Do you have any friends that just seem to have all of their shit together on social media?
You know...the ones graduating from law school, starting killer jobs, launching companies, buying homes, getting married, giving talks and gallivanting around the globe.
They’re the ones I’ve been Facebook-stalking for the last 45 minutes while I put off writing this blog post, and they’re the ones that I am simultaneously envious of and excited for when I see how well they seem to be moving into adulthood.
I have a lot of friends like this, and I’ll be honest with you... I feel frustrated and disheartened when I see their posts on Facebook and Instagram. I try to put on a good show, but I often don’t feel like I have the same wherewithal or foresight to plan out my career or structure my goals in such a coherent way that I will be living the glamorous life of a digital nomad with a picture perfect family all at the same time.
Life is busy, and if I somehow have time and energy left over after coming home from a long day of work, I’m much more likely to go for a run or watch Netflix than I am to sit down and spend an hour mapping out my life goals.
Time and time again, I fall into the trap of comparing myself to others. Frozen by inaction because I think to myself, "I will never be perfect", or "Nobody will accept me". Who can relate?
So how do you and I tap into that inner motivating force that tells us to go out there and create new things or set out to accomplish new goals even when fear and rejection feel crippling?
Well I put this system in place in my life that I want to share with you. It has helped me immensely as I’ve worked to set clearer goals and as I’ve looked for ways to improve my overall level of happiness in my day-to-day life.
How did I come up with this? I sketched out this framework (I hate that word, but it works in this instance…) after speaking with close friends and like-minded millennials that I felt represented the “gung ho” spirit I hoped to foster in myself. I also read a ton of articles and books on topics related to goal setting and motivation, some of which sucked but a lot that drastically improved my ability to reach my goals.
What is this magical framework? I call it the “START” framework. Similar to the idea behind setting SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-based) goals.
Basically, “START” focuses on five simple steps:
1) Simplify. Reduce the number of outside distractions in your life, and cut out as many decisions as you can to leave more time (and energy) for creative pursuits. This means cutting out activities that reduce your focus or affect your mood in specific ways. I stopped listening to the news in the morning because I found that it depressed me and continued to distract me throughout the day. I also made an effort to avoid television after work during the week, instead choosing to spend time with friends or reading.
Ultimately, if you are unsure as to whether or not you should cut something out of your day-to-day routine, ask yourself one simple question: Does this activity enhance or improve my life in a significant way? If you answer in the negative, it’s time to seriously consider ways you can reduce the time spent on that activity, or cut it out entirely.
2) Target. This requires the most effort out of all five steps, but it's hands down the most important. Spend 30 minutes to an hour thinking about what you want to accomplish in the next 3-6 months (short term goals), and what you want to accomplish in the next year or more (long term goals). Write these goals down and put them somewhere where you will see them every day. Sometimes it is easiest to start with what you want to accomplish in the long run, and then reverse engineering those goals to fit your needs.
Also, don’t forget, make all of your goals SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-based). This will keep you grounded and make you accountable to yourself as you identify ways to take action on those goals.
3) Act. Do something. Do anything. Stop thinking and make a move. I think humans are programmed to look for ways to avoid work whenever possible, and we are much less likely to take action in an area where we have little or no experience, or if we fear being ridiculed for our work. Still, the best way to improve is through practice, and practice takes action.
Make a pact with yourself to do something each day that will enhance or improve your life. Whether it’s taking action by making a step towards accomplishing one of your short term goals (i.e. training for a 10k or learning to cook amazing paella) or setting out a game plan to tackle a long term goal (i.e. starting a new company or going to graduate school), take one action or create one thing that takes you closer to accomplishing one of your goals.
4) Review. Commit to reviewing your progress on at least a semi-regular basis, be it once a month or once a year. Take note of what worked well, what didn’t, and what you can improve next time around. I do this once every 6 months so I have the opportunity to make progress on my goals before I perform a thorough review. I keep a list of my personal and professional goals in a spread sheet in Google Drive, so it’s easy for me to go back and look at them at any time.
What I’ve found is that I will typically have 1 to 2 goals that I have made strong progress towards and am very proud of. At the same time, I’ll have another 3 to 4 goals that require significant work, and I will also typically have 3 to 4 goals on my list that were unrealistic given the circumstances. This means that I will be forced to re-evaluate whether or not to adjust them or remove them completely. This is expected, and you shouldn’t be disheartened if you set your sights too high at first. You may in-fact realize that by setting optimistic stretch goals (also know as “BHAGs”, or Big Hairy Audacious Goals) you find that you are more highly motivated to perform and do amazing things.
5) Translate. As you make progress on your goals and start to change the way you think about the strategies you implement, take the best practices you’ve developed and translate them to other parts of your life. Maybe you’ve made huge progress on your personal health goals, but you’re still looking to change your career path. Take the motivational techniques you’ve developed and translate them into a job search or the creation of a new business plan. Once you’ve developed these skills in one area, the same framework and structures will support you in enhancing other aspects of your life.
It seems simple, but you would be surprised by just how many people never think through what they actually want or how they will get from point A to point B to accomplish it.
The steps I’ve outlined above may not be right for everyone, but the reasoning behind them is sound. I’ve spoken with millennials around the world on the topic of motivation, and I’ve seen many very talented young people waste their time and grow frustrated because they lack the foresight and planning to take that next step toward accomplishing their goals. This framework provided me with a platform for taking that next step, and I hope it can help you too.
GRAB TCM's guide to goal setting
McVal Osborne researches and writes about various topics related to motivation, decision making, strategic thinking and how people set goals. He graduated from UC Santa Barbara in 2011 with a degree in Spanish, and has since worked as a business consultant in Washington D.C., New York City and London.