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Three goal setting tips for optimists and multi-potentialites


January diary

I love the New Year period and the tradition of starting new projects and framing fresh goals. Its almost as good as New Pencil Case September.  Yet, sometimes I get bogged down in the sheer number of goals I want to set. I think this is a particular problem for two classes of people:

  • Optimists.  Who tend to wildly overestimate the available time  available and under estimate the time a goal will take
  • Multi-potentialites. This is a great term I learned last year from Emily Wapnick over at  According to wikipedia it means “An educational and psychological term referring to a pattern found among intellectually gifted individuals. [Multipotentialites] generally have diverse interests across numerous domains and may be capable of success in many endeavors or professions, they are confronted with unique decisions as a result of these choices.”  Many interests naturally leads to many goals.

If you are an optimistic multi-potentialite, as I am, you are, basically sunk when it comes to the R  for Realistic part of SMART goal setting. Each goal may be specific , measurable, actionable, time bound and, individually, perfectly achievable but in combination with the other forty three on your list, maybe less realistic. Having struggled with that again this year, here are the three lessons I have learned:

1. Distinguish between habits and goals

A habit is a repeated action, something you do ritualistically. A goal is a destination, a result that is achieved in incremental stages over a period of time.  A habit – like say, practice yoga every day – is something that can be implemented immediately.  A goal  – gain a Yoga teachers certificate and open a studio for example – requires you to work towards it.

I am not saying do not instil new good habits. Of course not and indeed they can help you reach your goals. We are all better performers in whatever field if we have good eating and exercise habits for example.  However, it is possible to ‘over -goalise’ habits. For example, I started to say that I would do twenty minutes of yoga each morning with three longer classes a week , once at the gym, two on video. Then I realised that was not only unrealistically rigid it was actually  negating the objective I was trying to achieve. Yoga brings me great mental peace and relaxation as well as physical toning.  It is the linking of mind and body and the fact that yoga is non-competitive and responsive that makes it so special.  Setting targets and timetables actually went against that. What I need to do is to establish a pattern on sitting on my mat, of allowing myself time to indulge each day. My body and my available time will then tell me what is needed. Some days it will be a quick and energetic flow practice. Other days it will be an hour long relax-with-my -head-on-a-bolster session. To simply establish a habit of ‘doing yoga’ is both sufficient and necessary to meet the aim.

2. Count the cost.

Time is like money – it needs to be budgeted and can only be spent once. Work out with some realism how much time you have and how much time each goal will take to achieve. Time recording your activities can help you to learn over time how long things actually take to complete. Then, when you calculate that you need only fifty-nine hours a day you can start to decide which goals are the priority.  Count other costs too – you might be able  find the time to make art for five hours a night after work but at what cost to your family relationships? You may be able to train for a marathon but if you have arthritic knees at what cost to your long-term health?

Also, count the cost of NOT achieving a particular goal is a great way to prioritise between many exciting options. What are the stakes if you don’t do this? How does the thought of never doing that one thing  really make you feel deep down? Indifference or a slight twinge of regret means it can be ditched. if tats hard don’t ditch it, put it on a ‘maybe’ list for next year’s consideration. True sadness means it is a keeper. However, be careful with feelings of relief which require deeper analysis. Relief can mean that the goal was never really your own but one you felt obliged by other people to take on. Or, it can be a masking emotion which is hiding fear. Which brings me to…

3. Go towards the fear.

In a crowd of goals it is easy not to pay that much attention to the one that scares you to even think about. Yet, that’s probably the one with the highest stakes, the one that incorporates so many of your real deep down desires and dreams that the fear of failure makes you want to ignore it. That’s the one to prioritise.  I heard a great quote recently on a This American Life Podcast:

“Great things happen when people reach for things just out of their grasp.”

If something has to give let it be the goal that is more of the same, that is the safe one, that is the next natural step. Focus on the one that requires a leap, requires bravery, requires faith. For that is where the great things will happen.


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