When setting goals for the New Year, it can be tempting to aim really high.
There’s something about the fresh start of a new calendar that makes us feel like we can become entirely new people. We think about all the things that are possible and want to do them all.
But thinking about what’s possible to do is not always the best way to set a goal.
It might be possible for you to run a marathon this year—if you train for several hours every week. It might be possible for you to make a million dollars freelancing this year—if you work 90 hours a week.
But you might not be willing to do that. And you know what? That’s okay! While that might be what it takes to achieve those goals, who says you need to set your goals that high in the first place?
The thing about lofty goals is that they generally require a significant investment. They take time and effort and sometimes a lot of money to make them happen. They require sacrifice. If you’re not willing to make the sacrifice, then you probably won’t achieve the goal.
But that doesn’t mean that you should just make whatever sacrifices you need to in order to achieve your goals. Not every endeavor that is possible is worthwhile.
article continues after advertisement
Instead, we need to think carefully about what sacrifices we are willing to make when we are deciding what goals to set in the first place.
How to set better goals
When we set goals, we often focus on the outcome. We imagine what it will be like to achieve them, and we gloss over the less enjoyable part—the work it takes to get there.
But the actual work to achieve our goals will often have a greater impact on our overall wellbeing than crossing the finish line in the end. Pursuing goals takes time and energy and attention. And pursuing big goals takes a lot of it.
If we want our goals to make our lives better and not worse, we need to consider how pursuing the goal fits within the context of our lives as a whole. Does the work required to achieve a particular goal fit what we want our lives to look like as a whole? Will it consume too much of our lives or ourselves? If so, would it be worth it?
If there is nothing you’d rather be spending your time and energy working towards, then that might be a good goal. But if the time, effort, and resources required to meet a particular goal would require giving up other things that you value even more, then you might want to rethink your goal.
If you want to set more achievable and worthwhile goals, ask yourself these five questions:
- How much time, effort, attention, and money would you have to invest in order to achieve the goal?
- Are you willing to make those sacrifices?
- How much happiness or meaning or other value would you or others receive from your pursuit of the goal?
- What else could you do with that time, effort, and resources?
- And how much happiness or meaning or other value would you or others receive from that?
Remember, just because you could do something doesn’t mean you have to or even that you should. Pursuing big goals can have benefits, but it can also be costly. So, before you set a big goal, make sure it’s worth it.
This article was written by Jen Zamzow, Ph.D., an adjunct professor of healthcare ethics at Concordia University Irvine. To learn more about her, please visit her website.