Using Lists to Set Goals

Well New Year’s was three weeks ago. Anybody having any trouble keeping up with their resolutions? I know some people have forgotten their resolutions, or at least put those resolutions on the back burner indefinitely. Why is this something that we see every year? My guess is it has to do with setting goals.


When it comes to setting goals, there are 2 main ways that I usually seen people talk about goals, in a prescriptive list, or as a descriptive dialogue. Now, there are advantages and disadvantages to both. Today, let’s take a look at what I call the prescriptive list.


Prescriptive List

First off, I want to say that this method has a lot of variations and ways that it is encountered, but for the sake of brevity, I will give you the main gist. This method typically uses the acronym SMART to choose goals that are right for you. SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely. Basically it’s to make sure that your goal isn’t vague (don’t say I want to bench more, tell us how many pounds you want to add to it), can you track your progress, is your goal actually possible, and in what time do you want to do it. Using this, we can have a list of goals such as this.


-Gain 10lbs of muscle by next year

-Run a 5k in 17minutes by July 1st

-Increase sales for this quarter by 10%

-Write one blog post a week for two months

-Play the guitar solo for [insert song name] at full speed by next month


And so on. The goals are related to what you want to accomplish and where you currently are now. It’s nice because you have a list that you can cross things off of (and who doesn’t like that?) as well as you are making goals that are easy to keep track of and you know exactly what you are trying to do. I use a list to help me keep track of what I want to accomplish daily, monthly, and yearly.


One problem some people have is that they either pick goals that are too hard or goals that are too easy. If you know that you don’t have the time for it, don’t make a goal to write a whole book in 3 months; either give yourself more time or decide that you’ll have complete three chapters in 3 months.

On the flip side, if you can already run a mile in 10 minutes, don’t make a goal to run a 9 minute mile by the end of the year. You can do it in less time. Giving yourself way too much time makes it easy for you to put off the goal until later. By the time you finally run that mile for the first time, you could’ve already shredded your time down to 7 minutes.


Another problem is related to flexibility. Having that list for some people seems like the goals are set in stone. No one wants to change the sacred list. However, if one day you realize that you set a goal that isn’t related to what you want to do or you realize the time frame needs to be longer, you may resent it to the point of quitting, and if you can quit one of the goals on the list, why can’t you quit all of them?


This problem can actually be prevented pretty easily. When you plan your goals, how are you planning them? You need to see what goals you want to accomplish in the long-term. Because if you set goals for the short-term only, this is where you run into this problem of realizing midway through a goal that you don’t care for it anymore.


This like when an overweight person who is tired of being overweight sees a picture of a body builder and decides he wants that huge muscular body. So naturally, he makes the resolution to get the Arnold body. However, maybe a few months into it he realizes that he doesn’t actually care to be jacked, he just wants a slimmer body. If he doesn’t change his goal and still works out like a body builder, he may just quit altogether. Instead if he just starts training for a slimmer, healthier body, he has more motivation to complete the training because he knows that is in-line with what he wants.


While I like the prescriptive list for short-term and some medium-term goals, I am not a fan of solely using this method for long-term goals, more on that later. We will look at what I call the descriptive method of goal setting for the next post.



Key Takeaways for Prescriptive List

-Make sure you can measure and keep track of the goal

-Be sure the goal is reasonable and attainable

-Give a time frame for when you will complete the goal

-Use for short-term and medium-term goals

-Use to sum up long term goals


Why Resolutions Won’t Help You

So I’ve been away for a while. I know it seems late making a post about New Year’s resolutions, but I waited on purpose because I want to prove my point of how much I hate them. A few weeks ago was the time where everyone decided to make a resolution or how they wanted their year to go. Sadly, most people can’t keep the resolutions they make. The person wanting to get in great shape gets tired and decides by mid-February that it isn’t worth it going to the gym. Someone else who wants to learn a martial art has a lot of fun for the first couple of lessons, but near the end of January becomes interested in something else. Why do so many people quit the resolutions that they make?


There’s a couple of reasons why this happens. From not setting a good goal, to not knowing what they want, there’s plenty of things to try to avoid when you set a goal.


Not Looking at the Overall Picture

Everyone seems to just set a goal for the new year even if that goal has nothing to do with goals they want to accomplish in life. For example, a person who is overweight and sets a goal to have an Arnold Schwarzenegger body by December. Maybe he actually just wants a lean body, but seeing all these advertisements for gym memberships, gets influenced to aim for a huge body. Fast forward a couple weeks after his gym membership, he gives up. Not because of the difficulty, but because he realizes he doesn’t want the Arnold body. Maybe he doesn’t know what he wants, he just simply thought the Arnold body was what he wanted because that’s what the advertisements were telling him. Maybe in the end, he didn’t care what his body looked like, he just wanted to get lean muscle.


The Goal is too Vague

Saying “I want a better body” is not a good goal. What does better mean? How do you measure it? The problem with this is it makes it easy for you to quit after January. Why? Because after January, you will have some improvements in your body. Still a long way from what you want (if you even know what you meant by “better body”) but you see that you can lift a little more and run a little longer. It makes it too easy to say “well I did get a little better” then quit.


Post Achievement Complacency

For those who actually managed to pull off their goal (from last year), they have a different problem. They finally got that black belt in a martial art, they got the body, they learned to play an instrument. Yay not needing to put in anymore effort! WRONG! People that do fulfill their goals usually forget that it’s not about the destination, it’s the journey. You stop your diet and workout regime, you will undo everything you worked so hard to achieve this past year. You can’t stop now. Sure, you might not want to work as hard now to get insanely good. That’s okay, but at least maintain what you have. Otherwise, what was the point of setting the goal in the first place?


Later on, we will talk about how to fix these problems so that you can get not only what you want from the year, but from life as a whole.