The Anatomy Of A Well Formed Goal

Anatomy of a well formed goal

Enthusiasm towards a goal is important; however, in many cases, simply launching ourselves towards an outcome isn’t the most intelligent, or effective way, to accomplish a goal.

More importantly, when we just “go” after something, without thinking about the goal itself, what is going to be involved in pursuing the goal, and the consequences of our actually achieving the goal, we may be dooming ourselves before we even start.

There are goals – and then there are “well formed goals”. The more that our goals are “well formed”, the more likely it is that we’ll 1) achieve the goal; and 2) be happy with the consequence of this result.

Happy with the Result? If we weren’t going to be happy with the result, why in the world would we set the goal in the first place?

Oddly enough, setting goals, achieving them, and then NOT being happy with the consequences of the result is more common then you think.

I would be willing to bet that you have personally experienced it – I believe we all have:

You set a goal, you work hard to get it, you get it, and then all isn’t bliss, you aren’t happy with the consequences.  

If we took the time make the goal “well-formed” before we even started it, we would have a much greater chance of actually enjoying the consequence of achieving that goal.

Let me better explain by way of an example from my life:  Going to law school.

This was a very significant, and expensive goal that I set in my life. There was a consequence of my achieving it – I became a lawyer.

What I didn’t realize when I set the goal of going to law school was that I wouldn’t enjoy the practice of law.  I didn’t actually talk to any lawyers about what their day to day life was like.  I had no idea what the “practice entailed”.  I didn’t talk to them about the stress associated with the job. I didn’t talk about the pay structure  and the “bill by hour” regime so prevalent.  I didn’t understand the “consequences” of achieving my goal, so when I achieved my goal I became confused and upset with the life that I had.

It didn’t need to be this way.  Had I taken the time to create a “well formed career goal” when I was 23 years old it would have been very different.

Had I taken the time to realize that my primary value was freedom, and the consequence of my becoming a lawyer would be an assault on my freedom, I wouldn’t have even pursued the goal of going to law school in the first place.

This was a powerful (albeit expensive) lesson that will never be lost.  Thankfully I was able to correct it while I was still young. But the lesson remains:

Make sure that the consequence of any goal that I set is a consequence that is aligned with what I value.

So when I chose to leave law I made sure that my career goals were well formed – that is, I made sure that I would actually enjoy the outcome of any achievement that I obtained.

As a result, I now operate in a career space where I truly enjoy each day, where the journey is intrinsically motivating, and I’m not always searching for the next vacation or weekend.

Here is another example – I see this one all the time.  People want to “make more money” or “be happier” but these goals aren’t well formed because they don’t have an evidence procedure for knowing when the goal is met.  They also don’t have a time line.  What is more money?  Is $1 more money?  What is happier?  Does laughing at a funny movie count?

If we take the time to design a “well formed goal” before just launching into a pursuit we significantly increase the chances that we will achieve our goal (since we have clarity about what we are pursuing, and a model and a plan to achieve it) and, most importantly, we will be satisfied with the consequences of having achieved it since it aligns with what we most deeply value.

Sometimes what we really want is just a feeling, and we can get that feeling without the elaborate goal.  

For example – happiness.  We don’t need a Porsche to be happy.  Sometimes a habit of exercise can give us the same feeling (minus the $100K cost).  This is why it is so important to analyze our goals, from the inside out before we launch into them.

So how can we ensure that our goals are well formed?  

Start with answering these questions:

1. What specifically do we want?

2. Is there an “evidence procedure” for clarifying what we want (ie. how will we know when we get what we want)? Is it capable of some type of objective determination?

3. When do we want this result (a timeline)?

4. What is the “meta-outcome” of our goal (what is the consequence or result of our achieving this goal)?

5. Does this consequence align with what we value and the life that we want to live?

6. If we want the consequence – can we obtain it in a different way?

7. Under what circumstances – where, when, with whom – do we want to achieve this result?

8. What times during the day, or week, will we pursue this goal?

9. What barriers stop us from having this outcome right now?

10. What additional resources will we need to achieve this goal?

11.  Who can we model to achieve this goal?

12.  What is our plan to obtain this goal?

Sometimes slowing down, and taking time to analyze the “anatomy” of our goals, can be a really important activity, and it can save us a lot of time, money and energy in our life.  

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