What Makes a Good Goal?
William Blake once wrote:
“Sooner murder an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires.”
The film Hannibal aside, Blake was not known for encouraging psychopaths, so it is perhaps more useful to infer that having dreams and goals that you never really go after is not a good thing.
Yet most people fail at the first hurdle: simply trying to define what it is that they want.
Unless you have a clear idea of what it is that you truly need and desire then you have no more chance than of arriving at a birthday party without knowing the address.
Metrics, as I referred to in last week’s post, is a fancy word for pinning down exactly what success would mean in a way that you could measure. Now, that may conjure images of numbers on spreadsheets or lines on graphs but it could just as easily mean a consistent feeling; one that turns up when you do the right combination of things in the right way.
But what goals are the right goals? And what way is the right way?
My contention is that:
- The right goals are ones that are completely under your control and that you’re pretty damn sure will make you happy.
- The right way is one that will make you happier no matter whether you succeed or fail.
To test this, let’s use a common life goal as an example: falling in love.
For a myriad of reasons, most people have some sense that they would like to pair off with someone and feel at least vaguely wonderful about it for an extended period of their lives. Yet, if you’re single, waiting for fate or blind luck to throw someone who is amazing and fancies you AND you could tolerate for several decades to come into your life seems like a manifestly stupid approach.
Here’s where control matters.
Problem number one is that you can’t control whether you will ever meet someone who this would happen with. If you can’t control all elements of a goal then its not a goal, its a hope or a wish.
So let’s say your new goal becomes to deserve to find someone who will love you.
Problem number two: because you can’t control whether you meet someone (and whether it would work out), if it never happens or takes a long time to happen then you could accomplish your goal and it would make you bitter or even more miserable. It also assumes you only deserve love if you try hard all the time which is another issue altogether…
So even though deserving to be loved by someone amazing is within your control, it might not make you happy even if you succeeded.
Third time lucky. Your third attempt at setting a goal: to be the best version of yourself possible.
If you are aiming to be the best version of yourself possible you’re liable to maximise your chances of attracting other people (and not just romantically) and have a good time while you’re at it (because, I’m assuming, the best version of you would want to have a great time whenever possible).
I’m suggesting that a goal, in other words, should be within your power and produce a win-win scenario. And those are two ‘metrics’ on which to base the goal of setting a goal.
The process of working out what you really want and how to measure it (to know that you’ve achieved it) unfortunately is not something anyone else can give you. It comes through personal experience and a creative examination of the pattern between your feelings and the things you did to feel that way.
And if that’s confused rather than inspired you, then I leave you with a clip from Dead Poets Society that will hopefully cover my arse and do the trick.
Photo credit: RyanTaylor1986