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How Lofty Should Your Goals Be?

Imagine flying in your own private jet to your own private island for a party with 500 friends and fans. You can easily afford this extravagance, because you’ve made 5 billion dollars recently with your own hard work.

Really imagine this. Take the first person perspective, and be there. Take in the sights and sounds. Feel the freedom and power. Bask in the glow of satisfaction for all you’ve accomplished.

Now, snap back to reality.

Success visualization — the WILD kind illustrated above — is a central strategy in many self-help books and programs.

No question . . . it feels good.

For some reason, though, you and I still don’t have our own private jets and private islands.

What gives?

Could it be that we just don’t believe it enough? We don’t have enough faith? Or a strong enough intention?

They tell us “if you can conceive it, and you believe it, you can achieve it.”

They tell us “if you release your intention into the quantum universe you will attract your ideal future with law-like certainty.”

Trouble is, science doesn’t support this view.

At all. In fact, . . .

Pie-in-the-sky Thinking Might Actually Be Holding You Back

According to Gary Latham’s research and review of the workplace motivation literature (in his book “Work Motivation”), setting a lofty goal is a good idea. In fact, he has found a reliable correlation between how lofty a goal is, and how well and hard a person will work in trying to achieve the goal.

However, . . .

This only holds when you have the skills and strategies needed to reach your goal. If you lack these skills and strategies, you will probably drain your motivation to reach your goal instead of fueling it.

The problem isn’t in reaching high per se. The problem is in reaching higher than you know how to climb.

Let Your Dreams Expand as Your Skills Grow

If you don’t know how to make ten million dollars, don’t fantasize about having ten million dollars. Doing so will actually reduce the money you can expect to make.

Instead, set goals that are still lofty, but in line with your skills.

Work hard to achieve those goals. Then spend time developing your skills and acquiring new strategies. And THEN set even loftier goals the next time around.

Alternate between a phase of strategy acquisition and skill development, and a phase of aggressive but realistic goal pursuit.

This fits with Piers Steele’s advice (in The Procrastination Equation) to set up “success spirals” for yourself.

This also fits very well with iterative development strategies (like Agile SCRUM).

And it facilitates a fractal growth pattern in your business and your abilities.

Let the size of your goals grow with your skills and strategies, round after round after round, and you’re likely to reach that first million (or ten) much more quickly than you would by pretending you already have it.

And if you avoid focusing on too big a goal at the start, you’ll save yourself a lot of frustration over the years as well.

At least that’s where a lot of current research points.

Thoughts? Does this fit with your own experience?

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5 Comments

  1. Posted June 10, 2012 at 5:55 am | Permalink

    THANKS ,PLEASE KEEP ME ON LIST

  2. Bex
    Posted June 10, 2012 at 6:30 am | Permalink

    Makes sense to me. It can seem to be hard enough to even set goals for me though! It doesn’t tell me how to deal with figuring out what I need to do to begin with!

    • Jim Stone
      Posted June 10, 2012 at 11:02 am | Permalink

      Yes, Bex, that’s a different issue, lol. Here’s a suggestion. Just take it a week at a time until you find a bigger purpose that really motivates you.

      Brainstorm some possible week-long projects at the beginning of the week. Pick one. And then do it. If you’re ever attracted to a goal that you’re not sure you can accomplish, consider setting a “learning” goal before attempting the main goal. If you spend the time to learn the best strategies for accomplishing the goal before you go directly at the goal, you’ll probably perform better, and your new skills will allow you to set even bigger goals in the future.

      By limiting it to week-long projects at first, you don’t have to worry about picking the “right” project. Don’t worry about it. Just pick something that appeals to you — that seems potentially fun or profitable or enriching or whatever. Then maybe go in a new direction the next week if you’re not completely sold on that direction. Eventually you’ll find a much bigger and much more compelling direction to go in.

  3. Posted June 11, 2012 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

    This is a great concept. I guess I set my goals too high and then get down on myself when I don’t achieve them – which honestly has the opposite effect than the intention of goal setting because I’m LESS motivated! Gonna print this out and read it often!!!

  4. Posted June 13, 2012 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    So agree with you Jim! This is a great reminder in what has been working well for me — setting 1-3 month goals, and if that feels like too much then just setting monthly goals. :-) Thanks for your insight and your Fractal Planner!

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