Life is much like a moving sidewalk at an airport.
Once you get on, you move forward whether you want to or not.
That leaves you with only 2 choices:
Either you can stand up, face forward, and actively move, or you can lay down, close your eyes, and let the ride drag you forward.
The choice is not whether you’ll move…it’s whether or not you’ll be a willing participant in the motion.
Living a life with goals is much like being that willing participant on a moving sidewalk.
Living a life without goals…not so much.
I have to confess that I’m a goal kind of guy.
I love them. Immensely.
I believe that they’re one of the most powerful tools available for developing a productive life.
Unfortunately, though, they often get a bad rap.
I suspect that this skepticism toward goals often stems from a failure to understand them. There is, after all, a secret to goals…
That secret is knowing how to set goals.
Today, I want to offer you an insight into how I make goals for myself, and then give you 6 reasons why I choose to do it this way. Hopefully, it will serve you as you think about your own goal-setting process.
Depending on who you read, you’ll find advice suggesting that you set large goals, small goals, difficult goals, easy goals, long-term goals, short-term goals, or no goals at all.
I recommend setting lofty goals.
Why? Because that’s what I do in my own life.
And here’s my case for doing so:
My Case for Setting Lofty Goals
First, let me tell you how I define “lofty” goals:
Lofty goals are difficult to achieve, but not impossible. They’re hard to reach, but not unreachable. They require courage. They require commitment, and they require the desire to venture into uncharted personal waters.
And here are 6 reasons why I love them:
1. Lofty goals help me to stretch and grow. I always hated flexibility tests in elementary school PE class. They usually involved sitting on the ground, putting my legs out straight, and then bending forward, trying to reach my toes with my fingers. Typically, this was a painful process for me, because I wasn’t very flexible…
What I learned from that exercise, though, was that the farther I stretched my reach one time, the more I could go beyond that the next time. It was only in straining as far out as I could go each time that I’d make any improvement.
Setting lofty goals has the same effect on me. It forces me (in a very positive way) to metaphorically stretch myself. By setting a lofty goal and stretching myself to achieve it, I end up growing.
Does it hurt? Of course it does. Growth often does. Is it worth it, though? Of course it is.
A teenage boy who experiences severe shin splints (due to a huge growth spurt) one year tends to forget that pain a couple years down the road when he’s suddenly the tallest guy on the basketball team.
2. Lofty goals get me out of my comfort zone. This one is closely related to the first reason. I choose lofty goals for myself because they force me out of my comfort zone.
You might wonder why I would want to get out of my comfort zone. After all, it’s called a “comfort zone” for a reason…
The hard reality of life is that growth rarely takes place in a comfort zone.
Soldiers don’t become battlefield-ready by watching a DVD about combat…they endure agonizing bootcamps filled with weeks of grueling exercises, drills, and rehearsals. Surgeons don’t master open heart surgery by sitting at a coffee shop listening to their buddies describe how to do the procedures…they train for years, endure round-the-clock practice, and put their hands on a patient’s actual heart.
Productive people don’t become masters of their time and energy by dreaming about it at night. They force themselves to grow by setting lofty goals, developing self-discipline, and constantly educating themselves.
I have grown the quickest when I’ve been the furthest from my comfort zone.
Setting lofty goals doesn’t mean I never venture back to my comfort zone…it just means I don’t live there.
3. Lofty goals help me overcome mediocrity. Average is ok. Mediocre is not. Isaac D’Israeli once said, “It is a wretched taste to be gratified with mediocrity when the excellent lies before us.”
The excellent certainly lies before us, and a productive life is the path there.
Because lofty goals gently but firmly guide me toward greater productivity, they steer me away from the default mode of mediocrity.
4. Lofty goals fuel my momentum. A train is hard to start, but it’s also hard to stop. Momentum is an incredible asset in the realm of productivity, and one of the surest ways I’ve found to develop that personal momentum is to set lofty goals.
Yes, when I raise the bar higher than I’m used to, I run the risk of failing and facing discouragement. But the payoff for succeeding is worth that risk.
When I set a goal that seems to be just beyond my current reach…and I stretch to the goal…the sense of accomplishment is overwhelming. The momentum that I build by achieving lofty goals is far greater than what I would build by achieving easily-met goals.
It’s the difference between putting another log on the fire and pouring gasoline on the fire.
5. Working to achieve lofty goals forces me to hone multiple productivity skills. It takes very little in the way of personal resources to achieve a modest goal. When I stretch myself to new limits by striving to reach lofty goals, though, I’m forced to harness every resource I’ve got.
Focus, time management, creativity, and self-discipline become crucial components to success.
And something that helps me hone those skills is something that pushes me further in my development as a productive person.
6. Failing at lofty goals often still ensures better results than achieving minimal goals. “Aim for the stars. If you miss, grab the moon on your way down.” As corny as that sounds, it does make a valid point.
So often, we aim for so little. And when we reach for little, that’s exactly what we end up with.
So, I tend to challenge myself to aim for considerably more. Not just one step above what I would naturally aim for, but several steps above. Then, even if I don’t fully reach my goal (and I often don’t)…if I’ve stretched to reach it, I still end up further along than I would if it was just business as usual.
Aim Just Above to Hit it Dead On
To hit targets that are considerable distances away, gunners must aim slightly above the bull’s eye.
Because gravity intervenes.
Even when fired from high-powered guns, bullets succumb to the forces of gravity as they travel long distances. Aiming directly at the target yields a hit slightly below the bull’s eye.
Given that reality, there is some truth to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s statement that, “We aim above the mark to hit the mark.”
Life often gets in the way.
No matter how focused, how dedicated, or how disciplined we are when we set our goals, life happens.
Instead of trying to do the impossible (i.e. achieve your goals in a vacuum where life has no effect), simply add life into your initial calculation.
Aim a little higher than you naturally would.
You’ll likely end up hitting the bull eye’s dead center.
And that’s a productive result.