This is the second of three posts on personal goals. If you haven’t yet, be sure to check out the first post on “why set goals?”

Now that we’ve answered the question of “why am I setting goals?”, we can start the process of actually setting them!

There are a lot of articles out there on this topic focused on multi-step, acronym-based approaches. I, however, like to keep my approach lightweight, so I recommend you set goals with only two guiding principles.

First, Choose Vague Goals That Match Your Motivations

Start by choosing vague goals that match your motivations. Essentially, what I mean by this is just choose the first goals that pop into your mind when you think about the areas you want to grow in or explore more.

They don’t have to be fully fleshed out, they don’t have to be “S.M.A.R.T.”, and they definitely don’t have to be realistic. All of that will come later. The first point is to find stuff you’re genuinely passionate about and/or interested in.

Let’s look at some examples of how to do this.

Where do I want to grow?

One of the motivations we discussed in the last post is to “grow”. So ask yourself, “in what areas of my life do I want to grow in?” These areas can be broad or narrow.

Once you’ve identified those areas, think about what you would consider growth to be for those areas. These are your vague goals.

As an example, here are 5 areas that I focus on for myself and some potential goals for each of them:

  1. Financial - My financial security and planning, such as saving for big purchases, retirement goals, paying down debt, and so on.
  2. Health - My physical well-being. These are sometimes directly related, such as losing weight, but sometimes also indirectly related, such as becoming a better Ultimate player or completing an endurance race.
  3. Career - My career or activities related to my career, such as locking down a promotion, speaking at conferences, getting a new job, and so on.
  4. Spiritual (Philosophical/World-View) - My spiritual/philosophical world-view. This might be an odd category to some folks, but I really value having a diverse perspective about the world and belief systems. Some example goals are to read the Quran, develop spiritual disciplines, read books on sociology, and so on.
  5. Personal - My own personal enjoyment. Essentially, things I want to accomplish for my own personal satisfaction that don’t fit into the other categories, such as attending concerts, studying a foreign language, traveling more, and so on.

These areas can change over time and you don’t necessarily even need to have this many. Even just one or two areas is good.

The important aspect of this is to simply identify some broad themes that you feel would make you happy to pursue.

What do I think I might enjoy?

So once you have an idea of the areas or categories that you would like to grow in, you should start thinking about specific things you’d like to accomplish in those areas, such as the ones I mentioned above.

Since some areas can have many possible goals, I like to narrow it down by asking myself, “what is something in this area that I think I might enjoy?” This ties into the second motivation we had discussed previously.

For example, if you want to work on your finances and think you might like to get into stock trading, make it a goal to learn more about stock markets and start trading.

Or, maybe you like your job, but think you might enjoy management. Set a goal to step up for opportunities to lead and/or manage projects or people at work.

This section, in particular, will require some introspection to narrow down options to things you think you might enjoy.

What do I know I enjoy and want to do more of?

Once you’ve established some new things you’d like to try, you should also think about things you already enjoy and how you might continue growing in those areas.

For instance, when it comes to health, I’m not a huge fan of going to the gym or dieting, but I love to play sports and be active outdoors. So, this past year I decided to set a goal of doing more hiking. I knew that I enjoyed hiking but didn’t do as much of it as I would like, so I resolved to hike more and I thoroughly enjoyed it. And, that kept me motivated.

Then, Set A Concrete Way To Measure Them

Once you have your vague goals based on your motivations, you should turn those into concrete goals that you can measure.

This is super important. So, I’ll say it again:

Turn vague goals into concrete goals that you can measure.

Many folks fail to stick with their goals because they are ambiguously defined.

Ambiguous or vague goals make it hard for you to know how you’re progressing against them and can often make goals seem out of reach. This makes you more likely to give up.

Consider for example my vague goal of “hiking more”. If that is what I left my goal at, how would I know if I’m actually succeeding or not? If I don’t hike for a month, should I just give up? Have I already failed? You can’t answer those questions.

But, if I change the goal to have a concrete measurement, such as “complete a 10-mile hike”, it becomes a lot more doable. I can now easily say that I haven’t failed even if I don’t hike for a month and thus it is easier to not give up.

There is a catch, however.

The point to setting concrete goals is so that you can build habits to attain them. If my goal is to hike 10 miles in a single day, then I should probably start by setting a near-term goal of completing a 5-mile hike or even just seeing what distance I currently feel comfortable doing in a single day.

So the catch is that you set concrete, measurable goals so that you can make steady progress towards them, not so you can slack off and feel okay about it. (We’ll hear more about that in the next post.)

All of that said, some “true/false” goals (like “hike more”) can be okay if you have some measure by which you can assess if they are true or false.

My goal of “hike more” is still valid if I know how much I hiked last year because it effectively transforms the goal into “hike more than X miles this year”.

This applies to many things:

  • Exercise more” is vague, but “Exercise more than last year, which was 10 times each month” is concrete.
  • Eat out less” is vague, but “Eat out less than my budget is set for, which is 3 times a week” is concrete.
  • Save more money” is vague, but “Save more money so I can afford a down-payment in 5 years” is concrete (if you know the rough price range of the house).
  • Learn to play guitar” is vague, but “Learn to play guitar well enough to play a dozen of my favorite songs” is concrete.

An easy method to come up with ways to quantify your goals is to ask yourself “how”:

  • How many? (Ex: How many songs would I like to play on the guitar?)
  • How long? (Ex: How long would I like to travel for?)
  • How much? (Ex: How much money do I want to save?)

Now those questions won’t work for everything, but they serve as a good starting point. And, before you know it, you’ll find that finding ways to measure your goals is pretty easy. Coming up with goals you’re excited about is the more challenging part.

That’s it!

Choose vague goals that match the motivations you’ve found for yourself, then turn them into concrete and quantifiable goals. I recommend approaching this as a multi-day process. I usually think through my vague goals for one weekend and then come back a week later to solidify them.

The first part of this process is very important for finding goals you’re excited to pursue; the second part is important for finding goals that you can stick with and reach.

Next time, we’ll be looking at how to reach your goals after setting them.