“Now What?” The Two Words That Will Help You Determine Whether a Goal Is Worth Pursuing
Don’t be concerned about what others want for you
A few months ago, the majority of business and personal improvement writers were busy pumping out their seasonal articles on how to set goals for the next twelve months.
Their typical advice?
First, determine what you want (the goal). Then break it down into a series of action steps that will eventually lead to accomplishing the desired objective. And it doesn’t hurt to make the goal realistic, time-bound, specific, and measurable.
If you focus your time, actions, and resources on the things most important to you, over time, you’ll achieve your objective.
All well and good — as long as you know what you want.
Sounds like an odd qualifier, doesn’t it? Certainly, everyone has a list of things of things they would like to have, places they’d like to go, and achievements they’d like to accomplish.
For example, there are material things — a new car, a first or larger home. There’s also the emotional, physical, and spiritual side of things, such as finding a soul mate, quit smoking, or attending a religious retreat. So we write them down. We add them to the list.
Yet, here’s the problem . . . Even if you tell yourself it’s what you want, how do you know for sure? How do you know the goal you’ve chosen is going to provide the payoff, the reward, the feeling of accomplishment that you’re expecting?
With so many sources of input — our boss, spouse, parents, business associates, social media, life coaches, and the odd guru — telling us what we should want, what we’re supposed to want, it’s nearly impossible to keep our own independent thoughts separate and unbiased. Persuasion and outright manipulation become the tools of influence and, as a result, our goals are often the product of third-party inspiration.
The worst part?
We often don’t realize we’re being manipulated. Influence isn’t always about an intentional and elegantly designed subliminal message that slips in below the conscious level. External influence can take the form of an off-hand comment, or an unintentional action we interpret as hostile or predatory.
It can also be a persuasive argument that the majority requires you to accept — if you want to maintain your identity within the group.
So how do we defend ourselves from all this unwanted influence? Conventional advice encourages us to qualify our list of wants, wishes, and desires — our list of possible goals — by asking ourselves two questions . . .
Why do I want it?
What’s the underlying reason that drives me to attain it?
Supposedly, the answers will reveal the deeper meaning behind our desire to accomplish a certain thing.
Does it work?
Not for the overwhelming majority. Oh sure, we start with the best of intentions. But after a few weeks, the routine of life, coupled with the small emergencies of dealing with our job, family, and friends reduce our well-conceived intentions to flights of fantasy.
And now we’re left with a neat little bundle of excuses that quickly evolves into a few self-rationalizing sound bites explaining why we had to give up — why we couldn’t spend the time, energy, and resources to accomplish the objectives we were sure would make our life better.
That’s what we tell others. And after repeating it a few times, we begin to believe it ourselves.
I know. I’m preaching to the choir.
You’ve heard this so many times before — and experienced the disappointment associated with goal setting — that you’ve given up.
You don’t set goals because goals don’t work. You fail to achieve what was supposedly important, because other things interfered, the urgency of an unforeseen situation took you off track, or your time had to be dedicated to a relationship you wanted to preserve.
I have a different opinion.
I believe we fail to put forth the required effort to accomplish our goals because we know, on a subconscious level, we don’t really want the objectives we’ve chosen. At the time, the goal may have sounded good, but if we had examined what it would have done for us when accomplished, we might have realized we weren’t being honest with ourselves.
Choosing a goal that is out of alignment with our personal values and beliefs can create all sorts of internal conflicts. Sometimes it reveals itself as self-sabotage. Other times, we complete a goal only to wonder why we feel disappointed, why we didn’t get that feeling of accomplishment we were expecting.
So how do we make sure the goal(s) we’re considering — the objective we want to accomplish — is truly representative of what we really want? It’s done by adding one additional step to conventional goal-setting strategies. And it comes in the form of a question . . .
What’s so important about those two little words?
They can provide you with a sense of what it will be like to accomplish your goals before you commit your time and resources — before you put yourself through the process of pursuing an objective that isn’t personally relevant, compelling, or satisfying on its own merit.
The concept requires you to project yourself into the future and to take a hard look at your goals from the perspective of already having accomplished them. The result can produce a very powerful sense of where your life is headed — which allows you to ask the question, “Is that where I really want to go?”
Here’s how to use the “Now What” question effectively
Imagine having accomplished the most important goal on your list. You worked hard, dedicated the required time and energy, and you did what was necessary to bring your objective into reality.
Now, see yourself enjoying the accomplishment. Yes, you got that promotion, bought that new home, or started your new business. You earned it, you deserved it, and you acknowledge your accomplishment by taking a day or two to bask in the glory.
Now, move ahead a few weeks into the future. You feel the satisfaction of accomplishment begin to wane. Your new status — and the way you feel about it — becomes the accepted norm. Yes, you’ve raised the bar, but with every day that passes, your achievement becomes less significant, less meaningful.
So you begin to think about what’s next. And you ask yourself, Now what?
What kind of answers will you receive?
They typically fall into one of two categories.
The first will be options for a new goal. Maybe it will be logically aligned or connected with the goal you just virtually accomplished. For example, if your objective is to move into the C-suite of a Fortune Five Hundred company and you just received a promotion to national sales manager, your next goal might be a vice-presidency — a big-picture projection of what you want to ultimately want to accomplish.
But that’s not nearly as important as the second category. More than likely, it will be a feeling, an emotional response. It might be the sense of having accomplished something meaningful, confirming you’re on the right track with your life.
Conversely, there’s also a chance you’ll experience confusion, disappointment, or outright regret — negative emotions that prompt you to question the value of what you just virtually accomplished. This kind of internal feedback is an indication that the goal you’re considering is just another diversion, another glitter-coated bauble you don’t need or don’t really want.
Obviously, you want to choose goals that are personally meaningful.
And that means doing something with your time that makes sense to you, is meaningful, and pays dividends in the form of personal satisfaction or pleasure, or both.
If your answer to the question, Now what? doesn’t produce a feeling of being satisfied, happy, or pleased when you evaluate your goals from a future perspective, or worse, leaves you with a sense of regret, there’s a good chance you’re pursuing the wrong goal — or more likely, someone else’s goal.
I’ll leave you with this . . .
Goal setting is a proven method of accomplishing the objectives that will make a lasting difference in your life. But it comes with a caveat — the goals you choose must align with your personal beliefs, values, and vision. Otherwise, you’ll spend irreplaceable time and resources to accomplish something that will ultimately leave you dissatisfied, frustrated, and regretting the opportunity cost.
Don’t be concerned about what others want for you. If you’re old enough to make your own decisions, you’re old enough to chart your own course through this life. It’s yours to do with as you choose.
So for the sake of your life, choose wisely.
Thanks for reading,
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Roger A. Reid, Ph.D. is a certified NLP trainer with degrees in engineering and business. He’s the author of Better Mondays and Speak Up, and host of Success Point 360 Podcast, offering tips and strategies for achieving higher levels of career success and personal fulfillment in the real world.
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