A closeup of a white mushroom growing in moss in a forest

Setting Goals

In the previous article entitled “Finding Your Passion” you were encouraged to do some self-reflection on the past, present and future ‘you’. Now it’s time to take those reflections and passions and transform them into goals.

With all that you enjoyed from the past and present, and what you feel would bring you happiness and fulfillment in the future, you can set yourself up to live a more purposeful life. This means that by setting goals for your career, finances, health, home, self, relationships, or for travelling and philanthropy, you can gain motivation, encouragement and a clear vision of what you want to do with your life. This is what truly makes us feel alive.

Getting Started

Maybe you are still in school, starting or ending a relationship, looking for a new job, trying to lose weight, dissatisfied with your current financial situation, looking to buy a house or seeking to try something new. Maybe you want to become a teacher, parent or coach. Maybe you want to eat healthier, quit smoking or reconnect with an old friend. Maybe it’s a combination. You can be passionate about changing different aspects of your life but until you set goals for yourself and build supports to achieve them, you may become overwhelmed or discouraged by the inevitable challenges you will face along the way.

Review the three column list you created in the first article. Since you can’t change the past and you’re always in the present, let’s focus on the “Future” column for setting our goals. We now need to identify which items we want to turn into goals.

Effort-Impact Matrix

Setting a goal is very easy to do. Turning that goal into an achievement may be more difficult. Various factors come into play. I want to introduce you now to what’s often referred to as an “Effort-Impact Matrix”. It’s a simple tool that you can use in your own life to determine which goals are going to require more or less effort with the result of having more or less impact:

Graph of four quadrants with "Effort" on the X axis and "Impact" on the Y axis
Effort-Impact Matrix

As an example, I will use “lose 15 pounds” as an item that someone may have written in their “Future” column. Using the matrix above, think about how much effort it would take for someone to achieve this goal and what kind of impact this could have on their life. If someone is very active and eats a well-balanced and nutritious diet, this goal may require less effort. As well, depending on how they view the impact of losing 15 lbs., it may not be too high on their priority list.

Contrast this with someone who is already overweight, experiencing multiple health issues, is relatively sedentary and consumes a high calorie/low nutrient diet. This person may require more effort to achieve this goal because certain lifestyle factors will likely need to change in order to make this possible. For them, losing 15 lbs. may have a much larger impact on their lives, especially if it means they can be relieved of taking certain medications such as those for blood pressure and cholesterol, for example. So you can see how effort and impact is really in the eye of the beholder and can become complex depending on your individual situation.

Your Turn

Take a moment now to choose one item from your “Future” column. Think about how much effort it would require to achieve this and what kind of impact that achievement would have on your life. If that item requires a large amount of effort with very little impact, is it worth fighting for? Compare this to something that is a breeze for you to do and makes a sizeable impact on your life. Which one would you prefer to work towards?

For something that is high effort but also high impact, achieving something of this nature can be life-changing.

More than likely, you will require some kind of support, or combination of supports, to achieve it. Supports can be in the form of encouragement from friends and family, better financial standing, allowing yourself more time, a change of careers or even self-reflection for self-improvement.

The matrix is simply just a way to evaluate how passionate you feel about something and whether it is worth turning into a goal. If it is, you can gain a better sense of what’s required to achieve it and how you anticipate you will feel once you’ve achieved it. When you are comfortable with evaluating one of your “Future” items and placing it within the matrix, place a few more into the matrix then take a step back and review all of your items.

Evaluating Your Choices

For those items you have placed in the Low Effort-High Impact quadrant, these are a great place to start – consider them like “quick wins”. These are items that most definitely should be turned into goals. They’re easy to do and make a large impact. Often, when we think of setting goals, our minds travel to more complex and far-into-the-future visions of what we hope to achieve, such as starting up a small business, for example. The great thing about using the Effort-Impact Matrix is that it allows us to see that goals could also be short-term with less complexity. It’s OK to set goals that are easy to do and achievable, say, in the next week or month. In fact, achieving these low effort-high impact goals often encourages us to push further toward more high effort-high impact goals.

Back to your matrix, for those items in the High Effort-Low Impact quadrant, consider removing these items altogether or delaying them until you believe the effort would become easier or the impact would become larger. It’s often not worth your time and energy to work on goals that are difficult to do with very little reward. You’re much better off starting with goals in the other three quadrants and you can always come back to these ones later if you feel your situation has changed.

For Low Effort-Low Impact items, these can act more as “filler” goals. They can be worked on in between the much higher-impact goals. Since these require so little effort, we often naturally gravitate towards doing these things and often feel like we are accomplishing a lot. Don’t be fooled: if we spend too much time here, we’re often missing out on those goals that may bring us more fulfillment with a larger impact. It’s ok to work on these, but be sure that you are allowing yourself the time and support to also be working on goals in the top two quadrants of the matrix.

Lastly, for those items within the High Effort-High Impact quadrant, these are goals that often transform our lives. Some may call them “life-changing” or “life-purpose” goals. These may include items such as having children, changing careers, buying a home, going back to school, becoming an entrepreneur, etc. As such, try to only be working on one of these at any given time. Due to the high effort required, we may easily give up if we are feeling overwhelmed or overworked. Despite the effort, with the right supports, you can very likely achieve these higher-impact goals and feel great about it!

Turning Ideas Into Goals

So to summarize, we have now placed one or more items from our “Future”column into the Effort-Impact Matrix. Next, we need to decide which items we want to turn into goals. As mentioned above, we don’t want to overwhelm ourselves with too many goals, so as a recommendation to get started:

  • Choose one High Effort-High Impact Goal
  • Choose one to three Low Effort-High Impact Goals
  • Choose one to three Low Effort-Low Impact Goals
  • Remove the High Effort-Low Impact Goals or put them in an “On Hold” section

Now we can think about how we want to prioritize our goals. Put a #1 beside the goal that you absolutely want to work toward first, a #2 beside the next most important goal, and so forth until each of your goals has a rank.

What By When?

Next, think about timeframes. It’s helpful to use the following statement: “I want to achieve [goal] by [specific date, month, year etc.]”. This helps you to form a vision of what you want to achieve by when. For each item you chose from your matrix, say that statement to yourself. For example, if you have “Learn How to Snowboard” as a goal, say to yourself “I want to learn how to snowboard by… (then choose a timeframe: this winter/next winter, etc.)”. You can even write these down as statements and use your ranks as a guide. If you want to start working on your top 3 goals first, indicate that in your timeframes.

I will challenge you to go one step further and assign a numerical or quantitative value to your statements.

An example would be turning “I want to build garden boxes by next spring” into “I want to build three garden boxes by next spring”. Another example would be turning “I want to take rowing lessons in July” into “I want to take rowing lessons starting in July for a duration of three months”.

Summary & Next Steps

Depending on your situation, you may want to only focus on one goal at a time. That’s perfectly OK and in fact, recommended, to get started. As you work on a goal and start to see progress in what you’re trying to achieve, it can bring you more motivation and encouragement to keep pushing forward. Once that goal has been achieved, you’ll want to then move onto the next goal. Conversely, some people may find that they prefer to work on multiple goals at the same time. Everyone is different and how you choose to do it is ultimately up to you.

In the next article, we’ll talk about building an “action plan” to get started on our goals.

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