I’m not much of a goal setter.
I might have vague ideas of the direction I want to go, but I rarely give a name or shape to the specific thing I want to achieve.
Partly, it’s because life never seems to turn out as planned. If I don’t create expectations for my life, I can’t be disappointed by the outcome. It just is what it is.
A bigger reason, though, is that goals create accountability. Without them, there’s nothing to measure my progress against. How can I fail when I’ve given myself no parameters?
Unfortunately, it’s also hard to see how far you’ve come when you can’t evaluate where you are on the journey.
Justin Park, this week’s guest on the Hectic Podcast, has a lot of experience with goal setting and tracking. He founded Trailhead Journals, a combo journal and planner that helps you set goals and stick with them.
One of the best things about these journals is that they have a built-in quarterly evaluation. Every three months, you look back at the path you’ve taken to see if it’s one you want to stay on. If you like where you’re headed and how you’re journeying, great. If not, you can use this moment of reflection to adjust your course or pivot in a new direction.
During this part of the conversation, Justin touched on a concept that I often miss in goal setting. This regular evaluation isn’t meant to show all the ways you’ve failed over the last three months. Neither is it meant to make sure you’re on the “right” path, the only path, that will lead to your destination.
Instead, it’s a time to think about everything you’ve experienced during the last quarter. You look at all the positive and negative things that have happened and consider the ways they’ve affected your journey.
Your goals don’t change (though they can), but your strategy might.
With this reflection, you can make sure that the next three months move you that much closer to your objective. Through all of life’s turns, you can stay in control of your direction.
Justin likens working toward a goal to climbing a mountain. When you have a destination in mind, every step is made for a reason. You’re going up. If you have to take a detour when you encounter an unexpected obstacle or need a break, that’s okay. You still know where you’re going.
That applies even if your goal changes along the way. Since you know where you are and where you were aiming, you will have a clearer idea of how to pivot.
Without a goal, you wander aimlessly. You’re still on that mountain, but you don’t really know why. You have no direction and no reason to get up every morning and push yourself along that trail. You can climb your whole life and never really get anywhere.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking that an aimless life offers more freedom. Even if I don’t plan anything, I have to end up somewhere, right? And I get to pick and choose what I want to aim for in the moment.
I’ve come to realize, however, that <tweet-link>unstructured freedom gets you nowhere. You spend way more time fretting about the endless possibilities than you do actually moving.<tweet-link> Since you don’t have a reason to evaluate the journey, you won’t know how little ground you’ve actually covered.
In short, I’ve realized that setting goals isn’t an attempt to bend life to your will. It isn’t a whip that you use to beat yourself as you recount your shortcomings. It isn’t a cage that locks you into the aspirations you had when you were three months younger.
It’s what gives your journey direction and your efforts meaning. It keeps you looking ahead, no matter what you experience along the way. Every day might be filled with unknowns, but you can face them with direction and focus.
Maybe setting a goal to set a goal is a bit of a paradox, but it’s where I’m starting today. And I will be ordering one of Justin’s handy planners to help me maintain my direction along the way.
Get the full story here to hear why time is an essential part of every journey, what Justin has discovered about trusting the process, and what he has learned through 20+ years of freelancing.
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