3 Steps to Setting Better Goals: Give Yourself Something Big to Think About

There’s a scene in director Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur: Legend of The Sword where the mage looks at Bedivere, a formative member of the resistance, and says: “If you want him to think big, give him something big to think about.”

In a bid to convince Arthur that he is the rightful king, she sends him into the darkness—a morbid forest that exists in his own mind. It is there where he is challenged to confront his own demons so he can finally break free from his old self and allow room for his new identity.

What happens next is up to you to discover—but what I’m interested in discussing right now is the depth and wisdom that lies within these words:

If you want to think big, give yourself something big to think about.

That line struck me because it made me realize something in light of the looming wave of demotivation that the vast majority of the human population is facing right now: It’s not the ocean of uncertainty for what’s ahead that’s yanking at your will, it’s the lack of a visible mountain to ascend that’s creating this deficit.

Much like optimism, the pursuit of goals is essential to our human spirit. Goals motivate us. They inspire us to test ourselves and see how far we can go. They trigger our competitive spirit, which lights a flame of drive and determination within us. In fact, Edward Locke and Gary Latham, leaders in goal-setting theory, demonstrated through their research that pushing ourselves to do something we’re not 100% certain we can achieve is the most reliable way to motivate ourselves. That’s because tackling challenging goals implores you to work harder, further develop, and reap the rewards of self-actualization.

In other words, if we give ourselves a mountain to scale—something big to think about—we’ll have a climb to prepare for, and thus, we’ll spur enough stimulation within us to get us back on our feet.

The problem, however, lies not in the goals that we set ourselves, but in how we set those goals. Sometimes we think way too big and don’t set a flexible system in place that would allow us to achieve those goals. In such a case, we quickly abandon their pursuit because, as James Clear writes in Atomic Habits:

“You do not rise to the level of your goals; you fall to the level of your systems.”

Other times we think way too small, without a proper vision in place, and focus on the incremental steps ahead so narrowly that we drag our motivation down and yet again, abandon what we were once so excited to achieve. That’s exactly what scientist and innovator George Washington Carver implies with his words:

“Where there is no vision, there is no hope.”

What we need then, is to find an equilibrium.

We need to give ourselves something big to think about—a challenge in a form of a mountain that we can climb. And yet, at the same time, create a system that would allow us to move that mountain sequentially, once stone at a time.

Here are three simple steps that would allow you to do that.

Step 1: Give Yourself Something Big to Think About

Toward the end of 2019, I found myself in a transition. I had decided that for the year ahead, I wanted to focus on becoming a writer. Using my words to share my own life experiences and tell stories that would inspire growth in others was something I had always wanted to do, but never found the courage to commit to.

So I thought big and set a goal of publishing at least 100 articles within 12 months (2 articles per week). That was a stretch for a beginner, but it certainly gave me something big to think about: Will I be able to do it? Will people even read my work? Will I have enough ideas to write about?

Nevertheless, I committed to my aspiration and gave myself something big to think about and the simple act of doing so ignited an unparalleled drive within me. I wrote and published week-in, week-out. Twelve months later, I had 133 articles to my name and a significant readership following I could only dream of a year prior.

The first step in this goal-setting process is to give yourself something big to think about—a greater ideal to pursue. Something that will inspire you and pull you onward. Something audacious. Big enough it will scare you and make you gasp in wonder. Something that you could honor by simply showing up to it every day and putting in the work—a feat that would demand you to devote your entire creative energy and time to.

In other words, give yourself a mountain to scale.

It can be to write a book, to launch a business, to move to a new country, to start an online conscious community, to earn your coaching certificate, to become a relationship coach, or maybe even a chef. What inspires you? What excites you? What scares you? Who would you love to become? Those are the big questions you should be asking yourself and thinking deeply about.

Step 2: Lay Out The Groundwork

At the dawn of the 21st century, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, gave his team something big to think about: “I want us to build the tallest man-made structure in the world.”

That was one bold and inspiring vision—it was clear, concise, and demanding. On January 6th, 2004, construction commenced, and five years later, on October 1st, 2009, the tower of Burj Khalifa was finally complete.

Of course, they did not jump right into the construction phase. First, they put together a team and prepared a roadmap to lay out the groundwork. Then, they tested out different designs. Eventually, they decided on a concept, mapped out the tasks of the project, and started the implementation process.

The second step in this goal-setting process is to do exactly that—layout the groundwork by asking yourself these four questions:

  1. What is it that I want? The objective here is to get clear on what you want. What’s the mountain you face? Write down one coherent statement of what it is you want to achieve. “I want to become a certified life coach” or “I want to launch my own podcast.”
  2. When will I start and when do I want to accomplish it by? There are two factors at play here. First, it’s crucial to create clarity around when you’re going to start working toward that goal. Too often, we ruminate on “how am I going to do it,” but that’s something that you will refine as you begin the process. When it comes to starting something new, what matters most is just starting. The second point you want to consider is the deadline. In an ideal case, when will you accomplish this goal? If you don’t have a tentative timeframe in place, then you will fall victim to Parkinson’s Law, which states that the amount of work expands to fill the time available for its completion. The idea here is really simple: Draw a start line and a finish line.
  3. How will I attain it? Consider all the things you must do in order to realize that vision. If your goal is to launch a podcast in six months’ time, then what will that entail? Here’s a shortlist: Listening to loads of podcasts to absorb storytelling techniques, reading up about the different platforms you can use, laying out a content calendar, scoping out potential people to interview, etc… How will you go about completing these tasks? What will your process or system look like? (You can use the GAP Goals Framework). As the engineer and author Edwards Deming wrote: “If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, you don’t know what you’re doing.”
  4. Why does it matter to me? The question here is not “why do I want this?” If that were the case, you would say “because it matters to me,” but that’s just an easy escape. The question is “why does this matter to me,” because that big goal of yours will demand a new version of you to show up. It will be a challenge that will stretch you. You will experience lots of resistance, fear, and self-doubt and there will be days where you just don’t want to show up and do the work. So why does this really matter to you? Write it down and remind yourself of it anytime your commitment wavers.

These three points—the what, the when, and the how—are what I call the tension points of the process. Much like the steel pillars that hold up a monument, if one of them falters and breaks, the entire structure is at risk of collapsing.

If you’re not clear on what it is you want, then you will be lost in its pursuit. If there’s no transparency on the timeframe, you won’t have a sense of urgency. And if you lack insight on the process and what it will look like, then you most certainly should spend more time thinking about whether or not this goal truly matters to you.

The tension points of the goal-setting process .
The tension points of the goal-setting process .

Step 3: Ask Yourself This One Question

What’s the one thing I would love to do right now?

A simple but profound question.

Too often, we ask ourselves “what would I need to do next to make this happen?” That’s a good question to ask, but it’s not inspiring, is it? And that’s precisely why it doesn’t compel you into action.

Look, we all have things we need to do and things we want to do, but does the mere thought of having to do them excite us? Of course, it doesn’t! We simply do them out of obligation and accountability.

So what if we were to ask ourselves the question of “what’s the one thing I would love to do right now” against that big goal that matters so much to us? Wouldn’t that put the ball in our court? Wouldn’t that excite us and motivate us to not only get started but to also keep going?

Let’s break it down:

  • “What’s the one thing.” This line reminds you that you can do many things at once, but you can only do them well, one thing at a time. It also pushes you to work slowly in small increments, one stone at a time.
  • “I would love to do”.” When working from a place of love, you become more spirited. When you become more spirited, you create the mental and emotional space to believe in your willpower and possibility. In essence, you’re choosing what you want to do instead of what you have to do.
  • “Right now.” When you work from a “right now” mindset, you place your entire self into the present moment. And we both know that all we really have control over is The Now.

Putting it All Together

Many years ago Confucious wrote these words:

“The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones… It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop.”

Give yourself something big to think about, a mountain to scale. Layout the groundwork for the climb. And then choose one thing you would love to tackle right now. Repeat that final step every single day onward.

But remember this one underlying truth:

Consistency is the key to sustainable, long-lasting change. So don’t try and move mountains, instead, simply carry small stones, one stone at a time. Don’t be the hare, be the tortoise because slow and steady wins the race. As per a recent tweet by modern habit-building expert James Clear: “When making plans, think big. When making progress, think small.”

This article was written by Omar Itani, an accomplished blogger and writer. To learn more about him please visit https://www.omaritani.com/about.

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