It is never too late to be what you might have been.– George Eliot
For those of us who are goal setting and achieving fanatics it may be hard to imagine how anyone could go through life without a list of goals as a map. But it’s true: most people don’t have goals. At most they may have to-do lists for the short term (Get the car fixed, Clean out closet, Pay the rent, etc.); and a few vague dreams for the future (Win lottery, Fall in Love, Be healthier).
I believe that this lack of goals is a major reason why so many people are unhappy and unsatisfied in life . . .
We are teleological beings. Which is to say we all need a meaningful end to strive towards. Goals aren’t just a fun obsession reserved for personal development nuts, like me. They are essential to what we are as human beings.
So the absence of goals isn’t just a failure in doing, it’s a failure in being.
If you aren’t yet convinced that you need goals, here are are five more reasons to consider.
Reason 1: You Are Doomed To Fail If You Don’t Have Goals
I like the man who faces what he must– Sarah K. Bolton
With step triumphant and a heart of cheer;
Who fights the daily battle without fear;
. . . he alone is great
Who by a life heroic conquers fate.
Okay, that heading was deliberately melodramatic to get your attention. Here’s a nicer way of putting it: Success in life, whatever that may look like to you, depends on having goals that lead to success.
Lacking clear goals, you abdicate your agency in life and put yourself at the fickle mercy of Chance.
Sure, Luck happens. But only fools rely on it. Success rarely falls from the sky. You have to work for it, and that work begins by having goals which define what you’re after and what needs to be done to get there.
Reason 2: Goals Put You In The Driver’s Seat Of Your Own Life
Man is buffeted by circumstances so long as he believes himself to be the creature of outside conditions, but when he realizes that he is a creative power, and that he may command the hidden soil and seeds of his being out of which circumstances grow, he then becomes the rightful master of himself . . .– James Allen
This is closely related to Reason 1.
In a way you are always working on achieving goals, whether you realize it or not. The only question is: Whose goals are you working on?
Your employer wants you to work, your favorite store wants you to buy, your local politician wants you to vote, your clergyman wants you to pray, your neighbor wants you to keep the noise down, your mom wants you to call more often, your boyfriend wants you to do the dishes, and I want you to keep reading this post.
It never ends, because that’s life when you’re a human in a world of humans. We’re a demanding bunch, and every day in countless ways you are called on to serve the goals of others.
Serving others is a great thing, and if you want to be a functioning (and decent) human, it’s just what you do.
But you need to ask yourself, Is that all?
Do you have goals for yourself? How much time do you spend on what’s truly important to you?
If you’re not investing some time every week, and ideally every day, in pursuing goals that are important to you, then you’re not captaining your own life; you’re just a passenger letting everyone else take turns at your steering wheel.
Note: This isn’t about choosing between being selfish or selfless. That is, I believe, a false dilemma. You can have your own goals, and serve the goals of others because goals, like life, are NOT a zero sum game.
The point here is only that it’s no good to serve the goals of others exclusively and at your own expense.
Reason 3: Goals Simplify Life
In the long run, men hit only what they aim at. Therefore . . . they had better aim at something high.– Henry David Thoreau
Modern life is wonderful but it also creates option overload. We go to Amazon.com with the simple plan of buying some new bath towels, and an hour later we’re sweating blood trying to decide between two brands that we narrowed down from fifty, and four colors that we’ve narrowed down from fifteen, while comparing customer reviews and googling to learn what the hell “brushed microfiber fabric with an 1800 thread count” means.
Goals don’t cure this, but they make life easier by simplifying matters.
By giving us an easy litmus test for making decisions on where to spend our time. To do or not to do, that is the question. With goals we can more easily decide by answering:
- Will this choice/action/decision support one or more of my goals?
- Will this choice/action/decision hinder one or more of my goals?
- Does this choice/action/decision have no real impact on my goals either way? (I.E. it’s neutral).
Say that one of your important goals is to save money for a three month vacation to Thailand next year. And say that your friend has invited you out for drinks, but you’ve already spent your Booze-hound budget for the week. Going means dipping into your Trip fund.
Normally we might justify going out because that’s what we want in the moment: “I deserve a treat. I’ll only have a few drinks. I’ll save more from next paycheck to make up the difference.”
Goals force us to be real with ourselves: “Will going out for drinks help, hinder, or be neutral towards my Thailand trip goal?”
No time wasted coming up with justifications. This is multiple choice, there are only three answers, and no room to deceive ourselves.
Apply this to money goals, health goals, creative goals, or just about any goals. It will simplify many of the decisions you’re faced with each day, and as a result make your life easier.
Reason 4: Goals Foster Integrity
You fulfill the promise that lies latent within you by keeping your promises with yourself.– David Harold Fink
The more you set, pursue and achieve goals, the greater integrity you develop. Goals are promises you make to yourself. Unlike wishes they don’t easily let you off the hook. No one feels bad about failing to achieve a wish. But when you break a promise with yourself to follow through on or finish a goal, it doesn’t feel good.
Nor should it feel good.
That gnawing regret you feel after cheating on your diet, or binging on TV when your goal was to write, or blowing money you promised to save is your Self-respect notifying you that it’s taken a hit.
While this might not feel good, it is good, because it reminds us to be more mindful of our commitment to ourselves and it motivates us to try harder and do better next time. This isn’t about wallowing in guilt or self-pity when we screw up. It’s about growing in integrity, more and more, with every exercise of effort and will towards achieving our goals.
Goals are a promise. Acting on them is keeping that promise. The fruit of doing so is greater integrity.
Reason 5: Goals Make You Happier
The grand essentials to happiness in life are something to do, something to love, and something to hope for.– Joseph Addison
Find a miserable goal achiever.
Goals and unhappy just don’t mix.
There’s great pleasure in pursuing and achieving a goal. That simple act of putting a red checkmark next to a goal can be immensely rewarding. But it’s more than that, too. The happiness that goals produce is somehow greater than the sum of the goals themselves.
The more goals you set and achieve, the more confidence, self-discipline, and self-ownership you develop. Your perspective begins to shift, and the world begins to look more like a place of fabulous opportunity than relentless hardship.
Where once you saw mostly hardship, the world now dawns benevolent.
It’s only natural that with this kind of perceptual shift you’d become happier.
You become more resilient too. Setbacks are less apt to upset you, and more apt to bring out an inner bulldog you may never have known was in you. This too makes you happier, because you begin to take pride in how tough you really are.
Why do you think Goals are important? Share your thoughts and insights in the comment section below.
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