Identifying and setting goals toward achieving your ambitions isn’t easy. In fact its one of the things I find that struggle most with. (Incidentally, this is probably a feeling shared by many of you reading this!). Now don’t get me wrong here, what I’m talking about is not simply being ambitious, I have no problems in that department! What I am talking about is setting yourself concrete realistic and attainable goals that you fully intend on achieving.
One major personal flaw I’ve come to notice over my career is that I am often over ambitious, disproportionately so. I’ve found that I put undue pressure on myself by signing myself up for goals aimed at achieving my wildest ambitions, and I am frustrated and down beat when I find myself in a vicious cycle when I end up nowhere near. Inevitably I fail hard.
The key here is using methods, such as those discussed by Stephen Covey in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, to take time to visual these goals, and establish concrete steps only with realistic and achievable outcomes.
Recently I attended StartUp2015 in London, an interesting and insightful event aimed at gearing up 500 attendees with all of the required knowledge with which to pursue their own entrepreneurial journeys. Whilst speaking to an advisor there (Rachel Stone of Bespoke Training Eastbourne) she asked me a number of what it would seem are straightforward questions, one in particular stuck in my mind:
What does success mean to you?
Honestly, I couldn’t answer directly. I was fairly stumped. We then went on and carry out an exercise in how I could better understand and (importantly) document this, the process which I will also share with you now…
To form the basis of this exercise, I will share the steps in exactly the way that Rachel did with me. I’m going to purposefully leave gaps in this process, which I urge you to try and think what will fill these gaps prior to scrolling down to see them, I think you may be pleasantly surprised which you actually know. 😉
First, start with the easiest bit. I want you to think about your vision.
Ask yourself questions such as:
- What does the future hold for you?
- What does this look like in the next 50 years?
It’s probably not unusual for us to be able to envisage what our lives look like when we’re 77: Retired, own a nice house, kids, grandkids, maybe a second home near the sea, a classic car of some description parked on the drive (or tucked up in the garage!), photos, maps and memorabilia lining the walls from my travels during my lifetime… At least, this is mine – so carry out this exercise yourself. Note: The key here is being specific – there’s a reason I included a level of detail above, describing this as if you can physically touch it allows us to visualise this. Which is the key to this exercise
Right, have you got your list? Then [important step] lets work backwards from here..
- What can you envisage in 40 years time? 30 years time?
- How about 20 years time?
- Or even 10 years time?
Next we want to define what your values are.
Here, consider question like:
- What do I stand for?
- What’s important to me?
- What are my priorities in life?
Tip: You’ll likely find that these are the answer to a particular pain/problem.
From your values you should now be able to identify your purpose.
- Why do you exist?
This is your personal USP what you sell yourself on to others and what makes you get out of bed in the morning.
Your mission is the outcome of the actions you take to support your purpose. What it is you’re trying to reach in order to achieve your vision of life how you want it.
From your values you can think about how you strategically approach fulfilling these, these are known as your objectives. Often seen as milestones across a period of time (3 months, 1 year … etc) that when achieved you can stop and look back at all the progress you’ve made to date.
This is where goal setting comes into realistic concrete actions that you will take on a day-to-day basis to help achieve your goals.
Taking these steps and defining these for you individually allows you to understand the activities that you’re going to take it order to reach your objectives, which will be naturally be aligned with your values, which help to form your purpose, which is just part of you achieving your mission which doing so will help fulfil your own vision.
Overcoming the Obstacles
Whether or not you’ve followed and carried out the process above, you may not entirely be bought in to the process of goal visualisation and how this can change how you are practically dealing with achieving your desires yet. If so, don’t fret. Next, I want to reaffirm the process of continual improvement that Covey outlines too.
As with the pyramid in the previous section, the importance of this process is considering this for all goals you’re setting and, most importantly, evaluating what you can learn from it. You’ll notice this works regardless of whether you believe that you achieved or failed achieving this goal. This is purposeful, as its only natural to assume that we won’t achieve all the goals we set for ourselves. We will however learn from whatever outcome it presents us with.
Identify areas within this process that you fall down on can help you evaluate and move on to better goal setting in the future. Maybe you’re great at starting, but struggle to complete things? You failing to learn from outcomes and keep repeating the same errors, leading to unachieved goals?
Or struggle to let go of the ‘doing’ stage, to actually consider something complete?
In order to try and dissect this to understand it better, ask yourself:
- Was it successful?
- What can I learn from this?
- How could I have made it even better?
- Are you disappointed with the result? (Fabulous! What can I learn from this?)
“If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.” – Ken Robinson
On Long Term Goals
Somewhat bizarrely for a post of this type, I’ll now reference comedian Tim Minchin, in what is now very widely shared and video occasional address to the University of the West of Australia. During this talk, he contrarily opposed this notion of long term goal setting, instead stated the following:
“You Don’t Have To Have A Dream.
I never really had one of these big dreams. And so I advocate passionate dedication to the pursuit of short-term goals. Be micro-ambitious. Put your head down and work with pride on whatever is in front of you… you never know where you might end up. Just be aware that the next worthy pursuit will probably appear in your periphery. Which is why you should be careful of long-term dreams. If you focus too far in front of you, you won’t see the shiny thing out the corner of your eye. Right?”
View the rest of the outstanding address here.
I find myself squarely in the middle here. Therefore I am going to propose a slightly different approach, that is to not take Tim’s comments quite so literally, instead apply this to myself, combine Covey’s methods of understanding how to set my own goals and do exactly that.
I think one main thing that I identify here is that a large proportion of the information that I read, and am inspired by, comes from American authors. In fact, it might be argued that the large majority of entrepreneurial literature is created by Americans. This is not a problem in itself, however the notion of the American Dream is imbued with our Transatlantic neighbors (see what I did there? 😉 ) it is not, as I’ve recognised, imbued within myself, or many of my European counterparts.
There is nothing wrong with ambition. There is something wrong with poor setting of goals.
My Goals for 2015
If you’re reading this blog post then you’re already seeing the product of my personal goal visualisation exercise. This website is one of my personal goals in its physical (or at least digital) form. After setting myself a goal this year of re-developing my personal site I set about working on this in the time that I had available. The product is what you are seeing now.
This is just one of several personal activities which I have set for 2015, all of which leading to broader objectives and ultimately a mission to develop myself professionally. You can witness my progress by keeping track of my movements this year as I’ll be sure to share/announce them when they are ready to launch. As a sneak peak I can say that these will largely include launching a number of pet projects that I’ve been dreaming up, and working in the background on, over the last couple of years. 2015 will see these designed, prototyped, bootstrapped and set free in to the big wide world. Watch this space…!
Please take time to have a poke around my new site and let me know your thoughts, anything you like/dislike, or especially so if you find anything broken!
Your Goals for 2015
So. If what I’ve said in the post above resonates with you, let’s put our learnings into practice. Let me know the outcome of your goal visualisation in the comments below. What are the steps you are going to take in 2015 to help you on the track towards these? If you write them below then I promise I’ll leave them there forever, and we can check back in on them in a years time, 3 years time, 10 years time (!) and see whether or not you’re taking the steps that will help you get to your ideal outcome.