Life Goals: How to Identify and Achieve Them With Focus

Achieving life goals with focus
Photo by Ali Büyükaydın :

The many benefits of focussing on achieving self-development goals and personal growth objectives

Life goals (when chosen correctly) are beneficial as they give us a target with direction and focus. We use goals to initiate about change in ourselves and the world around us. They are a tangible measure of action, improvement, and achievement.

Goals are more than just a good productivity hack. Setting and achieving self-development goals supports good mental health by giving us a sense of purpose and then triggering the release of positive neurotransmitters such as dopamine when we succeed. What’s more, goal setting is related to having a growth mindset. We need to set and fulfil targets to remain in learning mode and continue our personal improvement.

“If you want to be happy, set a goal that commands your thoughts, liberates your energy and inspires your hopes.” — Andrew Carnegie

How to select the big life goals

Setting and achieving goals can be highly beneficial, but we do have to set the right type of goals. We need to set ourselves targets that stretch us (forcing us to grow) but they do need to be achievable. Goals can be bold, such as the Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAG) advocated by Jim Collins (author of Good to Great), but however big the idea is, it still needs to be broken down into actionable steps.

Therefore, if we want to benefit from all the benefits of goals — the productivity gains of setting them as well as the positive effects of achieving them — then we need to set what I call Goldilocks goals. These are goals that are not too easy but are also not completely unrealistic.

These Goldilocks goals can be ambitious, right on the edge of what we might believe is even possible, but then we must employ the important next step, that of chunking the goal down to make it manageable. For example, we might set ourselves the goal of climbing Mount Everest but there are hundreds, if not thousands, of intermediate tasks we need to complete in order to succeed.

“I think goals should never be easy, they should force you to work, even if they are uncomfortable at the time.” Michael Phelps (Olympic Gold Medallist and World Champion Swimmer)

The need for focus when achieving personal growth goals

Achieving challenging goals takes focus, and here I can speak from experience. For example, I set myself the target of completing several arduous mountain races which required single minded application over the course of several years.

In 2017 my target was to complete the CCC race in the Alps, one of the Ultra Trail de Mont Blanc (UTMB) courses. The route is a partial circumnavigation of the Mont Blanc massive. The path goes continually up and down, traversing the steep mountain trails; up over high passes and then back down into deep valleys, only to start climbing once again.

By the time I got to the checkpoint at the 50 km mark, it was getting dark. I had been running all day and felt exhausted, but I was still less than halfway around the course. The start had been in Italy and the final destination was the town of Chamonix in France, but at that point, I was still in Switzerland. With so far to go it was very tempting to just give up. I needed real discipline and focus to keep going.

As I left the checkpoint, I switched on my headtorch and immediately a bright, comforting circle appeared before me. I used it to first check my map, identifying the next check point, and glancing again at the end point, my goal. 

I willed my stiff legs into movement and started off. My torch created a pool of light that I was running into. My focus narrowed to that small, enlightened patch of path as I got into a rhythm, despite my protesting muscles, and I encouraged myself on. All I needed to do was to keeping running into that light and I would achieve my goal.

“I don’t care how much power, brilliance or energy you have, if you don’t harness it and focus it on a specific target, and hold it there, you’re never going to accomplish as much as your ability warrants.” — Zig Ziglar

The Right Questions Torch Tool: Focussing on the self-development goal

If we want to achieve our big life goals then we need determination and focus. When it comes to The Right Questions Framework, and the conceptual tools that we pack in our bag, then we can think about the torch as something that helps us with that focus. A lamp has many uses, and is an essential item to pack for most adventures. 

On our journey, just as like in my race, it is the metaphorical headtorch that helps to light our path, giving us the clarity to push towards our goal. To help gain that greater clarity there are some exercises we can work through.

Step 1: Clarify your life goals

Here are some questions to work through to help you hone your life goals. These questions are based on coaching tips from Michael Neill in his book Supercoach. They are questions that I have found particularly helpful, both for setting my own personal goals and for helping people I coach as they set their life goals.

Answer each one in turn, brainstorming as many goals as possible at this stage.

What things should you achieve?

In other words, what do you feel duty-bound to do? What do you feel is a responsibility or a necessity to achieve?

Which goals are logical?

Another way of asking this question would be, what is the rational thing to progress to? What would be a natural thing to achieve if you follow the course you are presently on?

Which goals give you déjà vu?

Which goals are always on your list and never seem to go away? What goal have you always wanted to do but never succeeded in?

What goals would somebody else set you?

If you asked your best friend or a family member, what sort of goal would they set for you? Think about your spouse or partner, what would they say should be your goal?

Which dreams express your deep wants?

Which goal reflects the deepest desires of your heart? What would give you the greatest satisfaction to achieve?

What would you ask for from your fairy godmother?

If you could wish for anything, what would that be? How about three wishes? What would you ask for?

What are your happy wants?

Which things do you want to achieve that will make you happy? Which ideas make you happy even just thinking about doing them?

What are your naughty wants?

Which goals do you have that you have never told anyone about? What would you like to achieve but have been too embarrassed to share with anyone or too scared to try?

What do you think “if only” I could have achieved?

When you look back in life, what do you wish you had achieved? If you could turn back the clock what would you have done differently?

Step 2: Prioritise your life objectives

After answering all the questions above you should have a long list of ideas and dreams. The next task is to prioritise these goals and work out which one you want to achieve first. 

This is where the torch tool helps to spotlight the goals that are the most important so you can focus on them. We can use this tool in conjunction with other tools from our toolkit, combining the information we have from the other ‘why, where and what’ exercises.

Now answer these questions to help you narrow down your goal selection:

  • Combine with the compass: Which goals are aligned with your personal values?
  • Think about the photo: Which dream, if you did not achieve it, would you be most disappointed about?
  • Consider your map: What target would best support your life purpose or overall vision?

Step 3: Focus on your most impactful goals

Finally, make the decision of which targets you are going to focus on. To do this, when considering large life goals, I would recommend that you pick no more than three big goals, and you also decide on which is the primary focus. As with a torch light, we can only focus on a certain amount with any clarity, so the more we concentrate our viewpoint, the more likely we are to achieve our objective. 

“By recording your dreams and goals on paper, you set in motion the process of becoming the person you most want to be. Put your future in good hands — your own.” — Mark Victor Hansen

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