There’s plenty of articles about achieving your goals. Finding time to achieve those goals. Calculating just how much (or how little) money you need to achieve your goals.
Less common are articles on figuring out whether a goal is worth working toward or not to begin with.
This is possibly the most important part of succeeding at a goal. If it’s not worth doing anyway, we won’t put much effort into it. If we don’t put much effort into it, we’re almost guaranteed to fail.
And if we fail too often, then by the time we do find a goal worth working toward, we’ll have already internalised our inability to succeed.
This doesn’t mean every single goal we ever set needs to have some sort of tangible gain. Simply wanting to accomplish something can make it a worthwhile goal – as long as we want it badly enough to work for it.
Personal example: I have written eight novels.
Not a damn one of them has been published.
Hell, not a damn one of them has been edited.
With every novel I learn something new about writing (or at least, Writing As It Works For Me), and this year I learned two things:
1. It is somehow less confusing to write a chapter or two entirely from one POV and then go back and retcon in any scenes from another POV
2. I could write a hundred novels and I’ll never edit any once they’re done.
I’ve never edited anything fictional which was more than a few pages long. Maybe I’ll do so, someday, but generally my goal in writing fiction isn’t to end up with a polished piece of beautiful literature.
My goal in writing novels is… the satisfaction of writing a novel.
It would be pretty cool to be a bestselling author.
It would be cool to be published at all, bestseller or no.
Honestly, even if I only edited the novels into something half-decent and then threw a PDF online for free download… it’d be cool enough to be able to show off my novel skills to the world.
But I don’t expect any of those goals to bring the same satisfaction as the actual writing does. And thus I’m never invested enough in the goal to actually move on to the next step, i.e., editing.
And yes, I spent seven years trying to force myself to edit my novels because publishing is frequently posited as the End Goal of writing. But it’s not my End Goal.
Finding What You Want
Figuring out whether a goal is worth accomplishing may be the most important part of setting a goal, but it doesn’t need to take seven years to figure out what you truly want out of your life’s challenges.
For starters: What have you already done? Anything you’ve done in life you were proud of, even if you need to go back to the sixth-grade science fair to properly come up with something. Why did you do it? What was your reasoning? Did you do it because it was fun? Because you wanted to learn something new? Because you were trying to make your parents proud?
How about what you almost succeeded at? When did you quit? Did you finish a novel but never edit it? Learn to play the piano but stop as soon as you had the basics down? Write an in-depth business plan and create product prototypes but never actually launch? And why? Do you like the writing but nothing else? Like learning new things but have no interest in using what you learn? Want to prove your idea can be profitable but don’t care enough about the money to actually go through with it?
And what have you always wanted to do, but never did? Why not? This question isn’t about trying to identify and overcome obstacles (at least, not in this article). It’s about figuring out the line in your mind between what makes a goal worth trying to accomplish and what pushes it onto a back burner.
By the way, ‘I’ve never had the time’ is not a thorough enough answer to ‘why not’. (Likewise, ‘I’ve never had enough money and/or energy’ is acceptable only for those in poverty or with chronic illnesses. Then, yes, totally valid reasoning.)
Everyone has time. Most people also have at least a bit of money and energy. The question is, what are you doing instead? Do you ‘never have the time’ because you’re always either at work or with your family? There’s a decent answer: it means financial income and family time are more important to you than whatever almost-goal you have. (There’s absolutely nothing wrong with prioritising income and family over writing a book or learning to play the violin, but it’s still valuable to know those priorities – because now you know a goal which might help you attain a raise is a goal you’re more likely to work towards than a goal for personal pleasure, and any goal which is based in personal pleasure can’t interfere with your work or family life if you expect to get it done.)
If you can test any potential goals to determine if they’re really worth doing, you’ll save yourself time by avoiding anything which just seems like a good idea, you’ll avoid failing at things you didn’t really want to do anyway, and you’ll be more motivated to accomplish what you are setting out to do, because now you’ll have clear motivation in mind whenever you start to lose momentum.