Set Goals High

It is a new year, time to think about goals!


Since this is my first time digging deeply into a topic, let me share how I will go about this.

I will break down the topic into multiple aspects. These aspects may be combined or be their own podcast depending on the size and complexity. I can even imagine an aspect spanning multiple podcasts… we will see.

For the goal topic, I break it into four aspects: Why; Define; Operationalize; and Reward. In today’s podcast, I will only cover “Why.”

As I go through each aspect, I will include both research or information that already exists along with my own opinions. I will do my best to delineate each. I will include a number of examples to reinforce the points that I make.

At the end of each podcast, I will ask you to take some action. I think that the best way to learn is to do. And the best way to change is to build the action into your routine.

Enough on the approach, let’s get into the “Why” for goals.

Why Do Goals?

Goals have been around for a long time. Some of the best research was done by Edwin A Locke, an American psychologist, and pioneer in goal-setting theory. In the ’60s and ’70s.

A couple of key findings from this research are that setting specific goals (e.g., I want to earn $500 more a month) leads to higher performance than setting easy or “do best” goals (e.g., I want to earn more money), and that goal difficulty is linearly and positively related to performance such that, the harder the goal, the greater the effort, focus, and persistence, which results in higher performance.

Let’s first talk about why you should set goals. There are lots of articles on this topic. Here are the best reasons I found while creating goals.

  1. Goals provide clarity
    • Clarity in terms of actually defining what you want to accomplish
    • And clarity in what it means to achieve the goal
  2. Goals help you to stay focused
    • There are so many things that you can do
    • So many ways to do them
    • So many distractions
    • So many things that are competing for your time
    • Goals can really help you to focus on what matters most
    • In one of the next podcasts, I will get into how to keep your goals front of mind
  3. Goals give you motivation
    • Most of us feel good when we achieve things
    • And what often hurts our motivation is chaos, confusion, and lack of focus, which goals help to minimize
  4. Goals allow you to measure progress
    • It is easy to measure progress when success criteria are clear (which will be covered in a later podcast)
    • And with clear success criteria, it is often easy to measure progress along the way
  5. Goals hold you accountable
    • Just by writing it down, we feel more accountable
    • But better yet, and I will discuss this in more detail later as well, sharing with others increases the accountability that we feel

In addition to these reasons, it is important to make sure that at least some of these goals are a stretch. Research shows that difficult goals lead to higher performance than easy ones. The ideal is a stretch, not a strain — difficult but not dauntingly impossible.

There can be some downside to creating goals. Here are just a few.

  • Goals can be overwhelming, they can add pressure and stress
  • Goals can create a feeling of failure
  • Goals can narrow your focus such that you miss other opportunities

At the highest level, I like to think about two types of goals: Personal; and Work.

At work, there is often a Vision and Mission. From this, strategies are defined. And goals were then created to deliver on this strategy.

“Mission is a general statement of how you will achieve your vision. Strategies are a series of ways of using the mission to achieve the vision. Goals are statements of what needs to be accomplished to implement the strategy. Objectives are specific actions and timelines for achieving the goal.” –

 Vision and Mission Statements — a Roadmap of Where You Want to Go and How to Get There by Don Hofstrand

As you think about your work goals, it is important to understand the vision and mission as they provide a foundation within which your goals need to fit. There are often additional levels of vision and mission within organizations. You need to understand these as well during the goal-creation process.

Here are a few visions from the article “17 Truly Inspiring Company Vision and Mission Statement Examples” by Lindsay Kolowich

  • Alzheimer’s Association: A world without Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Teach for America: One day, all children in this nation will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education.
  • Creative Commons: Realizing the full potential of the internet — universal access to research and education, full participation in culture — to drive a new era of development, growth, and productivity.
  • Microsoft (at its founding): A computer on every desk and in every home.
  • Australia Department of Health: Better health and well-being for all Australians, now and for future generations.

And here are some vision and mission examples.

  • Life Is Good: To spread the power of optimism.
  • sweetgreen: To inspire healthier communities by connecting people to real food.
  • Patagonia: Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.
  • Warby Parker: To offer designer eyewear at a revolutionary price, while leading the way for socially conscious businesses.

From a personal perspective, I like a very similar approach. Each of us should create a vision for the life that we would like to have. We should then think about the approaches that we will take to achieve that vision (very similar to strategies in a company). And then create goals that help us to make measured progress.

I know, this sounds both foreign and like a lot of work. I actually don’t think that it is. And by creating goals, we have a much better chance of achieving our vision!

Sometimes there is confusion between goals and resolutions. Here is a nice definition from the National Eating Disorders organization.

“Resolution: a firm decision to do or not to do something. Goal: the object of a person’s ambition or effort; an aim or desired result. Which sounds more appealing?”

Their opinion and mine are that goals are a much more productive approach to making a change or moving toward your vision.


Now that we have a good idea of why we should have goals, and just a bit about how to align them to the larger vision that we have, both at work and home, let’s jump into the action that I would like each of you to take.

This time, there are actually two. They are about vision.

  1. Create a personal vision.
  2. Find or create your work vision. 

Let me give you an example of my personal vision. I have never actually tried to describe this. But I think that I have had most of this vision for quite a while now. It goes something like this…

A happy and fulfilled life with my wife, where we have fun together before we have kids, we both have the time to spend with our kids while they grow up, and we get to go back to having fun together after they leave. A life where I enjoy my jobs, am good at what I do and have success. Outside of work, I have lots of hobbies, stay in shape and experience much of the world.

Wow, that sounds so motherhood and apple pie. But it has been a guide for me throughout my life and career.  A couple of examples that I can expound on later.

  • I have always made sure that I had time for my kids in the jobs that I have had. When I did not, I worked to find a different job.
  • I have lots of hobbies, including golf, hiking, biking, and building furniture. These are important to me, but at times took away from my time with the family. That was especially true with golf. As a result,  I reduced the amount of golf that I played when the kids were young. Now that they are out of the house, I am playing lots more golf, often with my wife!

With this as background, next week I will talk about how to define goals. I have a LOT of examples that I will use – both good and bad. It actually might take two podcasts to cover everything:)

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