What Is A Goal? And Not A Daydream.

I suppose I have always been goal oriented, recognizing as a young man that the best stuff in life was unlikely to simply fall in my lap. If I wanted something good to happen, I would have to dream it up and make it so. Over the years, I have grown less ambitious about what were once high priorities in my life. I now value time more than money and experiences over things. I now wonder where some of my goals came from. How about you?

Achieving goals takes resources

Let’s start with a basic definition of a goal and build on that. A goal is a result or an outcome that we seek and that in order to achieve we will need to dedicate resources in our pursuit. These would be the limited resources of time, money and energy. These are the things that we make happen. And in order to do that, it takes commitment.

Everybody Loves Results

Results are super cool. Everybody likes results. Finding the perfect job, knowing a new language, owning your dream home or being in great shape are all incredibly satisfying. And these start by dreaming big and coming up with brilliant ideas of what would be great in your life. Dreaming is pretty fun too. It’s the effort and the work required to turn ideas into reality that’s the fly in the ointment when it comes to goals. Some of this stuff can take a lot of work and much of this work isn’t fun at all. But dreaming and results are good, so two out of three so far on goals.

New Year’s resolutions are a good example. As the New Year approaches, we start thinking of all the ways in which we might improve ourselves. You know, basically daydreaming about new, awesome you.

Coming up with goals is easy. But the party ends, and you are left with an aspiration and some real work. That’s the hard part, the work. It’s real work to achieve something.

Daydreams & Goals

So what does a goal mean to you? When you make a goal for yourself, but you don’t really commit to achieving it, was it really a goal? I think it’s worthwhile to make a distinction between those fun ideas that we have, like learning to play guitar, and the things in our lives worthy of hard work and commitment.

What is a goal? It’s a dream with a commitment behind it.

I’ve owned several guitars in my life with the intention of learning to play guitar. I’d like to learn how to play guitar. I’d like be able to sing too, but I’ve pretty much decided that it’s not happening. And, at half a dozen different points in my life, there would be a month or two that I picked it up and attempted to learn. I don’t think I ever got past the finger hurting stage.

My fingers hurt right now because, oh by the way, I’m learning to play guitar again. My point being that a goal that is just a fun idea that you aren’t really committed to achieve, may not be a goal at all. I think we should make a distinction between fun ideas that we’d like to pursue and serious ideas that we’re willing to commit to. It is commitment, discipline and effort that makes a goal materialize.

The Words We Use Matter

I have become more deliberate about the words I use. We talk to ourselves in words as we develop ideas in our conscious minds. And if a ‘goal’ means something you would like to have, but not a big deal either way, then you already have an excuse for failure. In fact, you don’t really have to try at all. Your dilution of the word ‘goal’ has betrayed you.

Is financial independence a serious goal for you or is it just an idea that would be swell if it happened? Either answer is fine by me, but you would see better results if you made that decision early on. If it’s just a nice idea, you don’t really have to do anything for it. Well, that first step there off the blocks is a bad one. The word ‘goal’ should be reserved for those outcomes you take very seriously and are going to apply the resources necessary to achieve them.

And that means stop using ‘goal’ for fun ideas and daydreams. Those aren’t goals. I am learning to play guitar. It is fun and entertaining, but if life gets busy, it gets put on the back burner. These are things that you would like to try, but not necessarily commit to them. There are other things that are important, and we should use the word goal when it’s important.

Words have whatever meaning you give them. If you take it very seriously when you talk about setting a new goal, you will be very deliberate in what you really want and are willing to commit to. Dream up the fun stuff all you want, but sober up when you start talking about making something a goal.

Know What Outcome You Want

If you really want something so much that you’re going to commit to it, then you have to understand it. You have to lay it out in specific terms. For example, everybody wants happiness. If you ask people what they want out of life, you’re going to find happiness is on just about everybody’s lists.

But I don’t think many people could even define happiness. What is it? Is that what it feels like when you first arrive at the hotel for a week in Hawaii? That’s a real good feeling. Is that happiness?

Does it have to be like that all the time? If that’s your bar, it’s kind of high. If it’s got to be that good or better, happiness will be rare for you. I don’t think most people know what happiness is for themselves and suffer for it. How do you get what you want most if you aren’t clear on what it is? Know what you want and why. You have to decide what outcomes are most important, because they will take work and sacrifice.

How Much Are You Willing To Sacrifice?

This is an often overlooked part of the goal setting process. Achieving your goals is going to take commitment. I’m not talking about the kind of commitment you find on those inspirational posters and Internet meme’s. Those are feel good thoughts that pass as quickly as they arrive. I remember watching Rocky (the original) around my freshman year of college. Half a dozen buddies and I caught a late night replay on HBO and were so inspired we headed out for a Rocky style run (complete with punches and jabs) just past midnight. I’m not sure what the actual plan was, or if there even was a plan, but about two miles from home, it started seeming less exciting. And it was at that moment I understood the difference between inspiration and commitment. We walked home and went to sleep.

For the things you want, you will pay a price. So how badly do you want it? You might as well have this conversation before you get two miles out. To achieve this goal, how much time, money and energy will be required? If you don’t really want it badly enough, then when push comes to shove, your lack of commitment will show. Don’t waste effort on things you are not really committed to.

Some of the things you think you want are just fanciful ideas. Figure that out early, and don’t call them goals. Don’t treat every idea that interests you as a serious outcome you’re willing to commit to because they aren’t and you won’t.

What Are You Going To Give Up?

What is a goal? And what is simply a daydream?

This is a big idea. To have something new, you have to give something up. This is where we lose people. I know this sounds a little zero-sum and scarcity in its thinking, but I have found it is a practical reality for most of us.

To achieve something new is going to take resources, limited resources. These consist of time, money and energy. These are limited, so you only have so much of each. For example, you are living a good life and things are going well. A good job, friends, time to do some fun stuff and all is well. Sometimes a guy thinks a girl might complement that great life and finds himself a girlfriend. Well done, most guys make that seem much harder.

Fun fact, girlfriends are resource intensive. They take time, money and energy. As these are limited resources, where do you find the time, money and energy for this new girlfriend? The answer, you give up other things you had been using them on. You will need to reallocate resources for this new commitment you have made. Probably less time with buddies or playing games and you might find she gets a little annoyed when you want to spontaneously work late like you used to. Some things are going to go in this transition. Lots of men find relationships hard and girlfriends too demanding. Yea, me too, but it is predictable and not the girls fault you didn’t know you had to make room for a relationship in your life.

Reallocating Limited Resources

If you want something new, you will have to reallocate resources and give other things up. This applies to most goals and should not come as a surprise to anyone. My second career was as a real estate Broker. A house purchase is a life changing choice. They consume resources like you would not believe. They’re going to take a lot of time in care, upkeep. They’re going to take a lot of energy that an apartment does not. It is a different path in life. And the mistake that a lot of people make when buying a house is they think they’re going to live with all the advantages of the life they had before, but in a big new house. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Your old life is gone. If you’re going to borrow all the money a bank says you can afford, which most home buyers do, you’re going to have a new life? They didn’t just give you your old life, plus a big new house. They reallocated all the available money (resources) to that big new house. So all the things you used to be able to do with all that money you used to have will now be retroactively reallocated.

It’s neither good nor bad, it simply is. What is unfortunate is when people don’t know the true cost and sacrifice to achieve the goals they pursue.

What Would You Sacrifice To Be Wealthy?

Everybody wants to be wealthy. It’s an okay goal. Although, everybody sort of defaults to money, financial independence and wealth these days. I did too, but my attitude about money has evolved over the years. It turns out I don’t want that much stuff and experiences are more about you than money. I would encourage everyone to consider the role of money in their lives, and how much is enough for a good life? You do need enough, as money is a requirement of modern life. But how much is enough, and what would you sacrifice to have more?

If you want to be wealthy, you’re going to have to give things up. What are you willing to give up to acquire wealth? A partner, a family, time with your kids. Are you going to miss their childhoods. It’s been done. It’s been done a lot.

Starting out in life, there are fewer demands on your resources. Later on, things can get kinda busy. Are you going to sacrifice your marriage (just thinking ahead)? I mean, having a marriage is hard to do to begin with. If you want to chase wealth, it’s only going to be harder because people have expectations in relationships that often conflict with the kind of sacrifice it takes to become wealthy. So when you’re establishing your goals, you have to give something else up. Maybe you shouldn’t get married and have a family. That’s not a terrible option. Maybe you should start with that as the plan unless you have a darned good reason to make an exception for a woman with whom you share goals and values.

Are Your Goals Compatible?

You only have so much time, money and energy and if it’s going to go towards achieving one goal, it’s going to have to come at the expense of something else. A girlfriend, getting married, having kids and buying a house feels like the well-worn path to modern life. Why doesn’t somebody tell you that for each new thing you add you will sacrifice another old thing. And now there are others with their own priorities involved. Your new wife loves that you are ambitious, but seems unhappy with all the long hours. Dang, how many balls do you think you can juggle?

Can you be wealthy and have a good marriage and a happy family? Not to bum anyone out, but 78% of working Americans live paycheck to paycheck and half of marriages end in divorce. So, the odds are stacked against you on this one. What’s more, having compatible goals with a partner are hugely important. If your new wife likes all the money but is angry because you work all the time, you have a recipe for disaster. Divorce is painful and expensive, so don’t do it. The best way to avoid divorce is to not marry the wrong person. You have to be on the same page on topics like values and goals. You might be surprised how fast ‘smokin’ hot’ wears off. Young men commonly overlook the importance of compatibility when it comes to goals with a partner. She may love that you have goals, but when your goals are obstacles to her goals, things can get dicey.

Warren Buffet’s Two Lists

Warren Buffett has an idea that I thought was thought provoking that he applies to business. Although, I think it applies to life in general. He calls it ‘two lists’. Here is my version of it. Create a list of your top five goals that if you could achieve them would have the most beneficial impact in your life. Taking serious strides towards these goals would make your life better.

Your second list would be the next twenty things that, if you could achieve them, would also make your life better. So you’ve got twenty-five of the best goals between these two lists. The top five, and then the next 20. Now Buffet’s advice to business leaders is simple. The first list is where you put all your resources. That’s where you invest the time, money and energy to achieve those goals.

And here’s the wisdom The second list, the next twenty great goals, becomes your ‘do not do’ list. Don’t do those things because if you dilute your effort away from the top five most important goals by trying to do a little of this and a little of that across all your goals, you won’t achieve any of your goals. You’ll achieve far less because you can’t do everything at once. This is the nature of goals. And it’s unfortunate that people make the mistake of not prioritizing and focusing. It’s as though we know we must focus, but find it hard to ignore otherwise worthwhile goals.

I don’t know if five and twenty are the right numbers for life goals, but the point remains clear. If you can’t decide what matters most, you will likely do a marginal job across too many personal goals.

Inspiration Is Exciting & Outcomes Are Awesome

It’s all that hard work and sacrifice that screws things up. Coming up with the ideas of what you want out of your life is easy. It’s inspiring. It’s fun. I mean, if you could just sit and dream up what would make a good life, it’s kind of a kick. Like planning a vacation, what’s not to like about that.

Inspiration and outcomes are both easy and fun. The problem is in between these two points is all this work and that’s what separates a real goal from a daydream. If you want to achieve something, you’re going to have to work at it. Real goals require commitment, effort, action. And they come at a cost.

Be selective in what you call a real goal. Think about what you are willing to sacrifice in order to achieve it. A goal is the thing you really want, the thing you’re willing to commit to and take action and work towards. And if you’re not willing to do those things, they are just fanciful ideas. They’re great too. They’re fun and entertaining.

But they are not goals.

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