Why goals are necessary to create focus in your life
You are consistently setting and achieving your goals – even if you don't realise it. Everything that you do starts out with a subtle goal-setting exercise. You put a bunch of ingredients together with the goal of making dinner. You take a bath every day with the goal of getting clean. You get up and go to work each morning with the goal of earning a salary.
None of these things could be achieved if you did not first have the desire to achieve something (eat, get clean, earn money). Let's just take a moment to celebrate the small goals that you achieve each day. Feels good, doesn't it?
When it comes to achieving more significant things in life, we often neglect setting goals. There are a bunch of reasons why ranging from fear of failure to fear of success to just plain not knowing where to start.
If you have something big that you want to achieve, it is natural to feel overwhelmed and unsure of where to start. This thing is important to you, and you are probably scared of messing up. By setting goals – and having achievable and actionable steps that will get you there, you can create focus and remove some of the anxiety that you might be experiencing.
There is an old saying that goes:
"How do you eat an elephant? – One bite at a time".
Think about when you need to get yourself to a new and unfamiliar destination. You plug your destination into your navigation system and follow the instructions on how to get there. In the old days, you would consult a map book or get directions from someone. These directions would tell you where to turn and which landmarks to look out for.
Goals do the same thing – they give you directions on how to get where you want to be in life. The fun part here is that you get to make up your own directions – you choose what you do in order to get where you want to be.
Goal setting and your brain.
Your Reticular Activating System (RAS) consists of a group of cells located at the base of your brain. These cells essentially filter out any irrelevant information, allowing you to focus on what really matters. When you have clear goals, your Reticular Activating System filters out more information that is not related to your goals and achieving them while highlighting information that could help you reach your goals[JP1].
There are two ways that you can harness your Reticular Activating System to help you achieve your goals:
Write your goals down.
By activating your Reticular Activating System, you tell your brain what to pay attention to. When you write down your goals, you spend time telling your brain what to focus on.
Plan your goals through visualising.
If you have ever tried to manifest a particular outcome, you probably spent some time in visualisation practices. We are told that in order to manifest something, we need to daydream about it and see it as if we already have it. Here is the secret of how it works: by imagining what you want and reminding yourself of the outcome you want to achieve, you stimulate your Reticular Activating System.
You could say that writing your goals down starts the RAS engine while visualising and daydreaming about achieving your goals provides the fuel for it to keep going.
Your RAS will help you pay attention to things or situations that could help you achieve your goals. By telling your Reticular Activating System what to focus on, you are more likely to recognise opportunities that could help you move towards your goals – opportunities that might otherwise have been filtered out as 'unimportant'.
Fine-tune your Reticular Activating System through SMART (ER) Goals.
George Doran first created the concept of SMART Goals in 1981. It is an acronym that helps you set goals.
S – Specific.
M – Measurable.
A – Attainable or Achievable.
R – Realistic.
Let's look at each of these a bit closer.
Practical goals state specific things that you want to achieve. Take a moment to consider these two statements:
"I want to write a book on (topic)".
"By December, I want to have four chapters of my book completed and ready to go for editing".
Pay attention to your thought processes. The first statement is vague and overwhelming. The second statement is clear and specific. With the second statement, your mind naturally envisions four chapters that are ready to go for editing by a specific date. From imagining that, you are likely starting to form some ideas of how to do this and what you need to do in order to achieve this goal.
The second goal naturally includes the element of a good goal.
Having a measurable goal means that you can put a number to it. Besides the obvious time frame (which we will discuss in a minute), look for something to measure whether you are successful in achieving your goal.
Look at this goal statement:
"I want more clients".
"I want to get two more clients".
The second goal gives you a way to measure your success while the first one is vague.
Attainable or Achievable.
What is attainable or achievable? Well, that is up to you. You get to evaluate and decide what you are able to achieve based on your skills, strengths, and weaknesses. When deciding whether your goal is achievable, be brutally honest with yourself. You need to believe that you can be successful, and setting goals that you know you are likely to miss sets you up for failure from the get-go.
Do not set out to eat an elephant when you know (or believe) that you will never be able to eat an elephant, no matter how much help you have or which skills you learn or how determined you are.
Realistic goals tie in with achievable goals. It is fun to daydream and to visualise, and that is crucial in achieving your goals. Think about how much effort you would put into a goal that you know is unrealistic. For example, would you put much effort into this goal:
"I want to move into a 4-bedroom house in a nice neighbourhood by mid-day tomorrow".
If you are honest with yourself, you will admit that you are unlikely to take action to make this happen. That is because it just isn't a realistic goal to achieve.
Realistic goals could be several smaller goals that lead up to something bigger. For example, realistic goals could include:
'I am saving $xx each month for a down-payment on a house'.
'By (this date), I want to have $xx to put down for a house'.
'I am doing (fill in this blank) to increase my credit rating to get a better deal on a home loan'.
All of these are realistic goals that lead you towards what you ultimately want – a 4-bedroom house in a nice neighbourhood.
By setting a time limit to your goals, you create a commitment. It changes your thinking from 'One day I will do this' to 'I need to get this done'. It removes the luxury of procrastinating and holds you accountable for taking action steps towards reaching your goal.
How goals improve your focus.
In an article published on Forbes[JP2] , Jeff Boss explains how setting goals can improve your focus.
Goals inspire you to act.
When you have a clear outcome that you want to achieve, you are more inclined to take action that would bring you what you want.
Goals help you focus.
Having clear goals and knowing where you are headed gives you the ability to take steps in that direction. Once you are clear on what you want, you will be able to figure out what you need to do in order to get it instead of willy-nilly doing things hoping that there is some positive outcome along the way.
Goals keep your momentum going.
Whenever you experience something that is pleasurable or rewarding, your brain releases dopamine. Dopamine is a neurochemical and is often referred to as the 'happy hormone'. The more you achieve your goals, the more dopamine gets released… and the more you want it. This feedback loop creates motivation for you to keep pursuing and achieving your goals.
Going through life without goals is like being on a sailing ship with the sails up - and allowing the wind to move you in whichever direction it blows. It could make for a fantastic adventure, but it doesn't get you to where you want to be - worse yet, you might just find yourself stuck in the middle of a raging storm.
By setting goals, you are metaphorically trimming the sails so that you can harness the power of the wind to get you to your destination faster and with less effort. You are the captain of your own ship – and you choose where you end up.