Why Goal Setting Works
Welcome to the first in a series of posts about some of the attitudes and philosophies I've found helpful when setting goals and planning for success. When you’re trying to understand a particular topic, I think it’s important to have a good understand of the theoretical side as well as the practical side. In other words, it's as important to know why as it is to know how.
I believe the main reason that goal setting works is that we are naturally goal-oriented beings. Every action we take has desired outcome (a goal) associated to it.
Let me give you a simple example to illustrate what I mean. When I walk out of my door in the morning to go to work, I have a specific goal. That goal is simply to get to my office by a particular time. With this in mind, my brain automatically figures out what needs to happen in order to achieve this goal and executes the plan. I get in the car and off I go. Imagine if I didn’t have this goal in mind. I’d wander out of my door and there would be no telling where I’d end up!
If you think about it, you will realise that this is something you do naturally and subconsciously every day on a really simple level. To put it another way, every action that we take, big or small, starts out as something you conceive of in your mind. You start with the outcome you desire, then you take action. It happens so often and so automatically that we don’t even think about it. Literally thousands of times a day.
I believe this is the basis for the power of goals and why goal setting works. We can take this simple process that we do naturally on a micro scale and apply it to our bigger needs, wants and desires on the macro scale.
This leads me to my next point. Another thing that our brains are good at is breaking complex things down to smaller, simpler parts. In doing so, we make our big, complex and ostentatious goal more accessible to that part of us that given a goal, knows how to figure out how to achieve it.
For example, If I think about how to build a house, it might seem like an insurmountable job. It’s a little hard for my mind to conceive of turning an empty plot of land immediately into one occupied by a fully finished house. But if I can break it down into its components and start with the floor, then the outside walls, then the roof and so on, the path to success becomes clearer.
When a new student comes to my karate class for the first time, we don’t talk about them getting their black belt. Not in any great detail anyway. That’s too far down the road for them to see how to get there. Instead, we talk about yellow belt, which is the first in a series of steps towards achieving their black belt. It’s much easier for the new student to see yellow belt a few months down the track than it is to see black belt which can take several years. If we started talking on such a grand scale on day one, many people would be scared away!
Note that in amongst all this, we have to remember not to mistake simple for easy. Anything worth doing is worth working hard for and even though the path might be straightforward in front of you, there may be a lot of uphill climbing to get where you want to be. My advice is to eliminate complexity by breaking things down until they're simple enough, but don’t shy away from hard work.
As the old adage goes: how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.