This is article is part of a series. See all of them here.
Whatever you goal is, make sure it is crystal clear if you want to succeed. Clarity is one of the key factors that can make the difference between failures and success. So let’s see why clarity is important and how to achieve it.
Why does clarity matter?
When you begin discovering personal development and your ability to improve, you will naturally want to experience this for yourself. But if you are unprepared, you may set goals that are very vague. I know I did and I am sure other people have done it too; although I am sure some were wiser and avoided this.
Vague goals sound like this:
- lose weight
- earn more money
- build an online audience
- get in shape
- work more
The problem is not the goals or intention, it’s how the goals are set. While you may think you know what you want, do you? If you want to lose weight, how do you want to do that? Will you eat less, work out more or both? If you want to earn more money, will you ask for a raise, look for a better job or start your own business?
When you define your goal in a clear way, you automatically know where to start and what you need to do. But when your goals are vague, you have no idea what you’re supposed to do.
Vague goals have this problem: they do not tell you what to do , when or how. They also do not explain if there are any deadlines or conditions.
Here are the problems you are likely to encounter if you set vague goals:
- you will be confused
- you will not have a clear plan in mind
- you will procrastinate
- you may become anxious because of uncertainty
- you may do tasks that make you think you are working on your goal when you are just keeping yourself busy
- you won’t know what habits you need to develop
- you won’t be able to tell if you are making progress and if you are headed in the right direction
- you may give up
Setting a vague goal may be easier and more appealing at first because you won’t spend time planning. But this way you are setting yourself up for failure and you will either not work on what matters, procrastinate or give up. So if you want to succeed (and if you are reading this article I know you do), you need to take some time to make sure your goal is clear to you.
“Many people think they lack motivation when what they really lack is clarity.” – James Clear
What happens once you set clear goals?
- you know what you have to do
- you are able to tell if what you are doing works
- you know what habits you need to work on
- you have a clear deadline
- you have a series of tasks that you will work on
- you may be less anxious because you know what will happen
- you are more motivated
- you have a higher chance of succeeding
If I have convinced you that clarity is very important, now let’s see how we can set clear goals. As always, I will add some advice and questions to guide you in this process.
Here’s an experiment you can try: write down your goal as you had it in mind before you started reading this article. Then read the entire article and write down your answers to all these questions. By then, your goal should be so clear that anyone can understand what you are trying to accomplish and how you intend to do that. And I hope you’ll see the power that comes from clarity!
1. Think about what you want to achieve
Answer the question: what?
What exactly is your goal?
What is the result you want to get in the end?
What is the change that will happen if you are successful?
Can you imagine a scenario where this happens?
Try to define your what as clearly as possible. If you say: I want to be famous, try to make that even more specific. Do you want to be an author? A TV celebrity? A popular YouTube star? You will see that the same goal can be achieved in different ways once you define it more clearly. Once you make your what as clear as possible, you will be able to craft a better plan.
2. Define your motivation
Answer the question: why?
Why do you want to achieve this goal?
Why is this important for you?
What will this goal cause in your life?
Try to define your why as clearly as possible. I think you will see that your why will determine how you will work on this goal as well. For example, maybe your goal is to create an online following of 50,000 people. But your real motivation will determine how you do it.
Maybe you want to do this to make money as quickly as possible; maybe you want to improve your photography and learn how social media works. Or maybe you want to educate people about a problem that you deeply care about (like equality or climate change). Can you see how different motivations (whys) will lead to a radically different approach?
This is why you need to know not just what you want, but also why you want it. Depending on your motivation, you can then choose the best strategy for you.
3. Think about the method you will do this
Answer the question: how?
How do you want to achieve your goal?
What do you need to do to get that?
What habits are necessary?
What will you have to do more of?
What will you have to do less of?
The how is the actual plan for how you will reach your goal. This is the part where you break down your goal into tasks that you will have to perform daily, weekly and monthly. And there may be several ways for you to get what you want, but you need to choose one.
As I said, if you want to lose weight or get in shape, there are several ways to achieve that. You can try intermittent fasting, eating healthier food, counting calories and eating less or working out more. All these methods will work. You can do one or all of these. It’s up to you. But you need to decide how you want to do this. Otherwise, your probably won’t take action or you won’t be consistent. Once it’s clear how you want to do something, you are more likely to follow through.
4. Set a deadline for your goal
Answer the question: by when?
When can you expect to reach your goal?
What is a realistic timeframe?
How can you decide how long you will need for this?
As with any other factor, the timeframe will also affect your entire plan. Maybe you want to save $10,000. Will you do this in a month or in 3 years? Obviously your actions will not be the same in both cases.
Try to set a deadline that seems realistic – if you have any experience or if you can look at other people who achieved the same goal. If you have no idea how much time you might need, set an arbitrary deadline. Your timeframe may be unrealistic, but having one is still better than not having one.
Try not to give yourself too much time tough. This will make you feel too relaxed and not motivated enough. A shorter timeframe may push you to act and to achieve your goal before your deadline. Just don’t let the deadline make you so anxious that you give up.
Keep in mind that you can adjust your deadline when you have new information that shows you could never meet it. But try to avoid this as you may give yourself much more time than you need.
Do your best to set a realistic deadline. Then get to work and try to achieve your goal as soon as you can. Think of it like a competition with yourself.
5. Tell someone about your goal
To test if you goal is clear enough, ask a friend to help you with this. Choose a friend you trust and who is likely to be supportive. The explain to them that you want to make sure that your goal is so clear that even they would know how to work on it. Tell them your goal and then ask them if they have any questions. If they do, use them to refine your goal even more (if necessary).
It often happens that our ideas are much clearer to ourselves because they are in our head and we see the full picture. But if you cannot explain it clearly enough to someone else, perhaps you need to try to make it clearer. The more clear your goal is, the better!
Now write down your goal using a formula like this:
I will do (what) because (why) I want/I care about…I will work on this goal by (how) doing… I will work on my goal and hope to achieve it by (deadline) month and year.
Try to keep this description of your goal as clear, concise and simple as possible. You can write this down in your diary or on a piece of paper and revisit it from time to time. This is what could be considered a goal card.
Is your goal clear to you know? Is it obvious what you need to do and how? If it still isn’t clear enough, don’t worry. Maybe it would be a good idea to take a few days and think about it. Do some research online and see how other people have achieved your goal. This might inspire you and help you find a way that works. However, try to do this your own way.
How I realized how powerful clarity really is
I had been setting goals for myself for years. Sometimes I would succeed and I would fail a lot. But I think I only recently realized how much it matters to have a really clear goal.
I had created my Instagram account @paulaghete and my blog sometime in 2017. I created them mainly because I needed a creative outlet and I wanted to have a place where I can share whatever I want – pictures from my travels, my thoughts and anything else.
But even though I knew myself well, I did not know what I wanted to do with my accounts. Even though I started my Instagram account and blog mainly for myself, I also wanted to share my thoughts and have people read them and share their own views.
Yet I had no idea what I wanted to represent or talk about. I did not have a mission or a skill I wanted to focus on. So my content was rather random and I did not like that. I often did not know what kind of content I should share and what people were following me for.
Obviously my account was barely growing. And it makes sense now – why should they have followed me? What should they have expected? I didn’t really know to be honest. So I couldn’t tell people “follow me if you are interested in…”. Now it makes perfect sense why people were scrolling past my posts.
One of the topics I was talking about were books. I loved reading and I started to share short book reviews – among other things. Last year I realized I love talking about books and that they allow me to try to work on my goal: to encourage people to read more non-fiction books and think more accurately. And I think these two go hand in hand.
So I switched my account and focus almost exclusively on books and ideas. And things started to change. I was more focused on the type of content I make. I created my own style and structure. I shared my opinions with more courage and honesty. And people started to like this.
At one point during the summer of 2019 (I think), I set a goal for myself: to reach 1,000 followers before the end of 2019. Now everything was clear to me: what I wanted, why, how I wanted to do that and by when. I am proud to say that I passed 1,000 followers yesterday – a week later. I missed my deadline, but I knew it was only a matter of time. As 2019 was coming to a close, I still felt like I succeeded because I was 100% sure I would reach my goal in a matter of days.
This made me realize that having a clear goal may be the most important thing – maybe even more important than discipline. When you have clarity, you know what you need to do and you can work around with flaws (like poor discipline) and improve them as you continue to work on your goal.
Don’t get me wrong – I spent countless hours working on my Instagram account. I experimented with different styles and types of posts and I improved my skills. I can definitely improve more, but having this goal inspired me to get better. And yet, hard work pays off when you have clarity. If you don’t have a goal that is crystal clear, all your hard work may be in vain – or you may get mixed and unpredictable results.
When I realized how clarity mattered in my case, I knew I wanted to share this lesson with you. I want you to reach your own goals, so do yourself a favour and make sure you set clear goals.
Goals are like destinations on a map – you need to know where you want to get, choose a route, a means and then just go! Having a clear destination in mind will keep you on the right track and help you make the most of your time.
Clarity can make the difference between failure and success. Use everything you learned today to increase your chance of success.
This article is part of a 30-day series where I’ll share an article every day. I will mainly focus on goals, success and habits and I hope this series will help you have a higher chance of achieving your meaningful goals in 2020!