Author Bill Copeland famously said, “The trouble with not having a goal is that you can spend your life running up and down the field and never score.”
Without goals, you can be busy. You can get many things done. You can win awards, gain fame, earn a lot of money and travel around the world. But you can also let life pass you by.
How do you know what to celebrate? How do you know when you’ve had enough? If you don’t have goals, you passively receive life.
That doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy your existence. However, you may never be able to create the life that you want.
When you set goals, you’re an active participant in your life. You live from a more conscious perspective, and you live according to your purpose.
Perhaps you’ve read a lot about setting goals. Maybe you even dedicate to this practice to enhance your life. Understanding why it works can help you maintain consistency and boost your goal-setting prowess.
Why to Set Goals?
Here are 10 reasons why to set goals.
1. You Gain Awareness of the Bigger Picture
Where do you fit into the world? If you imagine that the world revolves around you, you may have a hard time with a lot of aspects of life.
When the world revolves around you, your ego is the main character. You may achieve recognition and fame. You may be an important person in many people’s lives. However, you can also be devastated by personal criticism or defeat.
Once you understand how you fit into the world at large, you gain a better understanding of everything. You notice how your actions affect others.
Perhaps even more importantly, you realize that your actions don’t have as magnanimous of an effect as you may have thought. That knowledge can:
- Give you the confidence to take bigger risks
- Allow you to open up to people when you would otherwise feel shy
- Make you more likely to try new things
- Make it easier to handle criticism
- Help you be more understanding of others
Not all methods of goal setting help you see the big picture. It can be easy to get lost in the details.
Therefore, it’s important to set different types of goals. Gear some toward the future. Others should be action steps that help you achieve larger objectives.
If you start with the end in mind, you open your perspective up immediately. Then, you create smaller goals that support the bigger mission. By doing that, you can look at more variables than you would see if taking a bottom-up approach. It’s like being able to see a completed puzzle so that you know that you’re working in the right direction when you add the rest of the pieces.
2. You Gain Control
Many people are sleepwalking through life. They don’t have a clear direction, and they’re letting life happen to them.
These people live from day to day. They don’t really know what they want. They don’t think about the future. They may perform many daily activities, but none of their actions relate to the bigger picture.
One example of this is a student who graduates and doesn’t know what jobs he wants to apply for. Some adults sail through life, only to be surprised when they lose their job in their 40s and don’t know what to do next.
The worst part of sleepwalking is that you’re often fulfilling everyone else’s goals. If you’re an employee, you’re certainly catering to another person’s objectives. If you’re a consumer, you’re buying products because the marketing industry tells you to.
But what do you want to do? When you decide that, you begin to take control of your life.
Some people don’t believe that they can create their lives. They think that they’re subject to the randomness of the universe and they’ll never be able to choose their own path.
You may believe that because you’ve never tried to operate from the driver’s seat. If you’ve experienced a lot of hardship, it’s hard to understand that you can regulate what befalls you. Although you can’t control everything, you can govern most of your life.
If you’re still having trouble believing that you can take the reins, start by looking back instead of forward. What have you achieved up until now?
Write down your achievements. Then, ask yourself what you did to accomplish those things. Once you take responsibility for your life, you realize that you can tweak the future based on your goals.
3. Setting Goals Enhances Your Performance
In the workplace, teams that set goals do their jobs 25 percent more effectively. Athletes set goals to improve their performance. Some of the most successful entrepreneurs say that their secret is goal setting.
You create an idea when you think about your dreams and goals. Those concepts become actualized when you take steps in the physical world to move toward them.
But blindly setting goals won’t necessarily help you do better in school, the workplace, sports or your personal life. You need to be strategic about it.
Tony Robbins said, “You need a vision that’s large, and you need a plan that’s achievable.” People who set goals for sports follow the same rationale. They set short, medium and long-term goals that may be used alone or in combination.
Moreover, the types of goals that you set matter. There are various kinds of goals, including:
- Outcome goals – i.e., winning a game
- Performance goals – i.e., meeting or exceeding a personal record
- Process goals – i.e., improving your strategy
Setting a variety of goals that fall within these categories helps you improve your skills as you achieve better outcomes.
4. Setting Goals Improves Your Focus
According to Locke and Latham, the pioneers of goal-setting theory, pursuing an objective narrows your focus. When you place your attention on reaching your goals, you direct it away from irrelevant activities.
Most people have many different obligations in life. You might have to earn money to support your family, run the household, take care of children, lead a team at work, bring energy to a weekend sports team and help the PTA raise money for your kids’ school.
Without goals, you might be overwhelmed by all of these duties. You might not be able to prioritize them, and you could feel as though you’re always running ragged trying to get everything done.
When you have goals, you iron out your path a little bit. You can still experience challenges and encounter obstacles when you set goals. However, you can determine what’s important to take care of now and what can wait until later. You also let go of the extra tasks that don’t contribute to your goals.
Let’s say that you want to become an artist. You have the talent, and you spend a lot of time painting in your studio. But that’s not enough to make a living with your passion. How can you go from making art in isolation to getting the world to buy it so that you can support yourself financially?
You have to channel your energy in a way that requires focus. Creating more art is not going to make you more money if no one sees it. You must set goals that bridge the gap between your creations and the outcome.
Some of your goals could be:
- Show and promote your art on social media
- Get gallery representation
- Hold public art shows at community spaces
- Register for some vendor shows in your region
- Submit illustrations to art publications
Once you recognize what you want to achieve, you can focus on taking steps toward those results. You might need to get a list of local galleries that display art that’s similar to yours. You may need to learn how to use Instagram to your advantage. You might need to increase your body of work so that you have enough to display at an art show.
The point is that once you have these goals, you can develop a plan for achieving them. You’re no longer aimlessly creating paintings in private. You’re working on your business in other ways to become more visible to the general public.
5. Setting Goals Holds You Accountable
If you don’t set goals, you don’t have to be accountable for your actions. Let’s elaborate on the example of an artist who wants to support himself with his painting. If he has no goals, it doesn’t matter if he creates 5 or 500 pieces a week. He can choose to take the day off or work tirelessly all week.
He may produce less art if he takes time off, but what does that matter if he doesn’t have goals to strive for? When you don’t have a standard against which to gauge your progress, the measurements don’t matter.
But if this person wants to earn money from his art, he will have to be somewhat dedicated to the process. He can’t just take a year off and expect money to come rolling in. While that’s possible, it’s not likely.
A mere desire to earn money isn’t a goal. Sure, the idea that you can earn cash from your talents can certainly motivate you to use those talents, but you’ll still likely scramble to secure a routine that gets your business off the ground.
When you set goals, you’re accountable. The best goals involve deadlines that get you moving within a certain time frame. You may or may not follow your schedule. But if you don’t, you’ll have to rearrange your plan to accommodate the difference.
You can tell others about your goals so that they can help hold you accountable. However, that’s not always necessary.
The simple act of setting goals that align with your desires can be enough to help you take ownership of your reality. The endowment effect explains that we place a higher value on the things that we own than the things that we don’t have yet.
That’s why it’s so important to own your goals. Once you’ve taken responsibility for achieving them, you’re less likely to give them up easily. In contrast, taking on new obligations can be daunting if they’re not related to a goal that you’ve already internalized.
6. You Stay Motivated
When you have big dreams, you may be excited to realize them. Thinking about them makes your heart beat a little faster. As you visualize yourself reaching your dreams, you feel light, happy and energized.
Many people have grand wishes for their lives. Some common goals and dreams include:
- Finding that special someone
- Retiring with plenty of money in the bank
- Having children
- Starting a business
- Earn a six or seven-figure income
- Buy your dream house
- Star in a movie
- Own a yacht
- Run a marathon
But sometimes it’s hard to picture how you’re going to get from your current state to your big dreams. If you’re working as a bagger at a grocery store and don’t have a college degree, you might feel discouraged when you think about earning a seven-figure income.
This is where goals come in. They fill in the gaps between your present situation and your wishes for the future. A supermarket clerk with a dream of being a millionaire can set progressive goals such as:
- Taking courses that will earn credits toward a bachelor’s degree
- Earning a business degree from an online university within the next four years
- Working with a start-up incubator to flesh out entrepreneurial ideas
- Finding a mentor to support his business endeavors
- Looking for investors to fund his organization’s launch
Within five years, that individual could be his own boss. By that point, he’s much closer to achieving his dream of bringing in an ample salary.
More importantly, he set goals that allowed him to take steps toward that big dream. When you set incremental goals, you feel rewarded every time you accomplish them. Those celebrations spur you to set your sights higher next time and continue down the path that culminates in your big vision.
Goals also keep you motivated when you come across obstacles. Imagine that you’ve set a goal to hike to the top of a small mountain. It’s been your dream for a long time, and you spent the last year tackling incremental goals that helped you get ready, such as researching the best hiking gear and training to prepare your body.
It’s time. You head to the base of the mountain and begin your trek. About one-quarter of the way up, you realize that part of the mountain has been destroyed. The path that you expected to take can no longer get you to the top.
If you were just on a day hike with no particular goal, you’d probably call it a day and head home or seek out another hiking trail that had scenic vistas. But because you are determined to hike this mountain and have followed through on all of your goals to get this far, you are going to do some research to find a solution.
You might not have been motivated to continue on this path if you hadn’t set that goal.
7. Goals Help You Grow
There is a lot of talk these days about the benefits of going outside of your comfort zone. Your comfort zone is the behavioral routine with which you’re familiar. It exists because of your experience.
The more you go through a certain experience, the more comfortable you are with it. Blame it on neuroscience.
When you do something new, your brain has to decide how to process that experience through your entire central nervous system. It develops pathways of neurons and neurotransmitters that send messages to help you perform the activity as well as deal with any emotions or reflections that come from it.
The first time that the pathway is created, it’s fairly temporary. You can think of this like carving out a trail in a virgin forest. If you’re just one person hacking away with a machete, you can clear some branches and brambles, but it will take a lot of work.
As you continue to do the same activity, your body creates myelin, which insulates the nerve fibers along that pathway. That insulation allows signals to travel more quickly and smoothly. In other words, the experience starts to feel easier. You become more efficient.
You can liken this to someone coming behind you and clearing the trail that you started. They’ll get more trees and sticks out of the way, making the trail more passable for the next journey.
The more you blaze that trail, the more pronounced it becomes. By the time you’ve gone down the path 100 times, it’s completely clear. You can jog right through it. You don’t have to stop and assess what’s in front of you. You don’t need special tools to make your way down the trail. You’re in your comfort zone.
Eventually, you get bored. Going down the same trail takes you to the same destination. You see the same sights along the way. It’s easy to navigate this well-worn trail, but you’re not getting anywhere new.
That’s the problem with staying within your comfort zone. It may feel scary and hard to branch out, but you may not have new experiences if you don’t break through those boundaries.
You might be content and experience low levels of stress, but will you grow if you don’t move past your comfort zone? Probably not.
Experts say that staying within your comfort zone makes you:
- Less productive – When you can do the bare minimum to get by, why bother maximizing your performance?
- Have trouble dealing with uncertainty – Leaving your comfort zone can produce anxiety. If you’re not used to doing that, you might have a lot of trouble in new or undefined situations.
- Limit your creativity – New experiences help us learn. They provide us with additional information that we can use to be creative, make decisions and solve problems. If you’re not exposed to things that are outside of your comfort zone, you might have trouble seeing new possibilities.
- Take fewer risks – Some risks can put you in dangerous situations. However, risk-takers are more likely to be successful. When you’re comfortable with discomfort, you’ll be more apt to put yourself in situations that can help you grow.
Setting challenging goals helps you expand your comfort zone. You can place your objectives just outside of the range of ease so that you have to take some leaps, manage risk and learn new skills to achieve them. As you do this, you not only break out of your comfort zone but also expand it, making everything in life feel easier.
8. Improve Your Time Management
Many people start out each year wanting to improve their lives in some way. Maybe they want to be more productive, have better relationships or achieve a work/life balance.
But as time goes on, they realize that it’s hard to change their routines. Finding time for everything that they want to do is daunting.
Holding an intention to improve your life is the first step in getting there. Without goals, though, you’ll often struggle to find the balance between your practical life and your desires.
How do you change your current situation if you don’t have a plan? You can’t just add more hours to your day. You likely have to juggle your time and decide what to give up to make room for the things that you want to implement.
When you have goals, you gain a better understanding of your time. That’s because when you set goals properly, you have to decide on a time frame for achieving them.
Doing so can be hard, especially if you’re new to the practice. You start by estimating the amount of time that you’ll need to accomplish your objective. You can do this whenever you perform a task; you don’t necessarily need to set a goal to get good at time management.
However, the goal allows you to check in with yourself. After you reach it, you can look back and determine whether you allotted the right amount of time for all the tasks that were necessary to achieve your goal. Goals serve as markers that give you feedback to learn how your goals are working for you.
If you can’t seem to get a handle on time management, consider breaking your goals down until they’re as small as possible. When you can create action steps that can be achieved in 10 minutes, one hour, one day or one week, you’ll be better able to predict how long a particular goal will take to accomplish in the long run.
9. You’ll Have Freedom of Thought
Have you ever had so many ideas that you felt bombarded? When you’re flooded with downloads, you might not be able to think about anything else.
Setting goals guides your thought process. It allows you to decide on your priorities and focus on them. You take big, vague ideas and turn them into concrete practices.
Moreover, when you write them down, they leave the realm of your imagination and develop a solid footing. Once you’ve written down your goal, broken it down into steps and scheduled the tasks that are necessary for accomplishing it, you are free to think creatively again.
In other words, setting goals frees up your brain space. It lets you put your ideas into action so that your mind is capable of coming up with creative solutions and making decisions. When you have a system for transforming your ideas into workable actions, you won’t feel as overwhelmed when you’re inundated with inspiration.
10. You Know When You’ve Won
Are you successful? That question may be difficult to answer if you haven’t set goals for yourself.
Your goals serve as markers for your ambitions. If you don’t have them, you may not know when to stop.
Imagine that you’re a freelance writer. Your schedule is flexible, and you can pick up as much work as you’d like on a given week. When you finish writing one article, you can dedicate yourself to another one immediately.
It feels good to turn in an assignment and get paid for it. The more you work, the more money you can make. If you haven’t set goals for yourself, you could end up filling your day with writing and leaving little time for anything else.
In this case, it would benefit you to either determine the number of assignments you want to take on during the week or the amount of money that you want to make. When you’ve accomplished your objectives, you can make a better decision about how to spend your time.
Maybe you can put down the computer and go to the park with the kids. Perhaps you will decide to take on one more project so that you can put an extra $100 in savings this week.
In either case, you get to make the choice. You get to create your life and fill it with work, leisure time or whatever you decide.
What If You Don’t Meet Your Goals?
As the saying goes, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” Your goals are not meant to be set and stone. It’s understandable that they’ll change as you make discoveries along your journey. However, you’ll end up much farther from your starting point if you set your ambitions high than if you don’t have any at all.