“What keeps me going is goals.” ~ Muhammad Ali
A couple of months ago I was having coffee with an old college friend, Shashi Gupta, and he was complaining about not achieving most of the goals he had set for himself in the past few years.
Whether it’s reading 30 books every year or taking his private consulting business to the next level, most of his goals are relegated to the back burner by the formidable hands of the immediate pressing needs.
“When I’m constantly putting out the tiny forest fires that keep lighting up here and there,” he lamented, aimlessly stirring his empty cup with a spoon, “how can I think of growing a new forest?”
Then he leaned back on the chair, raised both his hands up in the air despondently, and confessed, “To tell you the truth, I have no desire left in me to pursue or achieve my goals. That’s the fundamental problem.”
“If you don’t mind Shashi,” I asked, without meaning to prod much, “can you tell me normally how you set your goals and then how you keep track of them, or pursue them?”
“Like everybody else,” Shashi replied a bit impatiently. “I create a list of my goals, things that I would like to achieve, let’s say, by the end of the current year, and then I try to do whatever is required. The thing is, somewhere I lose track because my day-to-day problems don’t allow me to work on my goals.”
“OK, tell me one of the goals that you have this year,” I instinctively asked, drawing out a notebook and a pen from my pocket.
“For example, in the beginning of the year I decided that I would read 30 books by the end of the year. It’s already May and I haven’t even read one book, can you believe that?” Shashi said.
“Why do you want to read 30 books?” I asked. “Is there a reason why you want to read 30 books and not 25 or 35?”
“There is no particular reason. I read somewhere that a person should be able to read at least 30 books every year. I think reading makes one wiser and it also sharpens one’s mind,” Shashi shrugged his shoulders.
I immediately knew what was Shashi’s problem and after that we had a lengthy, fruitful discussion and I’m happy to say, he sounds happy whenever we have talked on the phone and he seems to be making some headway in pursuit of his goals.
I wrote a few suggestions for him on the notepad that I had with me and I would like to share some of the suggestions with you. They will allow you to achieve any goal you set for yourself.
Define your goal clearly
Don’t make your goal into a casual statement. Setting goals and pursuing them is a serious business so you need to know exactly what you want to achieve. Only when you know what you want to achieve you will be able to draw a clear roadmap.
For example, Shashi wanted to read 30 books in a year. He didn’t exactly know why he wanted to read 30 books and what he intended to learn. Somehow, he had concluded that reading 30 books would make him wiser.
But what does it mean to be wiser? Did he want to improve his general knowledge? Did he want to read classical literature by famous authors? Did he want to acquire knowledge that would help him expand his business? Did he want to master differential calculus?
Whatever goal you are setting, use very clear language and set very clearly-defined goals. Don’t just say I want to read these many programming books; say I want to be able to develop applications using Python or Java by the end of this year. Don’t say that you are going to be a published writer in the next two years. Select a date and declare you are going to finish a book by that day.
Define realistic goals by reverse engineering
Let’s again take the example of reading 30 books in a year. Shashi randomly chose the number. He didn’t consider the time he would actually be able to dedicate to reading books.
Suppose you can spend 20 minutes every day on reading. For how much time can you read in a week? 140 minutes. In a month? 560 minutes. In a year? 6720 minutes. An average reader can read 150 words per minute. This means in a year you can read 1008000 words. If on an average every book you read contains 100,000 words, you will be able to read approximately 10 books in a year.
These numbers are just to explain to you how to get a realistic idea of what you can achieve given the resources and restraints at your disposal right now. Besides, if you have a realistic number in front of you, you will be more enthusiastic and focused towards achieving your goal.
To understand this concept better, watch Will Smith-starrer “The Pursuit of Happyniess” — the protagonist knows his constraints and works accordingly.
The same can be applied to gaining a new skill, building your wealth, expanding your business and improving your health in a realistic manner. Take stock of the resources you have at hand, take a stock of the effort you can put in, add a little bit of hard work and perseverance, and then decide your goals.
The SpaceX CEO Elon Musk recently said, “I’d like to die on Mars, just not on impact.”
SpaceX is heavily investing in space tourism. In a single sentence, Elon Musk has expressed his grand goal for the company: to develop technology that will not just take him to Mars, but will also help him safely land on the surface without killing him. For him, his goal is to enable people to land on the surface of Mars without dying.
Divide bigger goals into smaller tasks
The overall goal can seem daunting but smaller tasks can be fun to achieve. Let’s use the handy example of reading books again. Since you know that all you have to do is read 20 minutes every day, you won’t be bothered about achieving your goal. You know that as long as you stick to your 20-minutes-or-more routine of reading every day, you are good to go.
Not just reading, even if you want to complete a book, focus on the 500 words that you want to write today; don’t worry about the entire book. Finding it difficult writing 500 words? Just focus on writing the first 50 words and don’t bother about the 500 words that you are supposed to write. Just as small drops turn into big lakes and oceans, the smaller tasks that you achieve everyday will eventually materialize into bigger achievements.
Take care of your physical and spiritual health
Not surprisingly, most people fail to achieve their goals because, in pursuit of those goals, they begin to neglect their physical and spiritual health. If you are not healthy, you cannot work hard. Spiritually if you’re not at peace, you cannot focus. Taking care of your health isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity. Having a healthy mindset also isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity. So, exercise daily, eat well and invest in developing healthy relationships with your loved ones, with friends and with colleagues.
Develop a positive attitude towards hard work
Sadly, we live in times when hard work is looked down upon. Unconsciously, when people are working hard, they think that they are not being smart, whereas that’s not the case. Achieving goals takes a combination of smartness and hard work.
But what’ smartness? Smartness doesn’t just mean always finding shortcuts. Smartness means knowing when to work hard and when to move on and how to optimally use the resources and time you have.
Share your goals with people around you
We are a social species. You cannot achieve your goals in isolation. Once you have set your goals that are worthy of pursuing, share your goals with your loved ones so that unknowingly, they don’t create hurdles for you. In fact, once you share your goals with them, you will be pleasantly surprised to know how people around you can help you achieve your goals.
Setting goals and achieving those goals is a serious business. If you set your goals sitting in a bar sipping a bottle of beer on the New Year eve, your goals are going to treat you the same way. As the saying goes, life treats you the way you treat life.
Plan your goals. Use a notepad or a mapping tool available on your PC or mobile phone. Chalk out every little detail. Create an action plan. Have a clear vision of what you are and what you want to be when you have achieved your goal.
Using the comments section below, do share with me how you set your goals and what steps you take to achieve them. Stay tuned for more interactions.