Goals usually fizzle out. By the end of the year, we don’t even remember them. What were your goals for 2017?

I’ve never really had set goals and when I did, I didn’t know what to do with them once they were written down.

The problem with goals is not just that we don’t achieve them, they often give us another thing to feel guilty about. When you declare that you want to “focus on your health more” or “finally get into a habit of writing daily” those things don’t just happen.

Some things do – like moving house or finishing a degree. Those things happen more or less on autopilot without us needing willpower to “stick to our goals”. We get them done, we move on.

So given that our goals often gather dust and stress us out, should you set some?

If you want to give goals a try, here are a few guidelines for setting them. These will make them “workonable” rather than just an occasion to use your favorite pens.

Tell-me-what-to-do Goals

I do think that it is helpful to have something to steer your focus and attention, and goals can do that for you. Obviously, we want to translate goals like “focus on my health” into something that tells us exactly what to do like “go to these three gym classes every week”.

Take out any uncertainty, make it measurable and clear when you’ve done what you said you would do.

One Goal Only

Annoyingly, we’re not very good at multi-goaling. Whenever I try to work out and write more at the same time, I’ll end up only doing one and feeling guilty about the other. Or not doing anything because I feel guilty about not meeting both goals.

Having one goal is for the courageous because focusing is painful. But it will make the journey easier and really satisfying. As a compromise, you can also focus on one goal as a monthly challenge like my friend John does.

Choosing The Right Goal

Sometimes we choose goals based on what we think makes the most sense. Which sounds very logical, but is a terrible strategy, because it doesn’t give you an emotional connection to your goal.

Rationality isn’t your friend when goal setting.

What we need instead is intrinsic motivation, meaning that we should choose goals we actually want to work on. I know, shocking. But say I feel like I should focus on my studies more when in reality I want to focus on my writing, then I’d say go for the writing habit.

Commit to the thing you’re inspired by at the moment and you’ll find it much easier to actually do things to make progress. You might say that choosing the rational goal is the adult thing to do, but I’d argue that choosing the thing you’re most likely going to put in hours for makes more sense than choosing, struggling with and abandoning a sensible goal.

As a side note, you will work on the serious goal (studying) when it becomes urgent enough anyway. Most of us don’t neglect our duties even when we’re distracted by inspiration.

Got it, so how do find the right goal for me?

There are trillions of ways. I enjoyed Susannah Conway’s free workbook “Unravel Your Year” and Danielle Laporte’s blog series “Free & Clear”.

But if you want to keep it really simple, get yourself a piece of paper and answer this little writing prompt:

“What would I like to have more of this year?”

Set a timer and write for ten minutes, don’t edit, don’t censor yourself. When you’re done, read through your writing. Is there a goal peeking through that makes you feel giddy?

Remember: You can go goal-less

Some really productive people don’t set goals. If a goal-less life sounds fascinating to you, here are some articles you might find useful:

Accomplishments Without GoalsWhen Goals Are Important and When They Are Not

These people are very intentional with their time, but they don’t have goals. Remember that you can merrily live without goals.

I hope your brain is not exploding right now. Have goals or don’t – do what feels right, as always.

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