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Day 70: The art of goal setting

day 70 - goals

Some days I feel zero motivation to do anything. Usually I indulge those feelings because if I don’t it won’t go away, more importantly if I don’t then I sit in front of a computer/book/etc. and get almost zero accomplished. Frankly, I think trying to power through the feeling and get work done just isn’t healthy and experience has shown it does absolutely nothing for me. This brings me to the topic of the day, goal setting!

Setting goals are important, but we seldom talk about what a good goal is and what a bad goal is. In our last post, we looked at how to create a daily routine and one of the things that came up often was goal setting. However, we never defined what a goal even is! Sure we have a fuzzy sense of what a goal SHOULD be, but if we don’t actually examine our goal, then how do we know if we will ever hit it? If my goal is to be a millionaire by the time I’m 50, that tells me nothing about my accomplishments along the way. This is why choosing your goal can make or break your motivation, after all I can want to be a millionaire all I want, but how do I get to that goal?

I look at goal setting as a form of map making, you know where you are starting and you know where you want to end, so you need to be able to plot a route from point A to point B. Ideally that route will be direct, fast, and easy to do. Goals should have meaning to you, if you’re goal is to be a millionaire, you’re not looking deep enough. Why do you want that? What need does it fulfill? What do you get out of it?

These are all important questions, because it defines your route, maybe you are conflating money with success and you really just want to be successful, well that is a completely different end point. Maybe you just really want the financial stability having a lot of money can give you, again totally different end point. Maybe you think having that kind of money will let you be philanthropic, you’re on the totally wrong bus to get to where you ACTUALLY want to be. This is why it’s important to look at the reasons why you want what you want. You may have a completely different destination than your actual desire.

I’ll use myself as an example. When I left the Marine Corps, I wasn’t sure what I wanted from life anymore. I had no idea what came next because I thought the Marines was the destination for me, I was going to retire after 30 years of service and that would be a good life. Unfortunately, with my injury and subsequent discharge, I suddenly had no end goal.

After some thought I decided I wanted to help veterans who lost limbs, so I thought prosthetics would be a nobel goal. I wanted to leave the world in a better place than when I found it. It was a destination with  no route. I had an end goal, but it took years of trial and error to find my way. A good goal lets you set milestones in your journey.

You can break a good goal down into smaller steps to make sure you are on the right path. That is the importance of milestones, to make sure you’re still headed where you want to go. My goal was prosthetics, so my original map to that endpoint was to get my undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering (done!) and then it would be off to medical school to study neurology.

As you may have noticed, I’m not in medical school. I redrew that map about 3 years into my degree progression because it no longer represented the best path to my goal. Now that I have my Masters and I’m working towards my PhD I am on a much better path for me. That is the other important thing to remember, just like any good route, you shouldn’t be afraid to change it if you find a better path. The best path isn’t a static route, it should change as your journey changes, even if the goal remains the same.

Pick a goal that has meaning for you, something you can set milestones in your journey to make sure you are still on track. Having a good daily routine really helps (remember that should also be flexible). Today is day 70 of 365, my goal wasn’t to blog everyday, that isn’t a very good goal. What I really wanted was to write my thoughts out every day, sometimes that covers the topics I’m learning, or like today, just things I need (or want) to remind myself of. That distinction is important because if my goal was just, blog every day, I probably wouldn’t do it, I would get bored with it and just stop. However, because I am committing to just write whatever I feel like for the day as I progress with my degree, I feel more motivated to do it and everyday I hit one tiny milestone.

One last thought on goal setting, maybe I will fail. There may be a day or two where I don’t blog. That doesn’t mean I completely failed, it just means I’m human. There is a difference between not achieving your goal and just giving up. The best goals are challenging, they make you a better person than when you started.

If you don’t hit the goal like you planned, that doesn’t mean you failed, it just means it is time to draw a new path. Maybe I blog all 365 days, maybe I don’t, but in the end I will have written for more days than I did not and I will be better for it and I will have a repository of information I can draw on when I forget something or just need a good reminder that we’re only human and failure is  apart of that process. It’s a cheesy platitude, but no matter how many times you get knocked down, as long as you keep getting back up, you’ve never really failed. I think that is a good note to leave on, set goals and if you fall, just get back up and reevaluate, there is always another path, even if you didn’t see it the first time around.

Until next time, don’t stop learning!

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