Goal-setting has been quite the challenge for me to get right, but I believe I may have finally nailed it.

First off, there’s the usual stuff about making sure your goals are specific and measurable. “Run for 30 minutes 4 times a week” is good, “exercise more” is useless. And they should have target dates by which they should be met.

But what had me puzzled was that I’d have a hard time knowing why I wanted to achieve the goals I’d written down.

Some of them I wanted because I’d seen other people I admired do them, and I figured I should, too.

Some I wanted because it would be the kind of thing that would make my dad proud back when I was in 6th grade.

Some I wanted because I thought it would make tons of money and money is good.

Some I wanted because my wife once said she thought it would be a good idea.

Some I wanted beause I thought it would be fun.

In the end, I’ve concluded that the last one is the only one that matters. Choose your goals because you genuinely believe it will be fun and make you — and only you — happy. That’s certainly taken some changing of habits for me.

I’ve grown up with a mentality that fun was for losers. Real men worked hard and didn’t enjoy it, and if you were lucky, you’d get the big prize which was watching a movie on TV at night. I’m exaggerating, but still.

My first shock was when I visited my very rich and successful uncle, and he shared with me that his first rule of business was to have fun. Wow, did that swipe my feet away from under me. Still it took me a few more years to fully internalize this.

I’ve written many a goal in the past that was too lofty, impossible to achieve, too vague, uninspiring, or just irrelevant.

The other part is having too many goals. Achieving them requires dedication and focus, and you can only focus on so many things at a time and still be effective and happy. So setting goals is even more about all the things you’re not going to do.

That’s something I have a terribly hard time with, because I’m such a sucker for possibilities and the big dreams. But I have to restrain myself and choose. If it’s going to be this or the other, which will it be?

One thing compensates a little bit for that, and that’s the timing. I’ve opted to set goals for 3 months, 6 months, 12 months, 2 years, and 5 years. I know there’s a lot of uncertainties, but it allowed me to start from the bigger picture of where I want to be in 5 years. It also allowed me to capture the things I’m doing right now that are more temporary stepping stones to get to someplace else in a year or two.

I think the lot I have now holds up pretty well, but I’m going to let it sit for a day or two, and then go over it again and ask myself once more what feeling I hope to gain from achieving each goal. Hopefully most will be about having fun.


Once again, you've managed to inspire me. I think your 3, 6, 12 months etc. is an excellent way of categorizing the goals we do choose to set for ourselves, and your sorting of goals into categories is likewise a great way to give some thought to why we want the things we want (or think we want). I may just have to sit down and make some lists.
Thanks, Rasmus, I'm glad to be of service. It occurred to me that an even more succinct way of putting it may be that asking what makes you happy is more accurate than asking yourself what you want. We all want a lot of things. Fame and fortune, love, good looks, a healthy lifestyle. But asking what makes us happy forces us to be more specific, to ground it in experience, in memories of situations that made us happy in the past, and it can be a short-cut to avoid the trappings of false hopes and other people's expectations.
By Lars Pind on Mon, Jan 22, 07 at 20:07 · Reply
Well, I have similar experiences too. Its very easy to set a goal. When we talk about goal setting, every one has "goal achieving" in mind. I do have 5 year goals. To track my progress along my journey, one of my recent strategy was to have "weekly goals". And I can actually feel the difference. It works.
By Nishant Kasibhatla on Mon, Jan 22, 07 at 20:07 · Reply
What if you ask yourself both questions, make two lists (mental or otherwise) and the compare to find similarities?

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