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I was asked recently what my top three goals in life currently were, and it triggered a fairly major stretch of pensive thought, which I’ve been circling back to on long drives, sitting idly on the grass in parks, and in conversations on- and off-line with stimulating folks.

I’ve been a goal setter, and I’ve had a couple of major goals in life to this point. They’ve included:
* getting a journalism degree
* working for a major newspaper
* getting married
* living in Paris for a year
* being the editor of Variety.com
* buying a house
* running a successful business
* moving to Vancouver

However, for the past 5 or so years, I have pretty much actively resisted setting any goals, other than the move to Vancouver. Some of my efforts have been supporting Susie in her goals—book writing, working on her education, and so forth. And the rest of my time, I’ve been trying to balance a work and a social life, which I’ve never really set out in terms of being a goal.

I said to myself: “I want a break from goals, and I want to see what happens when you don’t set goals—how does life evolve?” And the answer is, so far—it’s pretty good, but it’s better when you have goals.

Which brings me to the point of this post. You see, I’m back in a goal-setting phase now, and instead of just start immediately making what I used to call the Mother-of-All-To-Do-Lists, I thought I’d better start by thinking about what the qualities of a good goal are.

I looked around online, and other than a few business books and this WikiHow article, there were very few sources that really helped explain what a good goal was. Here then, is my contribution to How to Set Good Goals.

* * *

First of all, understand that there are good goals, and there are poor goals that still have good outcomes. For example, you can have a goal of learning to steal cars, and then later it turns out that your car dies on a camping trip but you have to drive your injured friend to the hospital. Luckily. you can hot wire someone else’s car. Does that mean that learning to boost a car was a good goal? No, just that it has a good result.

And there are goals that are just fine, and there are goals that are awesome, and no one ways all your goals have to be awesome. Any list of goals is going to have better ones and worse ones, and some that get changed along the way. It’s important to treat a goal list of a living document—but be sure you revise it at regular, reasoned intervals, and not just when a whim strikes you.

To be a good goal, a goal should be five things:
* Well defined
* Achievable
* Balanced
* Shareable
* Noble

Well defined means that you should think through the specifics of your goal and what of means for you. You should have an idea of Why you want to finish that goal, and what the cost will be to you in time and money and effort. Goal-defining is one of the hardest parts of creating good goals.

A good goal should be an end point, not simply a mid-point or a means to an ultimate end. For example, you can have a goal of saving $25,000 in order to buy a Miata. Or you can have a goal of acquiring a new Mazda Miata. The Mazda Miata is the better goal, because it’s the end point, and the saving of money is simply a milestone along the way.

Note: It’s the end-point of the goal that should be well-defined. The steps to get there can and sometimes should be somewhat fluid. Leave room for opportunity, serendipity and the assistance of others (See: sharable)

Achievable means that your goal should be something within your grasp—both in terms of timeline, effort required, and your own skill set and energy. A goal that you don’t ever achieve can be a millstone that weighs you down even after you’ve given up on it.

At the same time, there’s no challenge, and thus no reward, in setting all your goals at too easy a level. It’s a good idea to have a mix of goal difficulties, so that the completion of simple goals gives you the boost you need to continue work on the intermediate goals.

And remember: life is long and you are capable of amazing yourself. Imagine if you spend just 2 hours a week working towards a long-term goal. At the end of ten years, you’ll have spent 1,000 hours working towards that goal. You can get a hell of a lot done in 1,000 hours.

Some folks (not me) like to set goals that are basically impossible, on the theory that getting half-way to a far-off point is better than achieving something simple nearby. In a book I read when I was young, there was a woman with an interesting magic power based on this premise: she could magically change her body’s mass, size and opacity to any new value that she set for herself, but it would take 1 hour for the change to take effect.

So if she decided she wanted to be just 1 inch tall, she would shrink progressively over the course of an hour. She figured out, though, that if she “lied” to herself, and imagined that she wanted to weigh, say, 1,000 kilograms, she’d change weight very quickly, and then after just a few minutes, she could “renege” on her weight goal and be “satisfied” with just being 100 kilograms heavier.

It worked for her, but I’m not a big fan on this idea of tricking yourself with goals you have no intention of completing. Better to set a real goal, and be honest with yourself and others about that goal, than to have to fool yourself into acting the way you want. This also applies to fooling others (see: sharable)

Balanced: A goal needs to fit into a balanced Web of activity, or it will probably be much harder to accomplish. This doesn’t preclude the idea of sacrifice while working certain goals—goals do require sacrifice, at the very least just in terms of giving up the status quo to accomplish something new.

But if the goal itself, and especially if all your stated goals, are weighted towards just one aspect of life, you’ll find that those goals become harder to stick to—though you will definitely get a short-term boost from the synergy and specialization of being goal-focused in a particular area.

The areas I work on keeping in balance are:
* family and home development
* career
* finances
* social and romantic interactions
* physical health
* mental stimulation
* and spiritual development.

I could write tons about each of those—but you ought to figure out your own balance of needs.

Shareable goals are almost always better than ones that can’t be shared, and this is true at two levels: For one thing, it’s easier to work on goals that you can talk about with others. When you talk about your hopes and plans, you can learn from comparing their hopes, and they can share their experience and wisdom with you.

And then, in a more direct way, others can help you with your goals. They can remove roadblocks, pass along resources, work with you because they care for you and want you to succeed. They can share in your happiness as the goal nears completion, and help keep you on track if you stray from your goal.

Counterpoint: Yes, it’s true that sometimes talking about a goal before it happens will drain your own enthusiasm, or put extra pressure on you that will be counter-productive. And certainly a negative response to sharing your goal can be a real damper. But that doesn’t mean that GOALS shouldn’t be shared, it means that they need to be shared carefully with supportive people, and they should be well-defined, noble, etc. etc. so that others will treat them with respect and proper care.

Noble goals. Such a grab bag of thoughts here. Noble’s a interesting word. It encompasses a heck of a lot of concepts. The dictionary lists all these as definitions of noble: “Having or showing qualities of high moral character, such as courage, generosity, or honor,” “showing magnanimity”, “grand”, “majestic”, “being on a high intellectual or moral level”, “elevated”, “high-minded”, “large and impressive in size, scope, or extent”, “dignified”, “excellent”.

Here again, “noble” helps distinguish between a good goal and a poor one. Yes, a goal of eating 100 bags of tortilla chips in a year is a goal. But does it enrich your life and the lives of others? Is it a goal you can feel pride in accomplishing? Is it something that will have an enduring effect? Is it a courageous goal? Will it stimulate the imaginations and dreams of others—either to emulate you or to spark their own goals and accomplishments?

Obviously, not every goal will be noble, and some will be more noble than others, but as you set goals, keep in mind the noble factor, and strive for it.

* * *

So, what are my goals? I’m still working on them—and I’ll share them with you when I know what they are.

 

 

Overheard

“The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.”

...who said it?

“Almost every American I know does trade large portions of his life for entertainment, hour by weeknight hour, binge by Saturday binge, Facebook check by Facebook check. I’m one of them. In the course of writing this I’ve watched all 13 episodes of House of Cards and who knows how many more West Wing episodes, and I’ve spent any number of blurred hours falling down internet rabbit holes. All instead of reading, or writing, or working, or spending real time with people I love.”

...who said it?

“Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.”

...who said it?

“I play with variables constantly.”

...who said it?

“Only the person who has learned Continual Love coming from a heart of Gratitude/Worship can effectively deal with the problem of loneliness.”

...who said it?

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