A Framework for Life Goals (“A person to BE. Someone to LOVE. A work to DO”)
Today I cleaned out part of my Dropbox account and ran across a doc with an email I had saved from 2009 that I thought was particularly insightful on how to accomplish goals in life.
The backstory is that I had listened to an extremely successful gentleman (chairman of a multi-billion dollar public airline, board member of dozens of other public and private companies, former CEO, extremely successful investor) give his life story and he spoke a lot about how important goal setting and making lists was to his success. I asked him for specifics on setting goals and he responded with his goal setting framework. I thought it was useful and wanted to share it here (partly so I’ll have a public place to look back on it a bit more often).
From the number of questions I’ve had, I can tell that it’s probably time to write out my thoughts on goal-setting. I’ve not yet done so.
- Start with the categories of your life in which you’d like to achieve some interim and/or end point. (These may include family, friends, professional recognition, financial outcomes, experiences, etc.)
- Brainstorm all the things you’d be thrilled to read about yourself in each of these categories. (Sometimes it helps to imagine those gathered at one’s funeral and to think of what you’d hope they’d summarise/conclude about you in each category you choose.)
- Pick a time frame (usually somewhere between 3-10 years) for completion and/or significant measurable advancement.
- State your goals in a way that you can know when you’ve achieved them — (e.g., state goals in the form of “owning a 3 BR home in Menlo Park by the time I’m 35” rather than “settle in the Bay Area.”)
- Quantify whatever/whenever you can (e.g., “be able to do 50 push-ups at age 35” is better than, “be in great shape,” therefore.)
- Share whatever you come up with with a significant other. This will provide you with an opportunity for feedback as well as commit you to being serious about whatever you seriously intend to pursue.
- Once you’ve completed brainstorming — writing out everything you can think of (no matter how far-fetched) simplify your list. While I know people who’ve had dozens of goals, for me, these long lists generally feel like TO DO lists. So, rather than inspire, they make me tired and discouraged me. At the least, prioritize your objectives.
- I like the formula of “A person to BE. Someone to LOVE. A work to DO” to find peace and joy in one’s life. So, these are categories in which I like to have goals. Setting goals in this way, therefore, might start out with a full description of the person I’d like to be. What temperament/attitudes/values would I like to develop? How might I do this? If it’s patience I need to develop, for example, I might make it a goal to spend a day/quarter volunteering at a retirement home, etc. In the second category, I like to review all of the people in my life and consider what I might do to show my care for them. This sort of thinking has gotten me to make commitments, for example, to write a weekly update to my kids — a goal I’ve achieved for the past couple of years, btw. (On this, I just carve out 1/2 hour every Saturday morning to write up my thoughts on the week and, then, send them to my kids — whether or not they respond in kind or even appreciate the effort/commitment. (Of course, my real goal in this is to keep our family close; and this is simply one leg of the execution of that goal.) And, finally, when I think about the work I want to do, I list of my various categories of assignment —[redacted info]— and write out what “winning” would be in each of them if I were to describe what I’d like an outside observer to write about what had happened in the past 5 years looking back on today.
- Boil these lists. Prioritize them. Set time frames, expected results.
- Commit to adjusting your list, say, every year. There’s no reason to let goals that have become irrelevant or have evolved to hang around. There should be no guilt associated with abandoning or adjusting a goal. Stuff changes. You change. Your goals need to be updated to reflect reality.
- Post them where you’ll see them. If you’re not reminded of them regularly, it can be hard to keep them “real.” In my early years I taped them to my bathroom mirror so I’d be reminded at the beginning of the day what I was trying to achieve.
- Read autobiographies. Study the lives of those you admire. (One way to think about this is to consider if you could have history write about you, what would you like it to say? This is not an effort to make you think of yourself as an historical figure, but rather a way to force you to describe end points — the key to developing great goals.)