Not all goals are created equal.
Meaning not all tasks and actions toward your goal are appropriate every day and doing the wrong task or focusing on the wrong goal stifles progress.
Steven Kotler, one of the leading experts in studying high performance puts it this way:
“What the research shows is that not every goal is the same, nor is every goal appropriate for every situation and — most importantly — the wrong goal in the wrong situation can seriously hinder performance and actually lower productivity.”
A good way to align with this nuance is to understand that on a fundamental level there are three types of goals — and when planned strategically and clearly defined they all interconnect and feed into one another.
In his book, The Art of Impossible Kotler defines these goal types as part of a three-part strategy based on neuroscience and behavioral psychology to achieve big, audacious goals.
Here is a quick overview of the three types of goals and the step-by-step process they form for accomplishing big goals:
Step 0: Get clear on what you want be knowing why.
This easily can be included in step one of creating your life vision but either way, this is a critical prerequisite to explore as you head into this process.
Clarity and certainty reign supreme when it comes to goals and the best way to get that clarity is to explicitly know “why” you want your goals.
A common mistake people make when initially setting big goals is asking “how” as in “how will I achieve them”. I say rather than asking “how”, ask “how come”.
When diving into your why, keep in mind that the five major intrinsic motivators are curiosity, passion, autonomy, purpose, and mastery and all major goals typically align with one or more of these.
Step 1: Create a life vision (life vision goals).
This is the mission statement for your life. Call it your massively transformative purpose (MTP) as Steven Kotler and Peter Diamandis do in their book Bold or your personal mission statement as Stephen Covey does in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Either way, these are the overarching goals that explicitly define the vision you have for your entire life and the person you want to be.
This is the North Star your sailing towards.
Step 2: Break down your life vision into sub-steps (sub-goals).
Kotler uses the term “high, hard goals” to define these goals. They are challenging yet attainable sub-goals, typically achievable in 1–5 years, and serve to help you accomplish your ultimate life vision. This is where you define the gradual steps or milestones that move you toward your life vision.
For example, if part of your life vision is to be a thought leader and renowned author on health and fitness, some of your chunked down sub-goals might be to get a degree in nutrition, start writing your first book, or open your own coaching business.
Step 3: Set clear daily goals.
While your high, hard sub-goals might take years to achieve, clear goals are the tiny, daily steps that inch you closer to your life vision. They are the clear and specific tasks you take action on every day that helps move you closer to the finish line little by little.
For example, if a sub-goal is to write a book in the next 3 years, a clear goal would be to write 500 words every day.
On a fundamental level, these are the steps for starting with a single vision you have for yourself deep into the future and breaking it down into numerous goals, habits, and tasks that are all heading in unison towards that same North Star.
Kotler describes it as a strategy for achieving the impossible.
I like to think of these as the steps that lead to creating a new identity for yourself.
Because big goals is about transformation — creating lasting, permanent change which is at the very heart of shifting to a new identity.
As Jame Clear details in Atomic Habits, the key to building lasting habits is focusing on creating a new identity first.
So, creating your life vision in step one in this three-part strategy is your blueprint for that new identity and it is the most critical piece in this process.
While I can write a thesis paper on the importance of having a clearly defined life vision and how majority of people unfournately fall into the category of what Zig Zigler calls “wandering genralities” by going through life without every creating one — for the sake of this article just know don’t skip step one.
However, the secret to making that vision come to life is through your daily clear goals, i.e. how you spend your time every day.
After you create your life vision (step 1) and break it down into relevant sub-goals (step 2), these goals for the foreseeable future become merely declarative — meaning their only purpose and function at this point is to serve as theoretical targets pinned to a vision board. It’s your clearly defined daily to-do lists that will enable you to hit the bullseye.
For the time being, they become the star of the show.
This is where you switch from macro, big picture goal-setting to micro, daily grind thinking. This why we need to have clearly defined, daily goals. They are what powers the journey to your North Star.
While your life vision and your sub-goals are what you will keep going back to for tracking progress, maintaining motivation, re-fueling your desire, and determining if your actions are aligned, it’s those clear daily goals where those actions take place.
Clear daily goals do all the heavy lifting and are what will move the needle to success for you.
If you were to look at your life and all you wish to accomplish as a moving ship, the captain is your life vision, the first mate would be your high, hard sub-goals, and the crew at the bottom of the ship that’s making sure everything is chugging along as you sail to your destination are your clear, daily goals.
This is the type of synergy you are seeking with your goals; they all connect and form a feedback loop:
Your daily actions and to-do list feed into your high, hard sub-goals which feed into your life vision which ultimately connects back to your “why”which aligns with one or more of your intrinsic motivators such as curiosity, purpose, autonomy, purpose, and mastery.
By following this three-part strategy will not only put you on the path towards achieving goals that may seem impossible today but also becoming someone new.
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