The Art of Goal Setting


As a child growing up, every New Year’s Day I witnessed family members kicking back on the couch to watch the parades and football games while eating full plates of holiday food. Inevitably an aunt or uncle would declare their “resolution” to lose weight. Soon the resolution conversation would begin with other family members declaring it was time to get fit, read more, clean more, etc. And mostly they never followed through.

As a young adult I saw friends declare their majors in college and layout a whole fantastic cache of fabulous future careers. Friends were going to preside over the United Nations, display their photography in New York, start communes, be the next poetic sensation and make greater impact than Ginsburg, etc. Often my college friends changed their minds a week later before going on to graduate and take the first available job that was offered. How many administrative assistants once wanted to be artists? How many accountants once wanted to be developers? How many contract lawyers once wanted to right injustices?

Goals are a good thing. Resolutions are a good thing. Putting forth one’s intent to accomplish a particular achievement or action is a good thing. It gives direction. It can be used to measure progress. It is good to fantasize and project oneself into possibilities to try them out, to figure out if they are workable, to walk in that skin and know if it is yours. Writing goals is an art form. The art of goal setting is an art form anyone can master. Ideally a goal should be measurable and achievable and something truly desired.

For instance, if you are a writer and want to work towards getting published a workable goal might be: “I will write 500 words per day. I will submit two written pieces to ten potential publishers per month.” Both parts of this goal are measurable and achievable. An unachievable goal would be: “I will write 10,000 words per day every day of the month and publish two novels per month.” This goal is unachievable for two reasons. First, writing 10,000 words per day for a month is Herculean. Secondly, no one has control over the minds of others and the publishers may have different ideas about publishing the novels. An unmeasurable goal would be: “I will be a brilliant writer.” Questions an amorphous goal like this raise are the following: by whose estimation and how do you define a writer.

I can think of many things and situations that are desirable. I would like to move to Barcelona. I would like to write and publish several non-fiction and fiction books. I would like to lose weight, get fit, and stay in shape. I would like to be able to travel on a regular basis. Etc.

Desire is important. Not so much in a warm and fuzzy or passionate way, but rather in a nitty gritty, “How much do you want this?” sort of way. When writing goals, the “shoulds” need to be thrown out. Achievable goals are uniquely personal, owned, and ultimately “wanted” in the way of committing to the effort. It requires one know oneself or be willing to learn about oneself. A goal that is based on what one “should” do won’t hold enough importance to get through set backs, the long term slog, the derision of folks who will be naysayers, etc. Any thing worth doing or achieving will take effort and will be, if not uncomfortable, downright painful at times. There are always things one has to give up to get to goals. For instance, instead of having a leisurely morning of drinking coffee and waking up, perhaps this means donning running shoes and walking out into the pre-dawn to run 2 miles. Maybe it means instead of watching two hours of television after dinner, sitting at the kitchen table and working on a manuscript or a java program. Maybe instead of taking a lunch hour to go out with co-workers to a restaurant, it means sitting in the break room and learning Spanish. One has to know oneself to set goals and create a doable action plan.

I need to work on my Java homework right now. I have a goal in a chain of goals to obtain an associates degree in computer science with an emphasis in programming. More tomorrow about thinking about the obstacles in the way of getting to one’s goals because I think these are as important of setting goals and it is important to write out or at least think about an “action plan” to get to a goal.