How to set goals that work

Hello! Seiiti Arata. Do you know what the worst part of living a life where you’re constantly setting goals and objectives is? How to set goals that work?

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Think about it, and make a note of your answer before proceeding: what is, in your opinion, the worst thing that can happen when you set goals? In particular, goals that work?

By setting goals wrongly, there is a risk of great unhappiness, dissatisfaction, anxiety, and difficulty living in the present moment.

1. It’s the journey, not the destination

If the only worthwhile thing is reaching a goal, then each day that goes by without achieving this goal is a day of frustration, a delay, a nuisance, an  inconvenience, and a hardship, because all that matters is the glorious moment the goal will finally be reached.

This is where the classic saying comes into play; it’s the journey, not the destination.

When we live a life of only achieving goals, we end up always feeling like we’re not where we want to be. We want to be somewhere else, with other people, doing something else… we want to live a different life.

The funny thing is, when we reach the goal, we’re still not truly happy. We set another goal. We leave college and go to university. In university, the goal is to get an internship. As a intern, the new goal is to be offered a full-time position. And then the goal is to be promoted. After that, the goal is to retire. We spend our lives chasing after these goals, feeling miserable along the way! This is not how we set goals that work.

2. Rethink your situation

For this reason, it’s important to rethink your situation. Instead of focusing solely on goals, enjoy the journey. For that, we need to have a good system in place.

A good system provides us with variety; it brings meaning and purpose. A good system offers challenges, but also allows us to be grateful and to appreciate what we already have. It allows us to form connections, making us feel part of something bigger.

If I want to become fluent in a foreign language, there will be months, maybe even years, where I won’t be anywhere near as fluent as I want to be. I’ll end up feeling constantly frustrated and disappointed because I’ve still not become as fluent as I was hoping.

Instead of pursuing this distant goal to become fluent, however, I could learn to take things one step at a time. Learning something new everyday, even if it means only learning a single word. If I realise that it’s almost midnight and I’ve not done anything towards my language learning, I can just open up a dictionary and expand my vocabulary. 

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3. Consistency is key

Let’s be realistic: knowing just one extra word won’t make much difference to my fluency. It’s the act of doing something that makes a difference. Merely studying that word made me keep moving, making me feel more motivated. With this momentum, I’m very likely to study more than just one word. It’s like exercising: If I did a single push-up, it’s likely that I can do two or more.

That’s because our psychology is driven by consistency: when I spend all day doing nothing, it’s likely that I’ll spend the next day doing nothing as well.

Take things one step at a time - Seiiti Arata, Arata Academy

Similarly, if I went out of my way to do something today, it’s likely that I’d do it tomorrow too. If someone on a diet were to binge, their discipline tends to fail and they’ll binge the day after, too. If a person that’s trying to stop smoking has a puff on a cigarette, they feel like it won’t make a difference to have another. 

Consistency has great power and can be used to develop systems that will help us live better, fuller lives.

We can substitute the distant goals for smart systems by thinking about our journey in a way that will bring us a daily sense of accomplishment.

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A good system is one that allows us to perform small actions to maintain the momentum. As we keep doing more actions that cumulatively bring us closer to our goal, we’ll be reminded that we’re living the life we desire right now. We start to love the practice.

Goals that work: We will have the feeling of success every day if we stick to the system we set ourselves. This is how we bring about the internal sense of gratitude, and we can finally enjoy the journey.

Learning where to focus our attention in achieving goals is a big part of personal development, which is a topic that you’re free to explore on our website.