Goals That Stick

The beginning of the new year often brings incredible optimism. We find ourselves thinking of the new year as a way to start fresh and improve ourselves going forward. This mindset is often accompanied by lofty goals that we would like to reach at some point during our 365-day trip around the sun. The problem is we had similar goals the year before, and those goals faded out by March. How do you keep this from happening?

I recently read a book called Grit; The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth. In this bestselling book, Duckworth discusses an idea called a goal hierarchy and I think it might provide helpful insight when determining for yourself how you want the next year, or years, of your life to play out.

The idea of a goal hierarchy starts with a basic understanding of how a hierarchy works. A goal hierarchy is a system of goals that are ranked in different levels. At the top of the hierarchy should be one goal, perhaps this goal could be better described as a life philosophy, it is the true outcome we are working towards. It is what we would want to reach by the end, not the end of this year but the end of our career, or our life.  This goal has to have true meaning to us to be effective. Once we have determined what that top-level goal is we can start determining what we would like to achieve on the path to get to it. This is where mid-level goals come in. These goals are often what we were focused on achieving in the past, for instance, it may be earning a 4.0 this semester, or locking down an internship. These are larger more complex than our lower-level goals but are still used in order to achieve something greater. The lowest level of goals is made up of simple, short-term goals that align with the higher and mid-level goals. This may include waking up earlier, studying an extra 30 minutes a day, and so forth. These goals build the habits that make it possible to reach those larger goals we have struggled to reach in the past.

Having a framework such as this gives us a sense of direction that is hard to find with a mess of unrelated, lofty goals. Try taking an hour and writing down your goal hierarchy and you may find down the road that you are glad you did.

Duckworth, Angela. Grit; The Power of Passion and Perseverance.