“You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don’t make money your goal. Instead, pursue the things you love doing, and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off you.”
There is a lot of advice out there about goal-setting, and I think most of it misses the mark. We hear so much about setting ‘SMART’ goals, but rarely do we pause long enough to consider why we’re setting a goal in the first place. This may seem like a small thing, but the truth is that if we are not truly connected to the goal we set, we won’t be fully motivated to get there. It also won’t make us happy when we do, no matter what we might think.
Enter: Extrinsic & Intrinsic Motivation!
I talk a lot about the ideas of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in my work. Put simply, extrinsic motivation is driven by external factors such as praise from others, making more money, or becoming famous. While there’s nothing wrong with any of those motivators, per se, the science seems to show that in general, goals that are exclusively driven by external outcomes are less likely to increase our well-being. They may even “relate positively to indicators of ill-being“! So while we might feel a temporary bump in satisfaction upon achieving these goals, it tends to dissipate quickly.
The alternative is to set goals based on intrinsic motivation. This type of motivation is based on internal factors such as satisfaction, a desire to learn, enjoyment of an activity, or seeking a sense of meaning. When we set intrinsic goals, not only are we more connected to the outcomes, we’re also more likely to experience an increase in our well-being when we achieve them!
Of course, all goals we set (especially business ones!) will probably involve a bit of both kinds of motivation. The point here is not to demonize extrinsic motivation! That said, our culture disproportionately rewards and encourages extrinsic motivators and diminishes and demeans intrinsic ones. So all of us tend to be biased towards the external when setting any goal. In this article, I want to share with you my process for putting a bit more emphasis on internal motivators when setting goals, and my process for bringing my goals to life.
1. How do you want to feel?
Predictably, we are starting on the inside. What feelings are you seeking? This is the most important question that any of us can ask when it comes to setting a goal! When we are honest about the feelings we want, it becomes much easier to figure out how to get there.
Start by reflecting on the past: How have you been feeling lately? Is there something missing? What do you want to feel more of? What have you been enjoying?
I always start with a big brain dump or mind map answering these questions in a free-form way. Don’t hold back and be as specific as you can! For example: “happy” is not a great feeling word to pick, it’s too vague. Go deeper. Maybe to you happiness really means feeling “connected” or maybe it means feeling “freedom”. When in doubt, ask yourself why you want to feel a particular emotion until you really feel that you have reached the core feeling.
Resource: If you want even more structure for finding your core desired feelings, The Desire Map by Danielle Laporte is an excellent book to try.
2. What goals get me there?
This is where alignment comes in. We’re going to be literally aligning our goals with the feelings we desire. This is so different to how most of us set goals, which is to start with the outcome. Normally, we see a shiny outcome (new car, book deal, big renovation) on someone else’s Instagram, and instantly borrow that goal to be our own. We simply assume that if they seem happy, we’ll be happy! We don’t pause to consider that we can’t really know if they’re actually happy, or whether that goal actually fits into the life & business that we currently have, or if it’s even something we want at all! No, we just quickly superimpose this goal onto our life and call it a day.
….and then we burn out. We spend all our energy trying to get something we never even really wanted in the first place! Or we keeping pushing towards the goal, even if it’s clear it’s not the right time for it.
The alternative is a lot gentler. We start with our desired feelings, and we brainstorm goals that will help us achieve those feelings. We flip the entire paradigm around. This happens quietly, in our offices or on our living room couches, without all that external input. We’re not Frankenstein-ing goals into our lives, we’re letting the answers be revealed to us from within.
The best part? When we use this method, we usually come up with goals that feel far more accessible, aligned, and exciting. We discover small projects we could take on right away. We remember that we have that one contact who offered to help us out who we never followed up with. Or, we suddenly see a goal that we know is The One: challenging, powerful, possible.
3. What makes this goal a success?
This is a step that most people skip. Do not skip this step!
Before we can successfully achieve a goal, we need to know what, exactly we are achieving. Again, this is where specificity is your friend. Very often we are scared to be specific, because we feel that being vaguer is safer. If we don’t clearly outline our goal, we won’t feel as bad when we don’t achieve it, right? Wrong. By not clearly defining our goal, we make it less likely that we’ll achieve it at all, period.
So think about your goals from step 2 and figure out what the achievement of that goal would look like. Here’s an example:
- Desired feeling: Novelty & challenge in my work
- Goal to get there: Get more clients with interesting problems
- What makes this a success: If I got three new clients, that would meet my goal
In this step we want to add in concrete, tangible metrics wherever possible. Remember that Portlandia sketch, Put a Bird On It? This is the same thing, except we’re going to Put a Number On It. 😂 Figure out exactly what would make you feel that you had accomplished this goal. Do this in advance, so that you know when you’re done. If you don’t clarify this for yourself, you’re going to feel inevitably frustrated, dejected, and overwhelmed…and less likely to set & achieve goals in the future.
4. How can I take action on that goal?
Last but not least, we need to actually move forward with this goal. How many of us have notebooks full of goals that are just languishing in a drawer somewhere?! 🙋🏻♀️
No, thank you. Now that we know what we’re working towards and it has personal significance to us, it’s far more important that we make it happen.
So don’t get stuck at the ideas stage! Once you know what goal you’re working towards, break it down into small, manageable tasks. You want each task to truly be a task: something that you could reasonably accomplish in an hour or less. If it’ll take longer than that, you need to make it smaller. From the example above:
- Successful goal: Get 3 new clients
- Actions to take: Post my availability to social media, email Jane Doe & John Jay directly to pitch them, follow up with past clients with a new offer
Then, once you have your tasks, schedule them in. Assign them due dates, or “do dates” as August Bradley likes to say. Put them in your calendar, or your to-do list, or into your project management tool. Check them off. Inch towards your goal. Celebrate your progress along the way. Watch your dreams come true!
I know I make this sound overly simplistic, but the truth is that this process really is very simple. That doesn’t mean it’s easy, especially when resistance, procrastination & other sneaky limiting beliefs tend to come into play. 😉 But the actual process of getting from point A to point B is usually a lot simpler than we think.
Write It Down, Make It Happen
The process of goal-setting is like any other tool that we have available to us. Used incorrectly, it can wreak havoc, create destruction, or even be used as a weapon! But used properly and thoughtfully, it becomes supportive, helpful, and useful in helping us get where we want to go. I believe that the incorrect way to set goals is to borrow them from others without running them through our own filters. The thoughtful way to set goals starts with us: our desires, our values, our personalities, our dreams. When we start from there, the world is our oyster! We’re much more likely to achieve our goals and feel happier while doing it.
I’d love to hear from you: What is your process for setting goals? What frustrates you most about goal-setting you’ve done in the past? Let me know in the comments below or over on Instagram @stephpellett, I’d love to hear from you!
PS. Did you know I have a whole goal-setting course devoted to helping you set & achieve your goals? It’s called Ready, Set, Goals, and it’s currently included within my business coaching membership, The Profoundery. Hope to see you inside!