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What’s the point of goal setting? When you set goals, how do you know these are the right ones? How can you determine which goals are worth pursuing?

Ready, Fire, Aim

Mainfreight motto

The quote above is very appropriate when it comes to goal setting (and achieving these goals). The order of words you might expect is Ready, Aim, Fire. In this case, the last two words are in reversed order. This to me means that you shouldn’t wait until your plans are completely clear and worked out in detail. When you have an idea (Ready), create a plan for achieving it and execute your plan (Fire). Once you have started working on your goal, adjust along the way (Aim).

This applies to many parts of life, but especially to achieving your goals. In general, we spend too much time with our dreams and goals in mind. We too often feel like we are not ready yet. This article explains how you can make goal setting energizing for you. Furthermore, you will find 3 tips to define your goals and work out the details. After reading this article you are ready to start working on your goals!


The essence of goal setting in 1 minute

What’s the point of goal setting? Life is fine as it is, isn’t it?

When you fail to plan for your life, you become part of someone else’s plan. The downside to that is that others determine your course for you. By setting goals you more often get to experience the things that energize you. Are you unclear on what energizes you? Start by discovering more on finding your energy sources.

3 tips for goal setting:

  1. Go out of your comfort zone.
  2. Think bigger. We overestimate the things we can do in one week, but we underestimate the steps we can take in a year. 
  3. Be specific and write down your goals. Physically. On paper. Add the reason why you want to achieve your goals as well. There will come a time when you don’t feel like working on them this will help you push through.

Let go of the opinions of others, make your own choices, and go for it!


Why goal setting matters

The end of the year is just around the corner, which is the time for many people to set goals for the coming year. Goal setting is great, but have you ever stopped to wonder why you set goals?

If you don’t have a plan, you become part of somebody else’s plan.

Terence McKenna

Make a plan for your life

The first time I heard the quote above was about 3 years ago. It was mentioned by Remco Claassen during his 3,5-day masterclass ‘The essence of Leadership‘, which I can highly recommend for my Dutch-speaking audience.

Remco struck a chord with me at that moment, because up to that moment I lived my life without a plan. At best I waited to see what came along and I determined what felt right at that moment. In the worst case, I lived my life based on the expectations of others.

Looking back it is clear to me why I lived my life that way. It was based on the fear of making wrong choices. Also, the opinion of others on the choices I would make terrified me. As a result, I bent any way the wind was blowing.

Be proactive

Shortly after Remco’s training, I read the book The 7 habits of highly effective people. In this book, Stephen Covey describes seven habits that make your life more effective. The first of these habits is ‘Be proactive‘. That is exactly what this is about: take control of the direction in which you want your life to proceed. Don’t let others or your environment determine the course of your life.

Remco’s masterclass was a wake-up call for me to start designing my life. What I have noticed since then is that using goal setting and focus, so many achievements are within reach. Some of the goals I have reached since then are: stopped biting my nails, lost weight, started NABL (this blog), changed jobs, and significantly reduced my carbon footprint.

You might think: “Nice story, but I still don’t know why I should set goals. It is very comfortable to just go along with whatever comes my way. At first glance, this looks good (or at least comfortable) indeed. But are you really doing what you love by letting everything run its course? Or are you fooling yourself and would you like to achieve more than what you are doing right now?

By changing nothing, nothing changes.

Tony Robbins

Change in order to do more of what energizes you

Ultimately, goal setting is about changing behavior. There can be many motivations behind this, but the vast majority of goals stem from dissatisfaction with the current situation.

My approach when it comes to goal setting is that I want to more often do the things that energize me. I am convinced that this is what makes us more happy and satisfied individuals and isn’t that what we all strive for?

Goals energize you, increase your perseverance and stimulate your creativity; having a goal makes it possible to keep going for a longer period of time. In doing so, you will come up with all kinds of possibilities to achieve your goals.

Determine what is important to you

Do something today that tomorrow you will be proud of

Setting goals aligned with the things that energize you. It sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But are you 100% clear on what your motivations are? Can you clearly state what it is exactly that you would like to do more often?

For me personally, this wasn’t something that was clear to me at all. This was simply due to the fact that such a question never crossed my mind. In school, there is no subject of “What I really want” or “What motivates me“. This is something you have to find out on your own and for me, it started with my first real job. There’s a separate article related to finding out what motivates you. If you are not (completely) clear on your motivations yet, that article would be a great starting point.

3 goal setting tips

Now that you are clear on the way in which goal setting can improve your life. Also, you should have a general idea of what motivates you. How should you move on once these elements are in place?

I’m sure you have some idea of something you want to change or improve. Even if that’s not the case yet, the three tips below will help you in your goal setting.

1. Get out of your comfortzone

You’ve probably heard this so many times before that it feels like stating the obvious. I get that. And yet this is the most important tip if you want to achieve maximum personal growth. When you go where you’ve never gone before, you have the chance of discovering something completely new.

Personally, I have experienced this approximately 3 years ago. After Remco Claassen’s tip at the aforementioned masterclass, I had given the idea of doing improvisational theater quite some thought. As I remember, Remco described improv theater as “Very vague and thus a great possibility to learn“.

The things that are furthest away for you contain the most growth

Remco Claassen

An improvisation theater course

The idea kept circling my mind for some time. Then at a certain moment, I figured: I should just do it! After a quick online search, I came across a company offering a course in improvisation theater. While navigating to the ‘sign me up’-button on the website, I noticed something strange. Everything inside my body was telling me “don’t do this“. Even signing up for the course was such a big step for me that I experienced physical tension in my body. Fortunately, there was also a little voice inside my head that said: “…but that’s the reason you are going to do this, right?“. This voice in my head eventually got the upper hand and I signed up for the course.

This is not for me

The course would span 11 weeks in total, with a 2-hour session every Friday afternoon. On the day the first session would take place, I rode my bike through Amsterdam looking for the place to be. After parking my bike near the venue I rang the doorbell. I walked up the stairs, arrived at the hall, and was amazed by what I saw next: the hallway was filled with shoes. Once again, my body indicated that this experience wasn’t for me. Luckily I persevered, took off my shoes, and entered the room. Whatever this experience would turn out to be, it was clearly out of my comfort zone.

The first couple of sessions were tough: I was dancing around and pulling funny faces. I didn’t see the point in any of this. After about three meetings, I noticed something started changing; I started actually enjoying it and I felt like I was learning something. I enjoyed the weekly bike ride to the venue and noticed I cycled home afterward with a smile on my face as well. So what have I learned from this experience?

Go for it

The round of feedback at the end of the course contained my most important lesson. The other participants told me that the first few sessions they saw me participating in the exercises. But they noticed that I wasn’t really participating. I was merely getting through the exercises with the bare minimum effort I could put in.

After about three sessions something changed. I really went for it and actually seemed to be having fun. The reason for initially holding back was the same one I mentioned earlier. It was the fear and insecurity that came with actually choosing something and going all-in. Since this experience, I am more aware of this fear. If it rears its ugly head, there’s a voice inside my head that says: “If you want to achieve something, go all-in“. That’s all for the first tip: pick a goal that is outside your comfort zone.

In the worst case you’ll learn something

Remco Claassen

2. Think bigger

Does this sound familiar? The tasks you scheduled for this week keep moving down your calendar towards the end of the week. On Friday you decide to move them to next week. Next week, however, the same pattern repeats itself.

This is what often happens to me as the week progresses. The reason is simple: we greatly overestimate what we can achieve in the short term. All sorts of unexpected things come in between: you are definitely going to start drafting next year’s plans but – oh what a surprise – your mailbox is overflowing and you once again don’t get around to it.

Discipline is choosing between what you want now, and what you want most.

Abraham lincoln

What is striking is that we underestimate the things we can achieve in the long term – say in a year. Here too, distractions come into play, but you have much more buffers (in terms of time) to absorb them and still have enough time left to achieve your goals.

My second tip is to write down what you deem achievable and then double it. It is better to set your goals too high and not achieve them instead of aiming too low and achieving them. Once you know what your goals are, use a proper system to set the right priorities and eliminate distractions.

3. Be specific and write it down

In order to achieve your goals, you should first be absolutely clear on what it is you want to achieve. Although this seems like an obvious tip, you would be surprised at how often this step is skipped. My third tip is to write down your goals as specifically as possible. By putting your thoughts on paper you get an overview of what it is you are trying to achieve.

By writing down your goals I don’t mean ‘typing on your laptop’. No, I mean physically writing down what you want to achieve. Preferably in a notebook, to avoid loose papers lying around all over the place. If you can’t get yourself to physically write down your goals, do you think you will be able to have the discipline required to reach them? Do yourself a favor and buy a notebook! There’s a certain magic to writing on paper and from that moment onwards your goals suddenly become real.

Decribe why you want to achieve your goals

When you write down your goal (on paper and in a notebook), make sure to check all of the important aspects related to your goal. For example, check whether your goals are SMART. Surprisingly, the most important aspect of the third tip isn’t the goal itself.

The most important part of writing down your goals is to write down why you want to achieve them. There will be times when your goals seem less important because you don’t feel like working on them. You start doubting whether you actually want to achieve them and even consider putting them aside. You simply won’t last a longer period like a year on discipline alone.

That’s when it is important to be able to look back at your motivation for setting the goal in the first place. The initial reason for your goal can give you new energy and motivation to keep moving towards it. Take your time for this step, it is worth the effort.

The third tip of goal setting is to write your goals down and be specific about them. This includes a clear formulation of the rationale behind setting the goal.

Ready? Fire!

You now have all the tools you need to get started with goal setting. So what are you waiting for? Decide who you want to be a year from now and write down what you need to achieve to become that person. Then follow the tips in this article to finalize your goals.

As a final thought I want to share an important lesson, maybe even the most important lesson, I have learned on this topic: let go of the opinions of others. You want to achieve something because it is important to you. Then go for it!

You may delay, but time will not.

Benjamin Franklin