allow wiggle room for life to happen and for new events and information to redirect your path or endpoint.



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Strong Reasons

Sometimes, pursuing goals is difficult–many days of an uphill climb. Your goals must align with your values and have strong enough reasoning behind them to keep you going.

Goals fall into two categories: intrinsic and extrinsic.

Intrinsic goals go back to the top three tiers of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. These are typically deep desires of human nature. Some examples are personal growth, emotional relationships, and community service. Because they speak to innate human needs, goals of this type make the strongest motivators.

​Extrinsic goals are desires stemming from our environment, like our cultures. Examples include social status, wealth, and physical appearance. These are weaker motivators, but together, intrinsic and extrinsic goals create strong motivators at different points.

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A Three-Step Process

Now that you know the benefits and guidelines for setting goals, consider using the following three-step process to establish yours.

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1. Design

Start by setting intentions (such as “getting healthy”). Do not determine outcomes (such as “losing 50 lbs this year”).

Using intrinsic and extrinsic reasons, write clear details for your goals. Make sure they are measurable (ex. Waking up at 5:30 am and working out for an hour before work.).

Goals motivate best when stated in the affirmative instead of negative. For example, you want to “eat a cup of vegetables at every meal” and not “avoid heart disease.” Work towards something and not away.

​Reduce your life-long intentions into sub-goals. Take that “getting healthy” intention and break it down into how you want that to look in five years, one year, six months, and finally one month.

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2. Generate Paths

Time to brainstorm. As with any brainstorming activity, there are no bad ideas. Think of as many different ways as possible to achieve your goals. After, consider the time, energy, and resources for each way. Whittle down to the path that best utilizes your energy.

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3. Prepare for Obstacles

Consider the many stumbling blocks you could encounter, understanding you’ll likely experience some you never could have planned for. This brain exercise helps you mentally and physically prepare for setbacks. This brain exercise helps you mentally and physically prepare for setbacks.

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Creating Healthy Goals

Healthy goals are realistic, positive, and approach-based (moving towards something instead of away). They have room for flexibility and inevitable setbacks. They involve others and reduce nicely to sub-goals. Recognize and celebrate small accomplishments on your journey.

So how should a person with no goals or too many establish a few healthy ones for themselves? Self-reflection is the first step towards discovering your meaningful ambitions. Consider your passions and values. Think of your ideal future. Then, determine what factors you can control to get you there.

Actively plan your goals by writing them down. Writing them improves your chances of accomplishing them by a significant percentage.

Use subcategories to help you think and plan. For instance, you can meditate on how you want your future to look in the areas of:

  • Family
  • ​Career
  • ​Education
  • Finances
  • Physical and mental health
  • Community service
  • Attitude

Prioritize your list to the one attribute in each category you want to focus on. Alternatively, skip the subcategories and concentrate on the one or two goals you crave most, such as reading more books about entrepreneurship. Remember to break all goals into five-year, one-year, six-month, and one-month increments.

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New Behaviors, New Achievements

Goal-setting puts you in control of your future. It also gives you something to look forward to and boosts your confidence as you achieve milestones and improve your abilities.

​Sometimes, the vigilant mentality you need to strive for your goals consistently gives way before your physical strength does. Entrench yourself with a success mindset by reading, watching, and listening to motivational materials. Our online book club about success helps keep your focus sharp and your mindset positive so you can go the distance with your accomplishments.

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