I was officially introduced to goal setting for the first time in my life when I was 18. I was doing a course at university, and goal setting was a very small component in it. I never realized how significantly it would impact the rest of my life.
Research published in Psychological Science says that setting goals, at any age, can add years to your life. I like to think of it in the opposite way as well: goals add life to your years. The study followed 6,000 people aged 20 to 75 for 14 years. The researchers looked at 3 components:
- If participants were goal oriented
- If participants had more positive or more negative relationships
- If participants had more positive or more negative feelings
Throughout the study, 569 participants died (about 9%). The researchers found that those who still lived had more goals and better relationships than those who died. The most surprising thing about the study was that it found that this was as true for young participants as it was for old ones. Setting goals led to better outcomes. Goal setting gave an advantage to people who worked as well as for those who were retired.
Goal setting should be part of our formula for long life.
Later on, when I looked back at my life, I realized that I had goals all the time. Anything you want to achieve is a goal. Even babies, when they are trying to hold a toy, to bring a teaspoon to their lips or to walk, have goals. They many not say or consciously think of them as goals, but they want something and they go for it with everything they have. Failure is just one of the things that happens on the way to achieving their goal and they accept it and move on.
Goals: deposits of hope
Kids who experience too many failures can often let go of their desire to achieve their goal. They shut down their “wanting” muscle, the mechanism for “going forward” in life. You see, hope is like an emotional investment that you deposit into an account in advance of getting the reward. And it may or may not yield results in the future.
The thing is, some people do not have enough hope to spare any for the future. Their emotional reserves are so low they simply let go of wanting anything at all.
Parents and teachers are responsible for teaching kids to make this emotional transaction. Sadly, they often focus so much on academic achievement that they miss the bigger picture. Through my work in schools and with many parents in my parenting programs, I have found that most parents and teachers think the best way to teach kids goal setting is to tell them what they should achieve and how to achieve it. This type of thing does not teach goal setting. It destroys kids’ natural and healthy goal setting ability.
Why? Because telling kids what they “should” do confuses between teaching them to set goals and teaching them to obey and conform. Obedience and goals are not the same thing.
Goal setting is one of the strongest tools used in life coaching. It requires the coach to be completely non-attached to the outcome and to allow the person to set their own goals. The reason for this is that if the client (consciously or subconsciously) felt judged or manipulated into wanting something, they would not be able to move forward.
Parents and teachers are like life coaches. They have to be able to let go of their attachment to high academic achievement and allow kids to practice this goal setting skills. Teaching goals setting is similar to teaching babies to walk. You show them something they want and you let them walk to it. You cannot save them from falling down along the way. If they do fall, you do not yell at them or tell them what they have done wrong. You pick them up and encourage them to try it again. We all learned to walk like this and we can all learn goal setting the same way.
Goal Setting: how to do it
Goal setting is a simple process. Before doing anything, you ask yourself, “What do I want to achieve from this?” Remember to focus on yourself and the things you want to achieve for you. Other people can set their own goals. It’s OK.
When kids are young, we help them by asking this question for them. We then accept any answer they give. Over time, their minds will become more efficient and be able to find good answers for themselves. But you cannot rush it or force it.
Here are some examples of places where goal setting might come in handy (for kids and adults alike):
- Going to school/work: what do I want to achieve today at school/work?
- Getting up in the morning: what do I want to achieve today?
- Meeting someone for social reasons or for work: what do I want to get out of this meeting?
- Writing an email: what do I want to achieve by sending this email?
- Saying something: what do I want to achieve in this conversation?
The more you ask, the happier, healthier and more successful you will feel. If you are a parent, add this to your parenting tools and teach your kids to do the same. Your answer does not have to be something tangible (although it can be). Most of the time, it will be a feeling. For example: feel good, feel kind, grow as a person, feel special, get a compliment, connect, build rapport with someone, go on a date, learn, improve, stretch myself.
Here are some examples from me and my kids:
- I go to school and today an achievement for me will be to write down all the homework in my diary
- I send this email and I want to get a job offer
- I am talking to my child and I want him to know that I am here if he needs my help
If you set your mind to achieving things, as the time goes by, you will achieve more and more of them. And then you will live longer to fulfill even more of them. Set goals and live longer!
Happy goal setting,