In 1999 I decided to re-prioritize my life. My children were five- and ten-years old, and my career was approaching a peak. I travelled two to three days a week and worked an additional 30 hours a week in my home office. I squeezed work into every crack – joining a conference call while preparing breakfast, responding to email while my children played, and preparing program materials after they went to sleep.
January of that year, I wrote several challenging goals. I taped them on the wall next to my computer so they were in plain sight. What’s more, anyone who came into my home office could see them as well.
In the area of work, I decided to make a bold move – to do 90% of my work within a two-hour drive of my home. There were a lot of potential clients in Boston and New York, but it meant finding new clients and giving up current ones – which took a leap of faith. Still, I felt so strongly about it, it almost wasn’t a choice. My boys were growing up fast, and I didn’t want to lose out on these precious years.
That year, I turned down all work that didn’t fit my new parameters and began seeking new clients. It was a little scary to create that space when there was nothing to fill it, but by the end of the year, I had landed a major long-term contract with a great company in the Boston area.
Another goal I set was to write a book. This had been on my mind for years, but I had never written it as a goal. I felt ambivalent about it. I had written many articles and developed numerous materials, but it was always driven by client needs. I wasn’t clear about why I wanted to write a book, and I didn’t take any specific actions.
The following January, as I reviewed my goals, I was astounded to realize I had achieved every single goal except writing a book. I was so proud I decided to leave my goals on the wall as a reminder.
Although I didn’t include “write a book” in my 2000 or 2001 goals, it was still on the wall embedded in my 1999 goals. Glancing at it occasionally, I had a sense that someday I’d come back to that one.
In late 2001, something amazing happened. I got a call from my friend and colleague Ken Blanchard inviting me to write a book with him on vision (my area of expertise). Now writing a book made sense, and everything about it began to flow smoothly. A year later Full Steam Ahead! Unleash the Power of Vision was published. Writing it was one of the most fun experiences of my life, and it’s been incredibly gratifying to know it has made a difference for so many people. It has sold over a quarter million copies, has been translated into 21 languages, and last year Berrett-Koehler, our publisher, invited us to expand and revise it for a second edition.
My 1999 goals are still taped on the wall. They remind me of what can I can accomplish when I get really clear about my priorities. Here’s what I learned about goals:
- Write your goals down.
The act of writing goals is important. It’s not enough to just keep them in mind.
- Put your goals somewhere visible, where you’ll see them everyday.
Goals that are filed in a drawer are likely to be forgotten. You don’t have to study them each day. If they are somewhere visible, you eyes will glance over them regularly, giving you a gentle subliminal reminder.
- Don’t keep your goals a secret.
Let your goals be visible. If you share them with others, they might point out opportunities you’re not aware of, provide advice on how to proceed and offer support to help you stay committed.
- You have to really want it.
There’s an old joke about how many therapists it takes to change a light bulb. The answer is “Just one. But the light bulb has to really want to change.” The same is true for goals. You have to really want it. Before you set goals, check your motivation. In 1999, I was just interested in writing a book, but didn’t really want it in the way I wanted to spend more time with my children.
- Goals need to be connected to a larger purpose that shows why they are important, and helps answer the question “What’s next” once they are achieved.
Why do you want to accomplish that goal? If it is to please someone else or if it’s because you think it’s something you “should” do, it will be difficult to stay committed and you are likely to not be very satisfied even if you do achieve it.
- Carry your goals over to the next year to create a sense of flow.
When goal setting, keep your previous goals in mind. Don’t just start over anew each year. For goals that have been accomplished, identify the next step. If you didn’t achieve the goal and it’s important, bring it forward. Consider whether it needs to be made more crisp or tweaked in some way.
- Goal setting is not always a logical process.
Usually I recommend writing SMART goals –specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. HOWEVER, sometimes it can make a difference to just hold the intention of something you really want to do, even if you don’t have any idea of how you will achieve it—like my goal of writing a book. If I had written a SMART goal in 1999, I would have given up on it by the end of the year, deciding it wasn’t realistic. But because I kept the goal visible and held the intention, when the opportunity did presented itself, I was able to respond quickly.
I’m encouraged by this post.
In my own life sharing goals (#3) has been awkward. I believe in doing it but it’s still awkward.
Also, I have these fuzzy “I’d like to feelings” Do you have thoughts on when a fuzzy wanting to do something should become a goal?
Thanks for your work.
I should have been more clear. I don’t think you should always share your goals with everyone. Sometimes you may need to protect your goals, especially when people’s own agenda is not what’s in your best interest. I posted my goals next to my computer in my home office, so they were only visible to people who had access to my office.
Also I should mention I had a long conversation with my husband about the implications for our family if our income dropped to ensure I had his support before I set that goal. Thanks for raising that issue and giving me an opportunity to clarify it further.
Your question about when a fuzzy interest becomes a goal reminds me of the story of the chicken and the pig.
I think a fuzzy interest turns into a goal when it becomes a commitment. As I mentioned in point #7, my fuzzy interest needed to noodle around for awhile before I was ready to make a commitment. That’s why I think goals are not always logically cut and dried. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this matter.
Thanks for your reply Jesse, I always enjoy your insights.
Thanks for sharing your own insights and experiences with goal-setting.
I am learning that when our individual goals, however worthy in an of themselves, do not support our larger value system or vision, we need to reassess and re-prioritize. Perhaps, for example, the timing of pursuing one goal conflicts with other goals/priorities in our lives.
From my perspective, the tricky part is setting meaningful goals without rigidly adhering to a specific outcome. That’s the part where faith and commitment come into play. We set our goals according to our vision and values, while still leaving ourselves open to new possibilities.
Beautifully said, Sharon. Thanks for your further illumination.
As you know, I have been complaining about my overcommitments for the past year or so. This post gives me the idea to focus on what I want, to write those things down, and to keep them where I can see them. I’m eager to use this current “time out” to give that a try.
It’s a great way to manage the creep of overcommitment during so-called retirement when work and raising children are no longer the central focus. Hope you consider sharing them with a few close friends.
Great post Jesse. I do echo Dan on having difficulty with #3. It has a lot to do with my ego, as I don’t want people to meddle I guess. What I did do this year, which I have never done before is a vision board! It’s a fun concept my wife taught me which is the creative reminder when the going gets tough not to just pack it in on some of the goals I have set. I am a strong believer in setting goals that are a desire of mine, and not simply a good idea. As you rightly point out, “If it is to please someone else or if it’s because you think it’s something you “should” do, it will be difficult to stay committed and you are likely to not be very satisfied even if you do achieve it.”
I’d love to know more about the vision board. Is is an actual physical board? I like the idea of linking activities directly to your vision instead of extending goals in order to justify adding in extra activities that might not be essential.
Please also see my response to Dan on the issue of #3. It’s a balance. Many of us are too private and cut ourselves off from potential support. But on the other hand, there are also some good reasons to protect our goals at times.
Big fan of “Don’t keep your goals a secret.” I have 2 goal this year
1) Talk to a customer every day
2) Read a book per week
I am telling everyone I know about it – and asking them to ask me about my progress… I even have a place on my white board in my office that says “customers I talked to this week” – and make a little check mark every time I talk to one… I ask people to ask me “what have I learned from a customer this week”
As for the book per week – I ask people to ask me about it also… I have my shiny new kindle that I carry around with me everywhere – which has been fun…
I know it’s still January – but am ahead on both goals – and feeling good…
I’m absolutely delighted that you chose my post as a forum to announce your goals!
“There’s an old joke about how many therapists it takes to change a light bulb. The answer is ‘Just one. But the light bulb has to really want to change.'”
Hilarious! I have never heard that one before. 🙂
I think what you mentioned in that part is very important. The goal needs to be something that you deeply desire. I think I once heard Tony Robbins say something like:
We get our “musts”, but we don’t get our “shoulds.”
I also agree that writing goals down is very important. And I think it’s good to share them with SOME other people. But I would only share them with people who will likely be supportive. Dan mentioned that he has found that sharing goals has been awkward. I definitely think it can get very awkward with people who are less positive than others, not as into personal development, etc.
Congrats on all of those goals being accomplished! This inspires me to think about my 2012 goals and then writing them down, sharing them with others, etc.
Your further illumination of what it means to deeply desire your goals is very helpful. Thank you for sharing that!
I’m so glad I inspired you to write down your 2012 goals. I wrote my 1999 goals in pencil, with a lot of erasing. It wasn’t formatted neatly, and it was a little messy. But as I look at it now, it’s quite beautiful because of what it means.
The lightbulb joke still makes me laugh. Glad to give you a chuckle. 🙂
You’re an inspiration Jesse. Keep up the great work you are doing! I hope those ambitious goals someday look small as your success grows…and I hope I can keep up. 🙂
Thank you, Todd, for your beautiful wishes, which I return to you in full measure.
I really like the connection from theory to practice. That’s how you make goals come alive, from thinking about what you want to actually doing something about it. Congratulations on your successes.
While we aren’t prophets and won’t achieve every goal, it’s amazing what we can accomplish when we deliberately and purposely clarify our desires and intentions with goals. I believe the true value in goal setting is not achieving the goal but who you become as a person in the attempt. Your seven points are good advice and analysis for all of us who want to make bold moves of our own.
Thanks for enriching the conversation, Rick. I love your statement, “I believe the true value in goal setting is not achieving the goal but who you become as a person in the attempt.”
I love your post and often wonder why more people don’t set goals for themselves. Perhaps it’s the fear of failure. The most meaningful goals are often the hardest ones (like changing your customer base) and the chances of not succeeding is high. Your example of taking a few years to publish a book is a great example of setting one of those difficult goals, not achieving it in the first year, but keeping it on your mind as you moved forward.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts on goal setting!
It’s an interesting question, Sean. My guess is a lot of people think they have set goals, but haven’t written them down. Possibly others are concerned about the commitment. For others it might be because their goals aren’t linked to a larger purpose. And for others, as you point out… fear of failure is always a big one. That’s why I wanted to point out that if you have an intuitive sense that something is important to you but you’re not ready to write a specific clear goal yet, don’t just toss it out. Sometimes it takes awhile for the clear purpose to emerge, which is the point I was trying to make in #7 and which you nicely picked up on and illuminated further. Thanks, Sean, for sharing your thoughts and adding to the conversation.
Great article! I think far too often people set a “head” goal without making it a “heart” goal. They don’t link it to the purpose, the why, of what they’re doing. If you don’t have a clear sense of why you’re on a path, it’s far too easy to stray off and take the easy way. Only by understanding your why will you tap into your true motivation.When I teach people about goal setting, I focus on the what and the why, that way they can stay motivated through to the end.
Beautifully said, Sierra. When we operate from only one center, we lose the full force of our power. Thank you for adding this important dimension to the conversation.
ps. Hope you check out the blog post I linked I provided in item #5. I think you’ll appreciate it as it speaks directly to your point.
Hi Jesse — I am curious if you have also seen any research on goal setting? I had seen the Derek Sivers video on TED (Keep Your Goals to Yourself) and am always intrigued by when there are contradictions or nuances in how we share our goals, or how our unconscious plays a role to help (or not!) our goals. I also really enjoyed Dan & Chip Heath’s book (Switch) and it illuminated so much about that head/heart interplay of why we make some goals (like exercising) and yet can’t seem to make the switch. Would be curious to anything you can share that you have seen in the research as well? Thanks — Sally
Hi Sally, Much has been written on the subject of goals: choosing the right goals, staying committed, how to write them, etc. Usually what seems contradictory is situational because there isn’t a cookbook for life (as much as I wish there were one). Even research is about “most” not “all.” We each have to find our own way, but hopefully opinions and lessons of others can help inform us. Personally I think some of the most interesting current research that affects goals is on motivation. Here’s a link to Susan Fowler discussing this research. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ThJRxTsQX2g And of course, you can never go wrong by reading anything by Brian Tracey. My own personal observation is that goals that are connected to a larger vision are much more powerful and effective, as I discuss in my post about the Apollo Moon Project https://seapointcenter.com/taking-your-team-to-the-moon/
Thanks, Sally, for taking the time to raise this issue. I’d love to hear your thoughts on these discrepancies you’ve observed.
Hmmmm…I’ve waited a while to think about this post, because, although I am ashamed to admit it….I don’t think I have any goals right now. At least there are none that have crystalized for me. I am a goal-setter, always have been, and have achieved almost all that I have set….
What I am trying to do is feel comfortable being in the moment of my life, my career, my health…I know all too well that none of those important ‘issues’ are unchanging. Tomorrow I may lose my job, my health or even my life. I am unsure of my role in my current job, but at the moment I am enjoying it. So…is it a problem to feel goal-less in my life and career? Am I being less productive than I could be? How is being goal-less affecting my work with kids with autism and the school department I am in?
You know I have always functioned as a change agent. Well, what to do with that now?
Well, your musings inspired me to write an entire blog post as a response. Goal-setting for Goallessness https://seapointcenter.com/six-goal-genres/ It was probably more than you needed or wanted, but you raised such a delicious subject I couldn’t help but dig into it. Thanks, Susan, for inspiration.
Thanks for sharing 7 pearls of wisdom on Goal Setting.I agree we must share our goals with our well-wishers and the ones who have a stake in our success in achieving them.Secondly If we have a strong emotional reason for setting and striving for, each goal,probability of success increases many folds.I have experienced it personally.If you look at each of the goals you achieved and the one (‘write a Book’)you didn’t, perhaps you’ll see this.
Absolutely. A strong emotional stake is necessary in order for us to persevere during difficult times. Connecting with a purpose we care deeply about creates the emotional stake. Thank you for emphasizing that important point, Harsh.