The importance of setting goals (but not overwhelming yourself)

Goal setting help to achieve more and reach your potential. Without goals, things just do not seem to get done at all or nearly as fast. Goals help to push you, to set progress markers and to make you accountable to do things that you would otherwise give up on. Whether a work goal, an atheletic goal or leisure activity, goals are beneficial in all areas of life.

However, I have found that there are also a couple of things to watch out for when setting goals. The first is the need to set new goals once the initial goal is reached. The second is to keep the goal small enough so that it does not overwhelm.

When you reach a goal, you may find a ping of melancholy or blaise. After I recently finished my first half-marathon race, I stopped running as much - why push myself anymore? The same thing happened after my 10k races. Unless you have something new to shoot for, you usually have a setback afterwards. This ironic disappointment after accomplishment is summed up nicely in a lyric from the band Live that I have always enjoyed:

When all thats left to do is reflect on what's been done, this is where sadness lies, the sadness of everyone"

The second issue occurs when I get a little too ambitious. Instead of getting a bunch done, if I do not limit my goals somewhat, I tend to get gunshy and procrastinate instead. If I tried to run a marathon two years ago I would stop running all together. Instead I gradually and slowly worked my way up to one block, one kilometer, 5k, 10k, and a half-marathon. Sure the end goal may be a full marathon one day, but you have to keep your present goals small enough that you do not give up completely.

As another example, lets say I want to read some new books, and set a list of 100 items (which is not unsimilar to my Goodreads list). If I keep looking at that list, I tend to get overwhelmed and put off reading anything. The solution is to dial it back to say at most three books to read. I still have my someday book list, but for the sake of actually starting somewhere I cut it down. Once those two or three books are read, I pick a couple more that interest me most.

I once had the goal of watching the America Film Institute "100 greatest movies" lists but that started to feel tedious. I was trying to go through movies just to get it done. Instead, I picked a few movies I had not seen. Same thing when I wanted to listen to the Rolling Stones top 500 albums list. Limiting to a few albums that appealed most to me was the best way to go about accomplishing that goal. I am still not done either, but I am enjoying the process and slowing going through it. It is important to enjoy what you are doing or you will do it just to get done - which is really horrible when you think about it. Usually this results in a negative experience and/or sloppy work or skimming through a book without giving a chance to know the deeper meaning.

The same thing happens if I try to make a list of several work items to get done. Unless I break the list down into manageable chunks, pick a couple to immediately get done and store away the others to get done later, far away from my immediate conscious to brood on them, then I tend to feel overwhelmed. And what do I usually do when I get overwhelmed and are faced with an alterative easier choice (usually not work related and/or productive)? Probably the same thing as you - I take the easier choice. It is human nature.

It takes practice and discipline to set goals that are both inspiring and reachable. Mastering this skill will greatly help you better your day to day life in any field that you apply it to.