People who set goals for themselves are more likely to achieve them and find success than those who aren’t goal-setters. Setting a goal involves taking a risk and overcoming obstacles in order to try and create a more promising future. Perhaps this is why goal-setters have higher levels of happiness overall than those who do not set goals for themselves. Setting goals results in feeling a greater sense of control over our lives, enhanced self-esteem, better time management, and increased social relationships. Surprisingly, whether or not you achieve the goal has little relationship to how happy you are. Goal-setting makes us happiest when it provides us with a purpose and direction to follow, thus allowing us to be free to enjoy the present moment. To achieve the highest level of happiness from setting goals, we need to enjoy the journey along the way towards our goal.
Successful goal-setting is characterized by several features. Goals should be provide both meaning and pleasure and be of personal interest and importance as opposed to being set in accordance with external pressures from society, family, or sense of duty. Research supports that goals that offer opportunities to deepen social connections with others, contribute to the greater good of society, or allow for personal development will provide more contentment than those set out to achieve monetary, material, personal beauty, or social status goals, so long as our basic needs for food, shelter, etc. have been met. Remember to have faith in your ability to reach your destination: optimistic thinking can help you surmount doubts and obstacles that interfere with goal attainment. Finally, when you share your goals with others, you are more likely to make the commitment to working towards those goals, so spread the news of your plans.
Exercise #1: Either journal about or reflect on the following questions about goal-setting: What goals have you set for yourself in the past? Did you enjoy the journey as well as the attainment of the goal? Which goals were you most passionate about? What goals did you set for yourself that you did not achieve? Did you ever feel pressured to work for a specific goal or set forth to achieve a goal that was more superficial in nature? How did that impact the journey? Are the goals that you set for yourself now, different than goals you set 5-10 years ago? If you had 3 years left to live, what kinds of things would you want to accomplish in this time-frame? What kind of legacy would you want to leave behind? What would you hope that others might say about the kind of life you led?
Exercise # 2: Consider the major areas of your life, for example: work, family, friends, hobbies/leisure time, spirituality, and education. Pick which area(s) that you would like to hone in on. Set concrete long term-goals that range anywhere from 1 to 10 years from now.
Now that you’ve selected your long-term goal(s), it’s time to put these dreams into concrete plans that you can accomplish. Break down your long-term goals into monthly objectives that you will need to meet along the way.
Finally, break these monthly objectives down even further. What will you need to do on a weekly and daily basis in order to reach your monthly set-points? Consider what you can do to maximize the journey towards the goal. Which people in your support network will you share your goals with?
Exercise #3: Consider what obstacles, challenges, and negative thinking may get in the way of reaching your goals. What can you do to surmount these hurdles?