We all have the natural drive to enrich our human experiences, to grow, and to achieve mastery. And often, we set goals to remind us of our aspirations. But goal setting can be tricky. Done well, it can guide us to success. Otherwise, as many of us have experienced, it can lead to frustration and disappointment.
Before we begin the goal setting season that comes with the new year, let's first build the right mindset for goals. As it turns out, how we think about goals can make a big difference in their effectiveness, and, more importantly, in our ability to enjoy the journey.
Now that we are approaching the end of the year, I notice my conversations with friends and family can often turn reflective, and we frequently end up talking about our goals. One friend lamented that she had not made much progress on her online course. Another shared that work had been too busy for him to exercise regularly. As for myself, I think of the stack of books I had purchased, still sitting idly, and felt a pang of embarrassment.
If I rewind the clock, going back to the beginning of the year, these conversations about goals felt so different. Back then, my friend was excitedly telling me about the online course that has the potential to change her career, as it had for many others. My other friend had started going to the gym again, aiming to cut down on his weight. Meanwhile, I proudly declared my "50 books a year" goal, a challenge I had seen others do successfully.
These conversations back at the beginning of the year were filled with excitement and optimism. We all couldn't wait to become that new version of ourselves. Someone with a new skillset. Someone with a healthy body. And someone who is knowledgeable and well-read. Yet, after months have gone by, it feels like we are back at exactly the same starting point. Excitement and optimism have been replaced with resigned disappointment.
Goals as a Finish Line: Too Magical to be True
If I think back to the beginning of the year, all three of us were thinking of our goals with a very rosy lens. We were all so excited, because we could all imagine how great it'd be as soon as we reach our goals. It's as if we were excited for that triumphant moment when we cross the finish line.
It's common to think of goals as a finish line. After all, we'd like to head towards our goals, and eventually reach them. But this way of thinking can actually be counterproductive, because it puts us in the wrong mindset.
A finish line defines a binary outcome: either we reach it, or we don't. When we reach it, it's a proud moment of celebration. But when we don't, it's a grave failure. Moreover, a finish line is a literal line: it separates a "before" and an "after". Before we reach the finish line, we are just another runner in the race. Only after we cross the finish line, we become a winner.
Personal growth is never so clear cut. And as a result, fixating on the finish line distracts us from the bigger picture: the long hours of training and conditioning that are required to even have a chance. When we fantasize about that one moment of elation when crossing the finish line, we build up an unrealistic mindset that's all about the triumph, and not about the hard work.
Goals as a Lighthouse: A Guiding Light
Over time, I've come to realize that goals are more like lighthouses than finish lines. The point of a light house is never to actually reach it. Rather, it provides us with guidance, so we can navigate the path, even in moments of turbulence.
Goals are the same. The most effective goals are those that can guide our daily actions, so that we put in the continuous effort to constantly stay on track. This persistent effort is what leads to growth and mastery.
How can a subtle change in mindset make such a big difference? It's because the lighthouse mindset is more realistic. It acknowledges that personal growth is never a straight line. There will be ups and downs. And it's less about the one moment of triumph, and more about consistently staying on course.
Two Ways of Setting Lighthouse Goals: Dailies and Moonshots
How could I have reframed my goal of "reading 50 books a year" as a lighthouse goal instead of a finish line goal? One way is to break it down into daily actions. For example, I could've set a goal of reading 15 pages a day, or 15 minutes a day. I can even allow myself to skip a day or two each week.
Breaking a big goal into smaller daily actions is a great way to make it more manageable. And make sure you reward yourself each time you are able to complete a "daily". This way, you can build up a positive feedback loop, and establish the habit over time.
Another approach is to set a moonshot goal. A moonshot goal is a goal that's so ambitious that it's almost impossible to reach. You really have to push yourself to the edge of your abilities. Moonshot goals are great for personal growth, as they force you to really stretch yourself, get out of your comfort zone, and aim to achieve something you barely dare to dream of. And even if you don't reach it, the journey itself is well worth the effort, as it leads to tremendous growth. In fact, many technological breakthroughs are the result of daring moonshot goals.
Balance Aspirations with Pragmatic Actions
I think it's important to incorporate both types of goals: dailies and moonshots. Moonshot goals are great for setting a new vision, and it can be extremely motivating and fulfilling to work on huge challenges. But they can also be too daunting. Dailies, on the other hand, are all about defining pragmatic actions that bring about long term growth. They are great for building habits, and taking small steps towards a larger goal.
By combining daily and moonshot goals, we can build a more balanced approach to goal setting that keeps us inspired and also grounded.
Organize Your Goals with HeroMode
How would I have organized my goals if I had HeroMode back then? I would've taken adventage of HeroMode's habit tracking functionalities to create a daily reading routine. For my friend who wanted to go through an online course, I would suggest creating an Adventure, and also create milestones for each chapter or exam. And for my other friend who wanted to exercise more, HeroMode users have had great success with building healthy lifestyles.
If you have been struggling with your goals, try to reframe them as lighthouses. See if you can break down your goals into daily actions, or set a moonshot goal that will really drive you to grow. And if you are looking for a tool to help you organize and track your goals, give HeroMode a try!