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Go for the Goal

But Make It Resonate

President John F. Kennedy. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Not all goals are created equal. Some, like President Kennedy’s to put a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s, capture the collective imagination. Other goals, like doing the laundry before the day ends, may not. Regardless, goals play an important part in not only “getting things done”, but also in contributing to our well-being. However, not all goals are the same. Certain goals are likely to be pursued through to completion, while others will be abandoned. Some, both in their pursuit and completion, will bring satisfaction. Others less likely so.

First, is Your “Goal” Legit?

Perhaps, like me, you have a list of “goals” somewhere nearby. However, are they truly goals? They may be more like a wish list than a goal. My list, for example, lacks a completion date. The items on this list may get done today, next week, or never. What, then, turns an aspiration into a goal? You can use the acronym SMART to help. Smart stands for:

  • S - Specific - What exactly do you wish to achieve?

  • M - Measurable - How will you measure success?

  • A - Achievable - Is the goal realistically achievable given your time and current resources?

  • R - Relevant - Why is this goal meaningful and important?

  • T - Time-bound - By what date do you wish to achieve your goal?

If you follow the SMART method of goal construction, you will be one giant step closer to its completion. (For more on SMART goals, check out this short video.)

Why is SMART so Smart?

When Kennedy challenged the United States to achieve the aim of landing a man on the moon within 9 years, it gave the country a long-term goal. However, according to a Gallup Poll at the time, 58% of Americans were opposed to the idea. Kennedy needed to sell the country on it. Why was it so important and meaningful to the country as a nation?

The Goal Needs to Resonate with You - Kennedy needed for Americans to see how that goal was relevant to them as Americans. You are more likely to pursue a goal if it has personal meaning for you. This makes your goal self-concordant, meaning that your goal is in alignment with your inner being. Here are a few things to consider to clarify your goal’s relevance:

  1. Values - To find the meaning of your goal, you can investigate your values. What personal values does this goal address? Similarly, what values can you employ in pursuing your goal? For example, my goal of writing this article aligns with my own personal value of being of assistance to others, and to promote well-being and happiness around the world. To help me stay the course, I’m constantly reminded of these values throughout this writing.

  2. Autonomy - Pursuing and achieving your goal will bring you greater satisfaction if the actions you take are of your own volition. The autonomy you have in the formulation and pursuit of your goal is a key factor in its authenticity.

  3. Intrinsic vs Extrinsic Goal Contents - Often, we are drawn towards extrinsic goals such as money, job titles, and establishing a good reputation. Often, such goals are coupled with “Deferred Happiness Syndrome”, in which we sacrifice our present happiness to achieve a goal we believe will make us happier in the future. Therefore, we are far less likely to enjoy the actual pursuance of our goal. As a result, such goals are less satisfying than intrinsic goals, which do a better job of meeting our psychological needs of relatedness to others, feelings of competence, and autonomy. Intrinsic goals may be related to personal growth, emotional connection, and community involvement. We often find the pursuit of these goals to be rewarding in and of itself, even before reaching the goal. We enjoy the connection that leads to a lasting friendship. You take pleasure in learning from the article that informs your presentation to colleagues at work.

The key to a goal resonating with you is its relevancy. Most of us can slog through a short-term goal, regardless of what it is. But pursuing a goal over the long term while maintaining, and even enhancing, one’s well-being requires us to clarify why that goal is important and meaningful to us. As this article demonstrates, this is crucial for individual as well as group goals. I cannot imagine that the many scientists, engineers, and countless others were able to devote the long hours needed to the Apollo Mission without a deep intrinsic resonance that made Kennedy’s national goal their very own. The pursuit of such goals fill our lives with meaning and a sense of purpose.

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