I’ve written many articles but never thought I’d need to write this one.
Goals are something that I have always had. I can’t stop myself from aiming at bigger and bigger things. Maybe it’s the gamer in me, or maybe it’s my environment or parents, but having goals has always been me.
And, from my experience, most people are like that. Intuitively we want to experience things, have things, and achieve things. We even create fancy structures in which to create better goals like SMART goals or PACT goals or Starting With Why to understand ourselves before making goals.
That’s just how humans function, right?
Well, yes. Also, no. Not always.
Our minds are fragile things, so impactful events (especially tragic ones), our DNA, or simply bad luck can easily make us forget about the thrill of the chase. The thrill of going against all odds and achieving something. Of being the hero in our little piece of the cosmos.
But we very rarely stop and ask the question:
What about having goals?
You wake up. It’s 07:23. You are late!
You had to wake up at 07:00 sharp, and you overslept. You have a ton to do before work, and you have to rush to a rare in-the-office meeting. It’s preferable not to look like an Uruk-hai either (a half-orc, half-human, c’mon).
So, you rush around the house. You brush your teeth, iron your shirt, and put the bread in the toaster (you’re neither hungry nor have time to eat, but it’s your routine).
While running towards the bedroom to put some pants on, your dog makes a literal backflip out of happiness. It’s the cutest thing in the world!
You don’t see that.
You put on your pants and shirt and run back to the kitchen to take your toast. While dashing, you accidentally kick a slipper on the ground.
It’s that slipper. You lost that slipper three weeks ago, and it’s been bugging you ever since. And here it is, just chilling in the middle of your hallway.
You don’t see that.
You grab your toast, bite it and dash out of your place (forgetting to take the dog out 😢).
Note: It’s okay; the dog is fictional!
On the way to work, you meet with a friend that you wanted to catch up with forever, but you just say a quick “Hi” and continue your walk (that’s essentially a run now).
Your friend has a wedding ring on their finger. They just wanted to tell you about it.
You don’t see that.
You get to work. You’re actually late by about 30 seconds.
No one cares.
But you did care — it was your goal.
Let’s analyze this story.
There are two things we need to talk about:
- Goals and what they do to your attention.
- Urgency vs. Importance.
Both are incredibly important for you to understand the need to have goals and how to make them.
Having Goals and paying attention
Goals do something magical. They direct your mind. They focus it.
Whenever you have a goal, you redefine the universe. Your universe, at least.
Things change and become something else. Some things lose value:
- Interesting things might stop being interesting. Like your dog almost doing a backflip.
- Valuable things become worthless. Like your slipper that you were looking for.
- Important things become unimportant. Like your friend and their wedding.
And other things become more powerful:
- The rock-solid execution of your plan (although a bit chaotic at places).
- Your dedication to getting to work faster.
- Your ability to ignore any distractions on the way.
You get a simple, new perspective on everything in the universe: is it useful for your goal or not?
Your mind becomes focused and ignores everything that is not useful while utilizing everything useful to a degree of 1000%.
This is cognitive reframing done automagically for you. Your goal and your attention align, and you intuitively reevaluate the worth of everything you come in touch with.
This is neither positive nor negative, of course — sometimes it can save you from distractions, and sometimes it can get you to clean up dog pee from your floor.
Note: the dog pee is also fictional here. Good grief because it is not the most fun thing to do when you get home.
Next, we need to take a look at urgency and importance.
Urgency vs. Importance
In this case, the story is exaggerated to show how too much urgency for something that is not important can have a negative impact. But that’s just one side of things as usual.
Becoming hyper-focused on anything will channel your attention towards that thing. And your attention is like a spotlight.
This can be extremely useful in cases in which you want to do focused, difficult work or you have a tight deadline for something important to you.
But, as we saw with the story, if you hyper-focus on something that is not important to you — you will miss out.
So, to not miss out, you need to think carefully about whether or not what you’re aiming for is:
Those can often feel the same, but they are not. Urgent things often seem important because of their deadline. But, I’ll share a secret with you:
It’s true! Most of the time, most deadlines are there to “stimulate” people but not necessarily because it’s a make-or-break situation.
No, that’s not a message to “take deadlines with a pinch of salt”, although you should — the idea is larger than that. The idea is that things that are urgent often seem important because of very human reasons. Basically, we get them confused.
Why do you need a goal?
Goals help you focus and move towards what you want.
They can be an invaluable tool that lets you miss out on things for the sake of achieving something you care about more. My example was brutal to make a point, but most of the time, you’ll miss out on:
- Social Media
A strong goal can replace all the modern challenges of focusing on something with the intrinsic drive to focus on that thing. That drive is powerful and can get you places.
Ditch shaky motivation, set a goal, and rely on that drive!
PS: If you wonder what to read next — learn about the Advanced Pomodoro Technique here.