It’s pretty darn hard to get from here to there without a roadmap. Laying out your goals bridges the gap between who you are today and the person you sketched out in your mission statement. Yet when I ask people all over the country whether they write up their goals each year, barely one in ten say they have. But that 10 percent gushes over how spelling out their goals transformed their lives.
Why the disconnect? Lots of reasons. Chronically impatient people think goal setting is a waste of time. They wonder why they should spend hours writing down what they want to do when they could be out there actually doing it. These are the same people who prefer driving around lost for an hour before stopping for directions. Others are wary of introspection, a prerequisite to pinpointing what they want from life.
Choosing what you want from life shouldn’t feel like homework. For me, it’s like picking out fruits and vegetables at the farmer’s market. Or, think back to the childhood excitement of paging through holiday catalogs and making out a wish list. You decide which goodies you’ll get.
Make it user-friendly
Arrange your goals in an easy-to-read, easy-to-modify format—perhaps a bulleted list of items or research-paper outline.
Shoot for the stars—or not
Goal setters fall into two camps. The dreamer likes to hang a humdinger of a target—your company making ten million bucks, date a supermodel, play polo in the Hamptons— knowing he’ll fall short but looking forward to the adventure. The pragmatist, on the other hand, motivates herself with challenging, accessible objectives. She’s disappointed if she can’t put a line through everything on her to-do list. Which camp are you in?
Examine your motives
Don’t just identify what you want but why you want it. After getting in touch with my mission, I discovered I wanted to build a successful tire company to brighten our customers’ day and provide opportunities for teammates to grow in a healthy environment. Had I wanted to grow my company purely for ego gratification—which was a primary driver early on—the results would’ve been markedly different. Our company didn’t shift into a higher gear until I did, too.
Make it your own
Some goals will find their way onto your list out of your sense of obligation. Just make sure the majority spring from you rather than somebody else.
Once you’re satisfied with your list, sign, and date it. Treat it like the important document it is, a compact with yourself. But there’s always room for amendments (and they shouldn’t require an act of Congress).
Review and revise your goals every few months so they’re up to speed with life’s twists and turns. You may need to adjust your exercise routine in the wake of a promotion that demands more time or travel—a development that could also impact financial, social, and relationship goals. If you happen to slow down to a trot, tweaking your goals sparks a renewed dedication to dig in your spurs and start galloping again. Caveat: Don’t overuse revision. It can become an excuse for giving up on what you wanted.
A quick glance now and then helps me keep my goals top of mind. Sure, you can skip all this. None of it is convenient. But it’s better than being a human Ping-Pong ball—always in the middle of the action but getting smacked in so many different directions that you’re lucky to wind up where you started the year. Unappealing, huh? As former General Electric CEO Jack Welch put it, “Control your own destiny, or someone else will.”