There is an old oriental proverb that says, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you won’t know when you get there.” How can you get a sense of purpose or meaning in life unless you have dreams or visions of what you want to achieve?
Goals are dreams with deadlines, which propel us on our journey of self-discovery and self-fulfillment. Goal setting is the most important tool you have or can develop. Having a focus in life, a deadline, if you will, is the one quality that is consistently found in people who are high achievers in life. Yet, according to a recent survey, only 4% of the population actively set goals by writing them down. What is even more astonishing is that the 4% who write them down achieve them almost 100% of the time.
If goal setting is so powerful and successful, why do so few people engage in actively creating their own destiny? There are two reasons. Number one, aside from wishful thinking about having certain things in life, few people are clear about their priorities, or what they want most out of life. The second reason is that most people have never been taught any techniques or steps on how to set and achieve goals. Nor have they been taught the importance of establishing goals.
Of course, many people mistake wishful thinking, or daydreaming, for creating a focus, or goal, in one’s life. To be sure that you understand the differences between these two states of mind, right now, simply select a goal you are currently working on, and then daydream or fantasize about it. Go on to embellish your daydream with hoping and wishing thoughts that everything will turn out the way you would like it to. You can take a minute or two to do this.
Then, take the same goal, feel, and taste the intensity of your desire for achieving that goal, almost as if the passion and excitement of anticipation were making every cell in your body tingle. Run a mental movie of your goal having been achieved, creating a state of expectation and that you have absolutely no doubt that you will achieve your dream. Act as if you have that goal and the feelings of excitement and joy that accompany its attainment. You can take a minute or two to do this.
Next, take a few moments to go back and forth between these two states of mind.
Quite a difference, isn’t there? When I first did that brief exercise, I found myself experiencing a greater sense of control, optimism, and feeling more powerful as a person when I exercised determination and focus in making things happen in my life.
Wishful thinking left me more with a sense of blah, and the feelings I had as a teenager, daydream, daydream, daydream about things I wanted, but I would soon drop it and would then create other kinds of wishful thinking, because nothing was happening. How frustrating! If only someone had shown me how to translate wishy-washy adolescent adventures and fantasy into how to set and achieve goals with a focus.
There is something very magical, almost mystical, about goal setting in that it ignites energies, mobilizes resources in ourselves that we have yet to identify.
One of the most intriguing outcomes is that some people are able to postpone death in order to experience a positive experience in their lives that they are looking forward to.
Two researchers from the University of California examined the deaths of 1,288 Chinese women for the 25-year period from 1960 to 1984. They were interested in the death patterns the week before and the week after the Chinese Harvest Moon Festival. That holiday is particularly meaningful to elderly Chinese women, who play a central role in its festivities. Over the 25-year period, there was an average 35% drop in deaths the week before the festival, and a 34% increase in deaths above the norm the week after. This mortality pattern was not evident in older Chinese men, younger Chinese women, or a control group.
A very similar finding was established among Jewish men. The week before Passover, there was a 34% drop in mortality, and a 35% increase in deaths immediately after Passover.
How can that be? Are people able to postpone death briefly in order to celebrate an occasion that is psychologically significant to them? And if we can delay death, even briefly, with a simple goal, what can we do if we bring all our energies, all of our mental resources together, in order to achieve a certain outcome in life?
Thus, the themes of control versus helplessness are becoming increasingly more important in your understanding of being more in charge of your life and your chosen achievements that you want to fulfill.
When Dr. Judith Rodin decided to do a series of interviews on nursing home patients, she was appalled at what she saw. Older patients were sitting around in a stupor. There was little to motivate them during the day, except eating and striving to be early for their appointments. She described the day rooms and open wards like walking into a wax museum. The patients were all sitting immobilized with a vacant look in their eyes.
When people have no sense of purpose, no goals, no sense of control over events in their lives, they develop what psychologists call a learned helplessness response to life. The body begins reacting accordingly by increasing stress hormones in the bloodstream, the immune system becomes more burnt out and less efficient, depressive feelings of hopelessness are common, and inactivity and pessimism about life are almost always present.
How did Dr. Rodin handle this despairing scene? She began by providing these oldsters with more of a sense of purpose, or mini goals, to change their “less-than-ideal” existence. They were given control over such decisions as the planning of their meals, which movies to watch, where to move the furniture in the day ward and their own rooms, and control of all recreational therapy programs, such as social affairs and dances.
What turned things around perhaps more than anything else was their choice to bring in mentally and physically handicapped children to care for and relate to on weekends, a goal that many of them looked forward to, since it made them feel useful once more.
Equally exciting was their decision to have pets, goldfish, budgie birds, and cats for those patients who wanted something to care for again, giving them a sense of purpose.
The results? These oldsters showed profound changes, including improved alertness and memory, lower levels of stress hormones in their blood, fewer illnesses and infections, and, perhaps most important of all, the day rooms and wards became alive with excitement. The wax museum effect was dispelled by providing these older folks with a sense of purpose, more control over their lives, and something to look forward to every day.
People are meant to be challenged. We are meant to have a purpose or goals, and something is dimmed in the human spirit when we cannot strive or reach for our dreams.
Quite often in my seminars, several people will raise the question, “Gee, this goal-setting business sounds pretty good, but I don’t really know if I have any goals. How can I begin to find out?”
Well, I’m going to describe a simple, fun-to-do, right-brained exercise that will help you crystallize and prioritize your goals. Follow the instructions, and when you have 20 or 30 minutes of uninterrupted free time, be sure to do the following exercise. Remember that the 4% of the population who take the time to write out or put their goals into some kind of graphic form achieve them almost 100% of the time. I’m sure that you would like to join this rather exclusive 4% club.
First, get two large sheets of drawing paper and a box of crayons or several colored pencils. On sheet one, in the center of the page, draw yourself the way you see yourself today, and, by the way, drawing skill is not important in this exercise. You can sketch yourself large or small. To get a better representation of how you see yourself, if you feel you are too much in your head, draw your head larger, proportional to your body. Likewise, if you are focused too much in your heart and feelings, or specific attributes of your body, accent those features in your body image, reflecting in your drawing what you accent about yourself in everyday life. Be as honest as you can. No one else will be seeing your drawing, unless you choose to share.
Then, in the life space around your body, draw people — your friends, family, spouse, children — job, things in your life that are important to you. However, position the people, job, things in your life space in a relative fashion. If the most important thing in your life is your spouse, draw him or her next to you, and make him or her larger or smaller, depending on how you perceive your relationship at this time.
Then do the same thing for all the other people, job, activities in your life. Draw them close, near, small, or large. Include the positive and negative aspects of your life, the frustrations and joys. You may use colors to represent feeling tones, and, of course, details are important.
Upon completion of your drawing, you may wish to set it aside and leave it alone for a while. However, many people report that they find themselves going back to their drawing and modifying or changing things as they feel moved to do so.
On your second sheet of paper, start by drawing the ideal you. An ideal body image, the way you would like to be, ideally, but realistically. You may draw yourself as larger or trimmer, a happier expression on your face, perhaps emphasizing being more in your heart than your head.
Then, as in the first drawing, include the people and things in your life space the way you would like things to be in your life in the future. Perhaps a new house, or that your spouse is closer to you and you’re holding hands, signifying a change in your relationship. Perhaps you have replaced your old job with a new, but more challenging way of fulfilling your mission. Your goal of greater physical fitness might be represented by a health club off to one side, and so on. Again, upon the completion of your drawing, sit on it for a while, and pull it out and make changes, or additions, as you are so inspired.
Following your touch-ups, in front of you, you will have two representations of your life, where you are today, and where you would like to be in the future. The changes in the second drawing represent the goals you would like to achieve.
That is an insidiously powerful exercise. I’ve had many people tell me that creating their life-goal drawings is what got them moving out of the rut and into a more active phase of their life. Incidentally, if you want to teach your children about setting goals, this exercise is a natural for kids. They love working with colors and drawings, and what better way to stimulate your children into creating dreams? Even short-term ones like passing algebra or getting a job for the summer.
One of my friends did that exercise with his whole family. They all contributed as to how they saw themselves in the family, what they liked and didn’t like in the family atmosphere, and so forth. His children got very excited and enthused as they were creating their drawings, because they realized they were being given a say in family plans. Even more important, my friend reported a greater family closeness and respect for each other’s needs following their goal drawing sessions.
In addition to the information you received from your drawings about certain needs in your life at this time, there are certain goals in your life that seem to be basic for most people, regardless of your walk of life.
There are six general goal categories that you may wish to consider. One, perhaps the most important goal of all, is to develop a high sense of self-esteem, to value yourself enough to be happy, and to act responsibly to yourself and others. Being happy must start with the assumption that you deserve happiness as a reflection of feeling worthwhile as a person. Apparently, people who have the most self-esteem are those who feel they are doing their life’s work.
A second goal for your consideration, to create good health, energy, and vitality. Without a high level of wellness in your mind and body, it becomes difficult to focus on creating positive life changes.
Thirdly, to develop and maintain happy, loving relationships with a spouse, family member, or partner. To learn how to express love and affection more easily, and to learn how to allow more love into your life, to allow people to affirm you as a person without feeling uncomfortable or defensive.
Fourthly, having career and financial goals that allow you to experience financial freedom. Do you look forward to going to work, and do you feel a sense of inner satisfaction from what you do? If not, you may have some refining to do on your career goal.
The fifth goal area is mental goals. Yes, mental goals to increase your brain bank, by improving your memory, by developing your creativity, and by ongoing self-development practices, such as taking seminars, reading books outside your specialty, and attending lectures.
And, finally, having spiritual goals, which nourish our inner being and our connection to a higher source of wisdom and love. Altruism and being of service to others, such as the Big Brother/Big Sister Program, doing volunteer work at the hospital, volunteering at your church or place of worship, contributing to the homeless, or developing an ecology consciousness are all spiritual goals.
I’d now like to provide you with an overview of the goal-setting process, keeping in mind the future creates the present against the background of the past.
One, write out a six-month goal, a goal that is reachable, but a little out of reach, so that you would have to stretch a bit in order to attain it. It can be in any area of your life.
Two, write out a 12-month goal, a 24-month goal, a five-year goal, and a 10-year goal.
Three, look at the 10-year goal as an ideal goal. One that you will never reach completely, but it’s an ideal you are striving toward. For example, to be the most loving person you can be.
Four, follow this with very specific short-term goals of one to three to six months. Thus, the long-term goals form the boundaries toward your ideal, and the shorter-term goals will reflect the consistency, the feedback on how well you’re doing along the corridor of your longer-term goals. Remember to balance your goals among self-esteem and personal happiness; health, energy, and vitality; happy, loving relationships; career and financial goals; mental goals; and spiritual goals.
Please consider this simply a guideline, a suggested roadmap that has worked well for thousands of people. However, examine your needs at this time, and should you decide that you’re going to focus on three short-term goals for now, since that is what is most pressing, that’s fine, but at least you have a model for long-term goal setting you could always go back to. Go with what works best for you at this time.
And one more series of examples for goal setting. One, I am very clear about what I want in life. Two, I am living my life by choice and creating my future. Three, my life is becoming a series of positive achievements. Four, my self-discipline and inner focus are becoming stronger each day. Five, I have moved beyond old limitations and am easily achieving my goals. And six, each goal I achieve stimulates my optimism and confidence.
Here’s to great goal setting and even greater goal achieving!