You Gotta Have Those Goals

by Tom Swift

I love goals. I love talking about goals. I love setting goals. Goals are crucial to success — however you define that term. For you cannot hit a target if you are not aiming at one.

Cue the Zig Ziglar. I can even do the accent, if you would like.

Yet what do you do when you are someone who wants to achieve many disparate things? More to the point, how do you navigate your goals when you are the sort of person who seems, truly, not to hold fast to the goals you have set?

I am not talking of procrastination. I could write plenty on that topic but that is not the issue I am speaking of here. We are not talking about a lack of desire but rather you might say too much desire. Or desire that flows in too many directions. You want to achieve a particular thing but while along the road you encounter another thing that also seems worthy of your devotion, maybe more, than the first. You might say that the answer is to shun the new aim until the first is satisfied. Or you could hold the view, also legitimate, that the middling first goal led you to the superior second goal and so go forth, grasshopper, to what calls to you now.

Except in the problem I am attempting to to describe this meandering is the rule not the exception.

Distraction is a very worthy subject of discussion — especially in a smartphone age — but that is also not what I am talking about at present. At least I don’t think it is.

In order to achieve anything one does need to actively push aside barriers. No barriers, no achievement. If it were easy everyone would do it, as they say. (And , have come to believe, that the act of letting go is at least as important as the movement of grasping for.)

Cough-cough. That throat-cleared, we get to another, lesser-discussed impediment to a life in which a holy grail is conceived of and sought after.

That is to say, some people get up in the morning and burn to play the piano. Or swim faster than they — or anyone — ever has before. Some people dream of making a million in residential real estate. Or devote themselves daily to needy canines. Many people know what they want to do and they set about doing it. They can’t not, really. They put forth an honest effort and then succeed or fail. Or they do not go all-in, succumbing instead to the aforementioned procrastination and/or distraction or maybe they simply do not have the goods. In each of these camps, though, the problem is not not knowing. They have a target or an absence of a target. They don’t have a target that shifts and moves, that fades and flickers.

What if you burn for something for one day, wake up the next and find that fire doused? And the same thing happens on Tuesday. Every Tuesday.

What if you live the goal-setting equivalent of Groundhog Day?

That, friends, is a different sort of proposition.

I know of it because I have experienced much of my adult life. I have managed to write an award-winning book, earned a couple of master’s degrees, and a promotion or two at a job I care about. I take care of a dog, I am fairly healthy, I pay my bills, I vote, and drive on the right-hand side of the road. I function, yep, and I at times thrive. Yet … yet.

There is a lack of continuity, too.

It is not enough to set goals. Even if they are SMART goals. Not enough to think through the barriers. Not enough to set reasonable steps. And modest timeframes. For I have done all that and then looked a week or a month later and it’s as if I am starting from scratch. Things once clear and important are blurry or less certainly crucial. I seek in such times to simplify. I have, in fact, made progress in that regard. Yet it’s still not enough. Not for me.

Forgive me: I know just enough — I have grasped just enough of this — to pick up this mirror and hold it before my face. That is different than saying I know what it is that I see — or what to do with it. But just as you cannot hit a target that is not in your view, so, too, fuzzy questions produce unclear answers.

I am trying to formulate a clear question.

As a writer I am fascinated by the notion — you hear of these stories — of the man or woman who holes himself or herself up in a cabin in Nowhere, Wyoming or wherever and a few weeks later walks out with a novel. A smart novel. I am fascinated by this notion because that is not me. I would in the same cabin get a lot done but definitely not a finished book, even if you extended my stay.

So what is me, in this regard? It occurs that there is a commonality in my successes: an external structure within which I worked. School, contractually obligated deadlines, colleagues, society. If I failed at these, I failed publicly, you might say. I could not, as in the case of the cabin in Nowhere, Wyoming, simply turn off the lights and go home empty-handed, with no one but me disappointed in my lack of production.

External versus internal rewards — external versus internal validation — it’s a subject about which I have some shame. I buy into the American bootstraps ethos and I fancy myself as someone who increasingly decides for himself what is worthy of attention. Who wants others to direct their lives for them? It is not, of course, all or nothing, not all external or internal, yet I operate as though internal-only should be sufficient.

Perhaps it is for some. Perhaps it will be for me some day. For now, though, I am feeling like the mirror is showing me not only is the external required there are upsides to an embrace of this fact: possible connection with others and possible service to others being two of the significant ones that come to mind.

When it comes to goals I do believe we can say too much to too many people. (I am not, in other words, going to list my most important goals in this post.) In my Ziglar tape he talks about two kinds of goals: give-up goals and go-up goals.

Give-up goals — you want to give up smoking, lose twenty pounds, stop yelling into your windshield on the highway (since the rat bastard who cut you off can’t hear you anyway) — you can tell to anyone who will listen. For in this telling they will help keep you accountable. Harder to binge on chocolate cake in front of someone if that someone heard you say just yesterday that you really want to get rid of those love handles.

Go-up goals are different: those are the professional or personal achievements — things you want to do or attain (a title at work, an amount of money earned, a book you want to write, you get the idea). You want to share your go-up goals with select few people — only those with whom you have trust and have your best interests in mind.

Where I am at as I look for a way to land this plane of a post is that I think there is merit in the Ziglar view of sharing of one’s goals with an emphasis in the importance of finding the very right people — people who don’t just witness your proclamation but also witness your struggle. And in the best case scenario you do the same for them.