We live in an ambitious world. Fuelled by social media, our expectations for our lives seem to grow with every passing year. Our feeds are awash with success: beautiful photos of adventurous holidays, aspirational homes, promotions, awards ceremonies and magazine-worthy weddings. The distance between these inspirational lives and our daily reality can feel painfully far.
I certainly succumbed to the “success” trap. While I was studying at university, I had the goal of becoming a television producer. I achieved it at just 22 years-of-age, and was inundated with praise from friends and family.
However, as I eased into the role, I became miserable. I had never considered what it would require on a daily basis, and I realised that it conflicted with my values and personality traits. It was filled with long hours, stress, conflict and pressure. Anxiety bubbled inside of me until I was drowning in it. I was deeply confused. I had achieved my goal – but at what cost?
The truth is, when creating this goal I’d never considered the deeper question of what makes life meaningful to me. As a high achiever, I’d set the wrong goals for the wrong path in life. A life of outward success over inward fulfilment.
Goal setting doesn’t need to be this way. We adopt goals for one reason – to change our lives. They’re there to enrich us, thrill us, surprise and delight us. By translating our life priorities into achievable goals, they can make our days better by simply pursuing them.
It takes courage to orient our lives around pursuing meaning over success, but it has the capacity to fill each day with passion and purpose.
Here are four steps to explore meaningful goal setting.
Step 1: Finding your why
Never underestimate the power of purpose. We often talk about what we do or how we do it, but what’s truly important is why. Knowing your why creates a lens to make better choices and find greater fulfilment in what you do.
– What makes you come alive?
– What are your intrinsic strengths?
– Where do you add the greatest value?
– If you were looking back over the course of your life, what matters most?
Step 2: Clarify your values
Your core values are the principles that guide you in how you want to behave. They’re what you believe to be important, and they (should) determine your priorities in life. When your life doesn’t align with your values, it can feel wrong and be a cause of unhappiness, as I experienced.
– What are your five core values? You can use a word inventory tool as a prompt. Here are a few examples: connection, authenticity, curiosity, creativity, adventure, respect, compassion, balance and boldness.
– How can you live these values?
Step 3: Choose goals that create a meaningful journey.
Most goals are about the final destination. “I want to visit Japan.” “I want to buy a new car.” “I want a promotion.” While one off moments can increase happiness, it’s fleeting. Instead of setting life goals, think about setting a life direction – one that feels exciting, enjoyable and compelling to undertake.
Ask yourself these questions:
– What do I want to spend my daily life doing?
– What activities excite me to get out of bed?
– What type of people do I want to spend time with?
Step 4: Create a ritual around reflection
Truly knowing ourselves is an intrinsic part of meaningful goal setting. Spending time reflecting on our actions allows us to engage in a process of continuous learning and development. As we work towards living our goals, it helps to check in with whether they continue to be relevant and nourishing.
Using a pen and paper, reflective practices can include:
– Questioning. At the end of each week, ask yourself the following questions: What worked well? What could be improved? What should I start doing? What should I continue doing? What should I let go?
– Feeling. Pay attention to your feelings as you go about your goals. Noting your daily mood on paper with a habit tracker is a good way to see whether your feelings are changing over time.
– Thinking. Learn to value spending time thinking about your actions, and if there are any shifts that you can make to invite more joy into your life.