Balanced Life Systems & Tips

How to Master Goals and Keep Them from Ruining Your Life


It’s that time again. Time to dial in those goals and aspirations for a new year.

Time to decide where we want to be this time next year.

Time to resolve to do what’s necessary to get there.

But that approach can end up frustrating you, guilt-tripping you, and even wrecking your life.

The Way Most People Think of Goals

The common wisdom on goals is that they are the source of motivation, inspiration, and discipline. Pick a goal that you really want to achieve. Visualize it. Feel what it would be like to achieve the goal.

Want that goal so badly that you’ll put in the hard, sweaty work and do whatever’s necessary to make that vision a reality.

Well, I don’t want to do that!

I absolutely do not want to do whatever’s necessary to make that vision a reality.

I’m not going to sacrifice my family or my spiritual life for a career goal. I’m not going to sacrifice my health for a ministry goal. If work and ministry are suffering because of all the time I’m spending with family, maybe it’s time to reevaluate my approach there.

The Core Problem

The common approach to goal-setting is to make your goals by default your highest priorities (ones you’ll do anything to achieve). And that’s setting yourself up for failure.

Some people recognize this problem and try to manage it by also making goals concerning their family, spiritual lives, physical health, etc. To fix the problems of your goals coming your default priorities, they just make tons of goals surrounding everything. Not only does that not really address the core problem, but a goal list in this case grows so large that it’s almost meaningless.

A Better Way to Handle Goals

Instead, here’s an approach that I’ve found to be superior. It’s one I’m going to try and fully implement this year.

I’ll spoil it for you: the key steps are step four and five.

1. Set a lofty vision goal.

Think of how you want life to be in a particular area of your life. Visualize this regularly to keep you motivated.

2. Set a target goal.

Pick a specific, measurable point you’d want to meet at some point in the near-future – such as a year or three years away.

3. Trace it backwards.

Take that year-away target and determine where you’d want to be in 3 months, then in a month, then in a week.

Don’t spend too much time at this step – it’s easy to get bogged down here if you worry about setting 100% accurate targets for each of these time periods.

At first, you’ll set these targets just by shooting from the hip. Inevitably, you’ll learn as you go and may need to shift around these targets. That’s just part of the process, so don’t stress.

4. Ration out your time.

This key point is what many other approaches don’t recognize: your time is limited. A minute working on one goal means you’re not working on something else.

You want to achieve your goals, but you also want to achieve them within the context of your other obligations and priorities. Schedule out your week to meet your targets and to keep everything in check.

It will take a fair amount of effort and time to schedule your first week. But from then on, you have a template to work from.

5. Review and change your targets.

This step goes hand in hand with the last one. At regular points – such as once a week or every few weeks – sit down and review your progress.

Perhaps you realize that you need to devote more time to one particular goal. Maybe you see that you’re not spending enough time with family and have to adjust your schedule appropriately.
But here’s the crucial part: maybe you need to change your goals.

This approach is not about setting goals and sticking to them no matter what. This isn’t about guilt-tripping yourself for a lack of motivation if you’re already trying as hard as you can.

Maybe your target has to change. Maybe that means that your 3-month and 6-month and 1-year targets have to change. Don’t be afraid of that – it just means that you’re mature enough to make educated decisions and change things around as you try to most effectively manage your limited time.

This brief little review doesn’t have to be a huge block of time. It could be literally minutes once a week. Or even do it on a rolling basis as your go about your week without really devoting time to it.

You are giving yourself permission to adapt your goals, adapt your approach, adapt your schedule as your life goes on – not just setting some unbreakable resolution that’s set in stone for the year.

You Are in the Driver’s Seat

The key difference in this approach is that goals are merely benchmarks to help you determine how best to spend your limited time. They are there to give you information – whether you need to spend more or less time working in a particular area.

And these targets help you get that information as soon as possible, allowing you to change course with the greatest flexibility and effectiveness.

What are your thoughts about this approach? Do you think it could work for you?

Some of the links in this post may be affiliate links. However, this doesn’t affect what I write about, what I choose to say, or what I recommend. Learn more here.