I’ll be the last person so say that setting goals is easy – my life over the last 10 years has been as tumultuous as the life of a sock in a half-empty washing machine.
When we have to take a major turn in life – when we leave school, when we change career midstream, when we move countries – it is easy to feel utterly disoriented.
But it is undeniable that the day we stop dithering, the day we stop saying “I could do this, or I could do that”, when the humming and hawing ends, we lurch forward, taking ourselves, most of all, by surprise.
So how do we get from confusion to this state of goal clarity?
Shame – bad news – by hard work.
But take heart from my story of setting goals which dovetails oddly with positive psychology.
A long time ago, in my university lecturing days, in more stable and optimistic times, I was asked by a major multinational, whom you all make profitable on a regular basis, to be on a panel interviewing students for scholarships.
The company executive, who chaired the panel, asked every applicant the same question: what are the three things that you want out of life?
After the 10th candidate or so, I answered the question for myself:
- I like to achieve.
- I like to belong to something bigger than myself.
- I like to have some comfort and style but I will sacrifice this for the other two.
So, I was somewhat amazed, some twenty years later, when my life had taken on the semblance of a sock in a half-empty washing machine, to learn that this is the scaffolding Martin Seligman suggests for positive psychology.
- An engaged life.
- A meaningful life.
- A pleasurable life.
Seligman seems to think that most people waste too much time pursuing a surfeit of pleasure. I am not sure we do. I am not sure we spend most of our time pursuing pleasure, or do it very well. But that is another story.
When we need to shrug off goal confusion and achieve goal clarity
It’s best to cut our goals down to 3, or at most 5, because that is all we can remember without looking up a list.
This three-fold schema is a good starting point.
- The order of importance will be yours – there are 6 possible orders.
- The weighting you give to each ‘life’ will vary – whether you go stark raving mad without it, or you would give it up for the others.
- And the content will vary.
I’ve had to do some hard work rethinking what I want out of life in entirely new circumstances.
- The order changed for me. Meaning went up to No 1. Pleasure went up to No 2. And Engagement came in at No 3.
- The weighting changed for each too. Order and weighting are intertwined a little.
- The content changed slightly. More on finding your content another day.
Achieving goal clarity for yourself
If you find yourself ‘humming and hawing’ and don’t have that sense of forward movement that comes of goal clarity, begin here.
- What do you think about the three types of life?
And help me out a little: Is it possible to think about these three lives beginning from the abstract principle?
That would be helpful for me to know, as I already thought that way before I heard the abstract principles.
More another day – probably on Wednesday!
I love this! I didn’t even know positive psychology existed, but I am a positive thinking advocate.
Goal clarity has been my biggest problem, and I’ve always let my gut decide without much thought. It has led me to many great experiences but not much further in deciding what I need and how to satisfy myself.
I never knew how to ask myself. Your article has given me a reference to go off of and has helped me put what I am doing (a lot of work right now) into perspective. Thanks!