Write Goals That Ignite Your Motivation

[5 Minute Read + Activities] Learn how to write vision goals instead of SMART goals and it will supercharge your motivation.

Discover more about your bold mind every Monday

How to write goals that ignite your motivation

Learn how to write vision goals instead of SMART goals, and it will supercharge your motivation to achieve.

Listen To Audio Version ~ How To Write Bold Goals

Numbers Don’t Carve Champions.
Precious Dreams Do.

I’ll use a tennis example to show you why.

Ash Barty didn’t carve her bold triumph of the Australian Open from a number. She didn’t sit down and write, “I’ll win the Australian Open, get $2 million and reach 468,000 Instagram followers by my 25th birthday.”

Instead, she locked onto how she would feel in the moment that she won the Championship. She craved that precious moment in time and set about building the mental, emotional, and physical behaviours that made it possible.

In 2017, I ran 1300 km (32 marathons) in 19 days across my home state of New South Wales. I ran from Broken Hill to Sydney for the charity I co-founded, Run Against Violence. Preparation for the run generated mountains of spreadsheets, and I had numbers coming out of my ears!

Celebrating the finish my 1300km solo ultramarathon on the steps of Sydney Opera House
PHOTO: Celebrating the finish my 1300km solo ultramarathon, I dreamed of this precious moment in time.

But those numbers were not the thing that enabled me to succeed.

Like Barty, I craved to live a precious moment in time. I dreamed of what it would feel like to reach a patch of sand at the water’s edge, next to the Sydney Opera House. During dawn training runs in Sydney, I visited that place to absorb the sights, sounds, and smells into my memory. That precious moment in time moved my feet through all the training and running, not the numbers.

Why S.M.A.R.T Goals Are Not Always Smart

SMART goals dominate the narrative on writing goals. These metric-driven goals are thought to be developed in the early 1980s to help managers at a power company set better, more meaningful goals. SMART itself stands for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound. Today, SMART goals are used to help us achieve everyday goals. Their popularity sky-rocketed because they are easy to remember, and they give us a sense of control.

Associating specific numbers with outcomes makes us feel something is more likely to happen. It’s a false sense of security because life is largely unpredictable. The nature of the world around us is forever changing and our thoughts, emotions and priorities are continuously adjusting along with it.

The universal presence of SMART goals means few people question their usefulness. Does a goal setting method created for a power company forty years ago still work for individuals today? The SMART goal concept was first published in 1981, the same year IBM released its first personal computer. The internet didn’t exist, news and knowledge travelled slower, and change took longer.

SMART Goals are Too Rigid for Our Ever-Changing Lives

One lesson we all learnt through the COVID lockdowns is that what’s ‘realistic’ one day is impossible the next. In our constantly pivoting lives, we need a goal setting method that pivots with us. SMART goals, on the other hand, are often out-of-date before any progress can be made.

Measurement is perhaps one of SMART goals’ biggest stuck points. With number-driven goals, it’s impossible to know the correct number to set.

Let’s say you set the SMART goal of making $100 within 30 days. What if, at the end of 30 days, you have only $50 in your hand? Does that mean you’ve failed? How do you feel about that?

What if you have $1000 at the end of 30 days? Does that mean you’re terrific, or did you under-state your potential?

I set SMART goals when I first started running. It’s what I had been told to do by other people and by online search results. My first goals often looked like this: running five kilometres in under 22 minutes at a local time trial.

Some of these goals I achieved, but most of them I did not. Why?

My life didn’t stay the same. After I set out to achieve these numbers, I got sick, injured, had work crises, and experienced general life events that got in the way. I missed days of training or running events altogether.

Numbers on a page are easy to let go of or disregard. I wasn’t truly motivated or committed to achieving them. Maybe you’ve been in that same place, too. When your heart and soul aren’t tied to a goal, it’s easy to let it pass by.

It was only after I began preparing for my 860km ultramarathon that everything changed. I thought about what motivated me to run such a long distance and how I would learn and grow from the experience. One goal was shifting my mindset to “Arrive Awesome,” rather than suffer and struggle through the run. I created the mantra to beat self-doubt and exchange it for self-belief. I made it a priority to finish each run, no matter the distance, feeling fantastic and glad for the opportunity.

Arriving Awesome didn’t correspond to a number or a deadline.

Real, lasting change happened when I switched from SMART to vision-oriented goals. Any goal I had set before was blown out of the window after using this new method of setting goals.

I still use numbers to my advantage, but they are not what motivates me to achieve the goals that are most important to me.

Vision Goals Focus You On ‘Why’

Put away the spreadsheet and disconnect from Strava. Looking at data will not take you anywhere, no matter how many dots appear on the graph. The only way bold goals get achieved is through being obsessed with living a precious moment in time.

Simon Sinek, author of the acclaimed book Start with Why, often reminds his readers that “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” The same applies to you as an individual and “buying in” to your goal. We need to begin not with the practical—the number of kilometres, the running gear, the maps, in my case—but with creating an emotional payback or reward for achieving the goal. The goal must have intrinsic value to you, or your motivation will go through peaks and troughs, ultimately leading to a lacklustre performance or failure.

When I trained to run 1300km, I set training targets, some of which I achieved, and others didn’t happen. I freely adjusted those each week because I knew those numbers would not determine my success. I listened to my body and responded to what it needed.

Most of all, however, I reminded myself why I was committing myself to run such a great distance. Whenever possible, I ran down to the patch of sand next to the Sydney Opera House, which would be the finish line of my run. The purpose of my run was to break the silence that surrounds family violence. As I stood on the water’s edge, I recalled the stories children shared with me about feeling alone and scared. Those children were my big why. I wanted them to know they weren’t alone.

It was once I became crystal clear of my why all the work and training fell into place. I was unquestioning in my determination to do whatever it took – mentally, emotionally and physically – to accomplish my goal and live my precious moment in time.

SMART Goals Versus Vision Goals

Vision goals supercharge everyday life, too.

SMART goals are good, but vision goals are great for boosting your energy and productivity in everyday life. Let me step you through three common life goals to show you how vision goals are far more engaging.

#1 SMART goal ~ Do 1 hour of outdoor exercise, 5 days a week.

Blah, this makes exercise a chore.

#1 Vision goal ~ I’ll head out the front gate each afternoon, right at dusk, when the birds are out, and go for a walk around the neighbourhood. I’ll see how many species of birds I can spot in one hour. Let’s see how many days a week I can reach Jane’s house.

Yes please, some ‘me’ time in the afternoon sounds perfect.

#2 SMART goal ~ Finish those 15 admin tasks on my to-do list by Friday

Did someone say coffee break? My brain just went into overwhelm!

#2 Vision goal ~ I will feel relaxed and a bit smug when Friday afternoon rolls around because my mind and desk are clear. I’ll spend the extra time this weekend connecting with my family.

Now that’s a feeling worthy of some hard graft.

#3 SMART goal ~ Read 20 pages a day for the next year

This goal is often in the “I should” category for non-readers. Meanwhile, the stack of books sits on the bedside table, gathering dust.

#3 Vision goal ~ I’d love to explore the lives of women who lived in my town in the 1800s. Thursday mornings, I’ll drop the kids at school, grab a coffee and then take a deep dive into the local library archives for a couple of hours.

What a wonderful piece of escapism that would be!

5 Steps to Writing Your First Vision Goal

Enough talking, let’s get you moving with your first vision goal. We want your effort to be worthwhile so let’s work on a current project or your secret ambition. Under each question, I’ve shared an example from one of my projects indicated with [KD].

1. Describe your ambition in one or two sentences.

[KD] I have a desire to grow my charity to be a global organisation so that we can play a pivotal role in ending family violence worldwide.

2. What is a moment in time that will tell you that goal has been achieved?

You can experiment with a few moments to see which one is most compelling for you. Ultimately, it’s best if you choose one to focus your energy on. You could write a few pages to answer this question because the more detail you give your vision, the better.

[KD] I am sitting at a table at our annual partner conference surrounded by representatives from every continent. Each partner is sharing how they are adapting the core principles of Run Against Violence to prevent family violence within their local communities. Stakeholders such as police, support services, and community representatives are providing valuable input and supporting our success. The room is buzzing as people draw on each other’s wisdom. I feel deeply proud and humbled to have lived the journey to this moment.

3. Which part of that vision will you be most proud to achieve in the next 90 days?

Choose a small piece of the big vision that excites you and you believe is possible within the next 90 days.

[KD] Our new technology platform, our first major piece of global infrastructure, will be ready to go live. The charity started with running our events using spreadsheets. The capabilities of the new platform signal the dawn of a new era for the charity.

4. What needs to be in play in the next 60 days to make your 90-day goal possible?

This is where a bit of practical planning comes into the picture. What logistical milestones will you need to reach? Write them down so you have a better idea of what needs to be accomplished.

[KD] The prototype of the platform is operational, and we are testing the functionality with stakeholders and users.

5. What will you achieve in the next 30 days to ensure the 60-day goal is possible?

This question asks for a firm commitment, so make sure it is a small bite that is within your power to achieve. It’s more effective to go small and nail it than go big and risk triggering self-doubt by what lies ahead.

To get moving on achieving the 30-day goal I start with asking myself – What is the easiest way for me to get there? I’ll brainstorm a list of options and pick the most straightforward to begin.

[KD] Get the contract finalised and review functionality specifications.

There you go. You are already becoming an expert at writing vision-oriented goals.

Achieving Your First Vision Goal

You may notice we wrote your vision goals starting with the long-term goal and whittling that to short-term goals. Achieving your vision goal happens in the reverse direction. Put all your focus onto the 30-day goal and only when you achieve that will you progress to the 60-day goal. Each goal is a logical step that builds on one another.

When you can pour all your intention and attention into the next 30 days your mind transitions into a heightened state of learning.

From the beginning, you will feel more relaxed because the 30-day tasks you undertake feel achievable. Fear of failure and overwhelm disappear, giving you access to the part of your brain that loves to solve problems and see new opportunities. Accomplishing the 30-day tasks will also boost your motivation to learn and achieve more.

My final tip for achieving vision goals is to always remember you won’t have, and don’t need, all the answers before you start. Trust that the answers will emerge as you progress through the journey.

On the morning that I started running from Broken Hill to Sydney, I didn’t have any answers for how we would end family violence. I trusted my intention and my ability to learn and simply started running.

Five years later, we are now a national organisation with thousands of supporters participating in our annual event from around the world. Our conversations and messages have touched the minds and hearts of millions of people. From one small step, we have made huge progress in shattering the silence that surrounds family violence.

And that is what I see as the more powerful aspect of vision goals; they give you a pathway to living a life far beyond your wildest dreams.

Discover more about your bold mind every Monday

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