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The Goal Setting Process

I’ve experimented with a lot of different ways to create, establish, implement, and measure goals; on a variety of different time lines.  I’ve developed daily goals, weekly goals, monthly goals.  For the longest time, monthly goals felt great: instant gratification (except when I’d get a little delusional and develop 10 MAJOR goals to strive for in a 30-day period).  More recently, however, I’ve been introduced to a more long term approach.  Let me start by saying this.  It’s HARDER.  Much harder.  But you know something else that I’ve learned?  Things that matter – I mean things that really move the needle – they’re not easy.  And assuming those things DO matter (that’s what we each determine individually), guess what?  They’re worth it.

So my challenge to you is to begin not with a weekly to-do list, nor a monthly list of goals.  Not even a quarterly checklist, or an annual list of goals for the year (don’t get me started on “resolutions”).  The challenge is to picture yourself three years from today.  Where do you want to be?  Who do you want to be?  Picture yourself three years older.  If you’re married, picture your spouse 3 years older, or your anniversary three years out.  If your parents are alive, picture them three years from now.  If you have children, think about them moving up 3 grade levels.  It takes some effort to put yourself in that space.  What does the life that you dream of look like three years in the future?  What concerns you about the future, and what can you do to eliminate those concerns?  What excites you about your potential self and the life that surrounds you?  How can you make that potential a reality?

Admittedly, this exercise was really, really difficult for me.  I’ve always looked at my life as a snapshot.  It’s easy for me to think about what needs to happen in the moment.  Next week, next month, that’s not a huge stretch.  When I first tried to picture my life three years down the road, I was highly unimaginative: it was difficult for me to think too far past my current situation.  I had to give myself some time and some freedom to imagine.  It helped me to hit the mental “fast forward” button.  Three years from now, my wife and I will have been married 10 years.  My 5-year old will be in the third grade!  My newborn will be running around the house and talking up a storm.  I’ll be… wait for it… 40!  For me, 3 years in the future seems like a long way off.  Then I look back.  Three years ago feels like yesterday.  It’ll go in the blink of an eye.  And I asked myself: How can I create the future that I dream of?

I developed some pretty lofty goals; in the same order that I’ve discussed in previous posts. Three years from today, I want to:

  • Be in the best shape of my life (individual)
  • Live in our dream home, that we built specifically for our family (family)
  • Be an incredible, thoughtful and dependable friend to my inner circle (friends)
  • Double my income, while limiting work time to <20 hours/wk. (business)

If you’ve read through each of these posts to this point, you’re probably looking at my list of three year goals and saying, “Wait a minute Luke… These are what you yourself called shitty goals!”  You’re right.  Sort of.

In an earlier post, I explained why in the short term, these goals suck.  They’re not measurable.  There’s no deadline or schedule to implementing them.  They’re vague.  In general, these goals aren’t actionable.  That’s actually how I approach my longterm goals: they’re a starting point.  Within these goals, I’ve described the life that I want to enjoy and the person that I long to become in a fairly general sense.  For me, these goals are significant: they’re far from where I am today in each important facet of my life.  They’re not detailed because I can’t see the details.  Not yet.  I could take the time to thoroughly analyze and detail those goals three years in advance, however: A.) I’ll probably be off base, and that analysis will be tweaked repeatedly (because I don’t know what I don’t know), and B.) in the time spent planning, I’ll inevitably lose motivation and excitement.  My point?  Don’t get lost in the minutia; it can be overwhelming.  Goals in the 3-year format are nothing more than ideas.  They serve as a guide and a starting point.

After detailing your three year goals, the next challenge is to set 1-year goals.  Assuming that you’ve taken the time and effort to really think through what’s important, challenging, and imaginative in the 3-year goal setting process, the 1-year process is significantly easier.  Why?  All we’re doing is using the long term goals as a guide.  From there, we ask ourselves: “What can I do in the next year that will put me on pace to reach that goal three years down the road?”  Again, using just my previous examples, here’s what this looks like for me:

Individual: Complete a 5k run by my birthday

Family: Purchase land to build our home before 1/1/20

Friends: Organize & host a men’s retreat for members of my inner circle

Business: Grow gross revenue by 27%

See what I did there? When I bring the long term goal into a closer focus, I get a little bit less vague and a little bit more detailed and actionable.

Follow that same process and line of thinking when we bring them down to quarterly.  Again, using my specific examples:

Individual: Hire a personal trainer by 1/1/19

Family: Explore potential living areas: research schools, land, building permits, taxes, etc. (pick out one specific area to focus on each month)

Friends: Have a thorough, intentional conversation with a friend every week

Business: Onboard 50 new ThisIsBracketRacing ELITE members

Currently, I’m not even making monthly goals.  Instead, I’m taking these detailed quarterly goals, which feed into my specific annual goals, which are derived from my general 3-year goals, and inputting ultra-specific, carefully defined checkpoints.  I developed this goal checklist for my own use, and I like it so much that I’m sharing it free, here.

The idea here is simple.  I’m listing out specific tasks and activities that put me one step closer to my broader goals.  These are tasks and activities that I can complete on a regular basis (some daily, some every other day, weekly, every other week, etc.).  Then I place this checklist in front of me on a daily basis.  In my case, this sits right next to my office desk.  It serves a few purposes.  Obviously it’s a regular reminder of the things that I need to do to get to where I want to go.  That helps me prioritize the important over the seemingly urgent.  The checklist aspect provides accountability (I gotta do 50 pushups today: I’ll never get another opportunity to check off the 6th!).  Plus, at least for me, there is a lot of satisfaction derived from filling in the square.  I’ve completed a task (however small) that is getting me closer to the man I want to be.  The best part: over time that satisfaction builds real momentum.  Towards the end of the month, I’m looking at a sheet of (mostly) checked off and filled in boxes.  The compounding effect is visual, and I can’t help but feel it positively impacting my life!

That’s my last challenge for you here.  Once you’ve taken the time to establish your own long term goals, and then define actionable shorter term goals that align with them, print off this sheet.  Fill in the spaces as they apply to you.  And try it for a month.  See how it feels!

A couple references: the printable sheet itself (free!)

A snapshot of my own personal goal checklist from November, 2018:

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