Here’s something you might not know about me. I have a problem with motivation. Or at least, I used to.
This is how my projects would go…
I’d start out excited. My energy high. The ideas flowing.
I’d commit to a new goal.
Things would go well for a week or two. Sometimes for a few months.
But somewhere along the line I’d stall.
I’d lose interest in the project. I’d struggle to keep going. Eventually, I’d stop altogether.
Here’re some of the work projects I’ve started and abandoned, my:
- First ever blog (it was in the children’s books niche).
- Second blog (about email marketing).
- First online course (also about email marketing).
- Third blog (about simple living).
- Freelance writing business.
- First attempt at writing fiction.
Now, I’m not a complete failure. I have some successes. I’ve published 5 titles and sold over 15,000 books. I’ve started a coaching business (that’s fulfilling and profitable). Before that, I ran a local business.
So, what’s the difference between my successful projects and the failures? If you’re wondering how to succeed at life on your own terms, read on…
The Key To Your Best Year Ever
The answer lies in the goals I was setting. For years, my goals looked like this:
- Earn $100,000 by the end of the year.
- Add 100 new email subscribers each month.
- Enroll 100 new students into my new course at launch.
These look like commendable goals. But here’s the thing – money is not the best motivator (research backs this up).
In short, I was setting the wrong goals.
The wrong goals lack purpose. They require constant willpower. And let’s face it – we don’t have an endless supply of willpower. It takes more than a number to keep us motivated.
When I look back at what’s gone well, I see projects I cared deeply about. And that’s the key to having your best year ever. You must find and do meaningful work.
When your goals align with your purpose, the work becomes effortless.
Sound simple? Well, it is and it isn’t.
The concept of finding your purpose is straight forward enough. History is littered with philosophers, gurus, coaches and religious leaders who’ve made it their mission to help others find their purpose.
Here’s one of my favorite quotes:
I believe that the very purpose of life is to be happy. From the very core of our being, we desire contentment. In my own limited experience I have found that the more we care for the happiness of others, the greater is our own sense of well-being. Cultivating a close, warmhearted feeling for others automatically puts the mind at ease. It helps remove whatever fears or insecurities we may have and gives us the strength to cope with any obstacles we encounter. It is the principal source of success in life. Since we are not solely material creatures, it is a mistake to place all our hopes for happiness on external development alone. The key is to develop inner peace. – Dalai Lama
Yet figuring out your life purpose isn’t straight forward.
It’s a question I’ve been struggling with for years. I still don’t have all the answers. However, I’m closer than I was two years ago. And I’m starting to see positive changes in my life. Motivation is less of a problem. Work is more satisfying. Life is better than ever.
If this sounds good then keep reading. In the rest of this article, I outline the goal-setting process that’s working for me.
IMPORTANT NOTE: As you do this exercise, you may discover you’re already fulfilling your life mission. Sometimes a shift in the way you write your goals is enough to see the deeper meaning behind the work you’re doing.
I’ve created a free workbook to accompany this post. Click below to download it now (no email address required).
How to Set Meaningful Goals
Okay, let’s dive in. There are five steps to creating meaningful goals:
- Get clear about what matters most
- Write your mission statement
- Write your guiding principles
- Set meaningful goals
- Review your goals
1. Get clear about what matters most
This exercise helps you reflect on your life and what matters most to you. Don’t be tempted to rush it. Spend time in self-reflection and dig deep.
Action Step: Grab your favorite journal and answer the following questions:
(NOTE: These questions are influenced by Todd Henry’s excellent book Louder Than Words.)
- When are you at your best? When do others respond most to your ideas? What are your unique strengths?
- When are you moved emotionally? When can you recall getting emotional about something you experienced? Why were you moved?
- What stirs you to compassionate anger? When do you get angry on behalf of someone else who has been wronged?
- What gives you great hope? When have you taken a position, even in the face of skepticism or criticism from others?
- What kind of problems are you naturally drawn to solving? What are the qualities of the problems you are drawn to?
I suggest you have two or more brainstorming sessions. After the first session, put your answers to one side. Come back a day later and add any new ideas.
2. Write your personal mission statement
The next step is to write your personal mission statement. What do you want to create or achieve in your life? Who will benefit from your work? How will your actions change the world (or some part of it)? What do you dream about doing?
Your mission may impact your family, your local community, or the entire world. It can’t be too big or too small. But it is something that matters deeply to you.
Think of your mission statement as a compass. It’s your North Star.
In his bestselling book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey’s second habit is “Start with the end in mind”. He says:
How different our lives are when we really know what is deeply important to us, and, keeping that picture in mind, we manage ourselves each day to be and to do what really matters most.
Action Step: Review your answers from Step One. Look for problems you’re drawn to solve, people you’re moved to help, positive change you want to see in the world.
We all have themes, movements, ideas which ignite us. What moves you?
Think in terms of who you want to help and what you want to do for them. But don’t worry about getting this perfect.
One of my favorite mantras is: “clarity comes from action”. Your mission will become clearer as you take steps to fulfill it.
Do the best you can right now. You can always refine your mission statement later.
Here’re some real world mission statements to inspire you:
- Headspace: “to improve the health and happiness of the world.”
- HEIFER International (non-profit): “to work with communities to end world hunger and poverty and to care for the Earth.”
- Microsoft: “to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.”
- Virgin Atlantic Airways: “to embrace the human spirit and let it fly.”
- Zappos: “to provide the best customer service possible.”
3. Write your guiding principles
Now, I want you to create some guiding principles. These are a set of rules that guide your decisions.
Your guiding principles reflect how you want to live. Think of it like this:
- Your mission statement defines who you serve and what difference you make in the world.
- Your guiding principles specify how you fulfill your mission.
It’s possible to set goals that align with your mission. But if they aren’t also consistent with your values then you’ll struggle to stay motivated.
Here’s an example from my business. In 2017, I ran an online challenge to help people write and publish their book. This was consistent with my mission, but it violated two of my guiding principles:
- Keep it simple: the challenge had many moving parts and I felt frustrated with the process.
- Use my talents: I thrive in one-on-one and solitary activities. The large, group environment of a challenge didn’t play to my strengths.
During the challenge, I felt drained. It took considerable willpower to show up each day and give my best. It wasn’t sustainable and something I didn’t want to repeat.
This contrasts with one-on-one coaching and content creation (books, courses, articles, emails). When I’m doing these things, I’m engaged and produce my best work. Motivation isn’t a problem.
When are you at your best? What values are most important to you? What are your unique strengths?
Action Step: Re-read your answers from step one. Look for recurring themes and values. Focus on identifying what matters most to you. Then, distill the themes into five or more guiding principles. This may take some time. Try combining related ideas and eliminate anything that’s lower priority.
For example, here’re my guiding principles:
- Use my talents to help people (eliminate or outsource what I’m not good at).
- Seek the truth (don’t chase trends and share untested ideas).
- Keep it simple (don’t over-complicate).
- Do my best (don’t take short-cuts).
- Focus on the journey (and not the end result).
4. Set meaningful goals
Once you have a mission statement and guiding principles, you’re ready to define your goals.
Use whatever goal setting method you like. If you prefer to dream big then define at least one BAHG – Big Audacious Hairy Goal. If you favor SMART goals, then use that methodology.
The important thing is to set meaningful goals.
Action Step: Brainstorm what you want to achieve in the next three to twelve months (pick a period that works for you). I favor goals with a specific outcome. For example: publishing a book, launching a product or service, learning a new skill.
Make sure each goal does two things:
- Brings you closer to fulfilling your personal mission.
- Is consistent with your guiding principles.
Here’s an example of a weak goal: “I will earn $3000 each month on the side”.
This is a reasonable financial goal, but it isn’t meaningful. Instead, set activity-based goals aligned with your personal mission and help you achieve your financial aspirations.
5. Review your goals
Finally, review your goals by answering the following questions:
- Does each goal align with your mission statement? If not, consider amending or cancelling any goals that don’t fit.
- Does each goal align with your guiding principles? Again, consider amending or cancelling any goals that don’t fit.
- OPTIONAL If you complete the goals in the timeframe, will you meet your financial goals? If not, what else do you need to do?
- Do you have sufficient resources (time, skills, money) to achieve these goals? If not, do you need to amend or cancel any goals? Do you need to add time or add new goals so you can obtain the necessary skills?
- If you pursue these goals will you be living your best possible life?
Once you’re satisfied with your mission statement, guiding principles, and goals, put them somewhere you can easily refer to. I keep mine on my cell phone and in the front of my favorite journal.
Make This Your Best Year
That’s it! You now have meaningful goals that align with your life mission. Goals which reflect who you are and what matters most to you.
What do you think? Are your goals meaningful? Could this process help you set goals that excite you? Will this be your best year ever?
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