This article previously ran on Jan. 8, 2016.
As the New Year approached we were bombarded with advice-packed articles and posts on how to achieve all those goals we set for last year, as well as all the new goals we’re setting our sights on for the year just begun.
I have my own arsenal of tools for setting and reaching goals, but the best goal setting practices start with being crystal clear about what you want and then writing it down.
In fact, in a report by Dave Kohl, professor emeritus at Virginia Tech., people who regularly write down their goals earn nine times as much over their lifetimes as the people who don't. Yet 80 percent of Americans say they don't have goals, and 16 percent do have goals don't write them down. Less than 4 percent write down their goals, and fewer than 1 percent actually review them on an ongoing basis.
What you want often isn’t obvious.
But what if you can’t get past that first step? What if you aren’t crystal clear about what you want?
I find that for a lot of people who haven’t achieved the goals they set themselves did write them down. I’ve got some really savvy and disciplined clients. Many of them follow elaborate processes to record and review their goals, as well as constantly remind them of what they need to do to make it happen. But it’s still not happening and they don’t know why.
Once we work past the self-flagellation and other-focused blame it usually comes down to this: they didn’t achieve the goal because it wasn’t something they really wanted.
The only right answer to “why do I want it?”
This week, as you think back on the year just ending and the fresh New Year to come, I challenge you to ask yourself a question; “Do I want what I want or only what I want to want?”
As you think over the goals you had for 2015 -- written, spoken, or hidden away in some closet of the mind -- ask yourself if there was genuine desire behind it, or if you had it on your list because you thought it should be there. Did it just seem the logical next step? Was it merely something that you could achieve fairly easily?
As you go through goal setting exercises (if you don’t have enough of those drop me an email and I’ll send you a couple of my favorites), ask yourself if you know why you’re adding each item to your list. Do you want to, or do you just want to want to?
There are a lot of reasons we set our sights on goals that aren’t truly our own “wants.” Social pressure to display badges of success can lead us to put purchases on the goal list that we only care about because of what we think they will prove. “Gurus” and friends admonishing us to set BHAG’s (big hairy audacious goals) can make us ashamed of our modest, but passionate, aspirations. Guilt and regrets over past failures can cause us to stubbornly pursue goals that we never really wanted to achieve, which is why we failed to achieve them the first time we wrote them on our list. Praise for successes that didn’t really matter can tempt us to set goals for similar successes just because we crave the feedback.
If you ask yourself why you want it, and the answer comes back as anything but, “Because I DO” it doesn’t yet belong on your list.
Related: How to Plan for the Next 5 Years
What’s missing from your list?
There are also a lot of reasons we don’t turn our true desires into written goals. Self-doubt and a belief that we don’t deserve or can’t have what we want most is a common barrier. Fear of “biting off more than we can chew” or “getting in over our head” are others.
Social values or the expectations of our chosen field can shrink our willingness to set our sights on anything we think would be considered odd, or even inappropriate. We fall prey to the “What will my friends think” mentality or we let our goals and dreams stay in that closet because we have been taught that wanting things just for our own pleasure is selfish.
I’ll bet there are things you really DO want that have never shown up your list. They may be dreams, but they’ve never been promoted to goals you’re willing to invest in.
Make this year different. Give yourself a fresh start by not only making that list of goals, but checking it twice, or as many times as it takes to ensure that everything on it is something you really want and are willing to invest the time, money and energy into, to make it happen.