There are goals that we set which instantly demoralize us. They remind us of household chores we’d rather not do like cleaning the kitchen sink or throwing old food out from the freezer. Losing 40 pounds? Not a chance. Starting a novel? Please. Earning more money or getting a degree? How about finding your life’s purpose? You’re likely thinking, “Not in this lifetime.”
Then there are goals, though massive in scope, that inspire us. They may seem totally unattainable. These goals will force us outside our comfort zones, but just thinking about them makes the hair on our arms stand up. We feel giddy inside. That is until we start thinking about how far we need to go to get from here – to there.
Is it big goals killing our dreams or are we just unsure about how to go about making those dreams come true?
Smart Goals Aren’t Really Goals
There is a trend going on these days involving SMART goals, a euphemism for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-Focused, and Time-Bound.
Yes, we can set these kind of goals, and maybe we’ll even make a little progress this way, but REAL goals rarely seem achievable when we start out, and some goals have nothing to do with results, just a feeling we get from accomplishing something that means something to us, and no one else.
Just ask Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, the first men to ever climb Mount Everest or Michal Jordan, the first athlete to make a billion dollars, or Oprah. Do you think she ever imagined that owning her own production company was possible when black women were rarely even on television?
Sometimes, our goal isn’t any more specific than we want to love and be loved more. How would we measure that on a chart? Maybe we can define specific things like, people will hug us more, or we’ll do more kind acts for others when they aren’t expecting it, but sometimes love is defined through things we never planned on doing. Maybe we think we want more hugs and attention from others, but the result we really want, as we find over time, is more self-respect.
Grandiose, impossible, gargantuan goals tap into things about our deepest desires we aren’t ready to tackle yet. They propel us toward amazing levels of growth and self-actualization, but we don’t make them because the minute we do, we look at them and ourselves like, “Who am I kidding.”
“SMART goals” are steps, guideposts along the way, tasks to achieve. They aren’t GOALS with a big G.
Set It and Forget It
The trick to setting massive goals, and achieving them is to set them and forget them. If you’re scratching your head, let me explain.
When we set inspiring, earth-shattering goals, we may get excited about the end game, but the thousand and one steps to get to that end goal can seem daunting.
Let’s say you want to climb Mount Everest. You don’t just wake up one morning at base camp, and then head up the mountain. You still set up a process for achieving this goal. It might be something like this:
Day One: Find a training buddy in Meet-Up for Hiking
Day Two: Buy the best pair of hiking boots I can afford
Day Three: Walk 2 miles at Easy trail park on a grade 2 incline
Day Four: Do a half hour of yoga stretches meant just for hikers and runners.
You get the idea. Each of these little steps – what someone else might call a smart goal isn’t your BIG goal. They are tasks that you achieve on the way to your big goal. You get a little thrill every time you cross one off your list. Your brain releases a little dopamine dump as a reward for doing something new, productive, and in line with who you want to become.
Then you build confidence. After about 200 days of marking these tasks off your process plan, you start feeling like climbing Mount Everest isn’t that improbable after all. After 300 days of doing your process (still not concentrating on the BIG goal) you start to feel invincible.
Your DNA starts changing because you are developing the mental muscles which support a person capable of climbing a massive mountain with a pack on their backs. This creates a feedback loop that propels you to keep moving toward your goal, instead of giving up before you’ve even started.
Soon your calf and thigh muscles are showing signs of strength and endurance. You are eating better. You’ve lost 10 pounds without ever making that a goal. You get better sleep. You find that the confidence you are building in this one area of your life is spilling out over into everything else that you do. You communicate better, you feel sexier, and people are starting to look up to you and ask you for advice to achieve their own goals – because you are actually doing it.
Were any of these side benefits things you longed for when you decided you just wanted to plant a pole on the top of that mountain – probably not. But they are equally inspiring, happiness-building, and self-actualizing.
Then one day you are at base camp, and you are heading up that mountain, and all those little tiny steps you followed through on have prepared you for this moment. Planting your flag on the top of Mount Everest feels indescribable, but you don’t lose anything by finally achieving your heart’s desire.
You are now equipped with greater strength, endurance, and skill than before, and you can apply this to the next goal you want to achieve. You’ll also enjoy the little things along the way because you’ve learned to set it and forget it and follow your plan. Now, you can do just about anything.
Are big goals killing your dreams? Not if you just dream big enough, and then forget it.