Managing Yourself – Step 2: Set Some Goals


This GovLoop series on “Managing Yourself” provides readers with the right skills, tools and mindset to be proactive about their development and as a way to thrive and succeed, both professionally and personally. Thus far, we’ve covered “Knowing Thyself.” Our post this week is the next step in your roadmap for success: goal setting.

What’s a Goal?

According to the Business Dictionary, a goal is defined as an observable and measurable end result, having one or more objectives to be achieved, within a more or less fixed time frame.

Why Set Goals?

Earl Nightingale, the renowned radio speaker, author and personal development guru, built much of his practice on the idea that people don’t really set goals, and that’s what’s keeping them from leading the lives they want to lead. While he was writing and speaking in the middle of the 20th century, his messages are still as applicable today.

In one of his most famous recordings, “The Strangest Secret,” he lays out the idea that goal setting is absolutely crucial for any kind of success and without it, we’re just like a ship without a destination. How, he asks, could we ever expect to reach our destination if we didn’t have one to begin with? If you haven’t had a chance to listen to this recording yet, take a half hour to do so… it could change your life. Please note, it is an original recording from the 1950s and some of the language is dated, but the message is just as relevant today.

The point is this: there is no magic touch. The people who seem to get everything they want in life do so because they have decided upon their goals and are progressively working towards them. The people who don’t have goals, conversely, have no endpoint in mind with no destination. So how could they ever expect to arrive anywhere?

We can all agree that a goal, especially the act of achieving it, is a very desirable thing. Yet, for some reason, so few people think about goal setting or at least go about it in the right way. So how can we change that?

The Goal Hierarchy

Angela Duckworth, in her popular book “Grit,” makes the case that passion and perseverance (together what she calls grit) dictate what you can accomplish in life. According to her research, success in life is less about intensity than it is about stamina – about sticking with it over time. Or as she so aptly puts it, “enthusiasm is common, but endurance is rare.”

In chapter four of “Grit,” she introduces a useful tool called the goal hierarchy. This tool is fantastically simple, yet very effective. For a brief overview from Angela and a visual of what the hierarchy looks like, watch this video.

The basic idea is simple; use the goal hierarchy tool to create your own personal road map for success. The beauty of the tool is that it:

  1. Makes you think through what it is you actually want to achieve (your “life goal”).
  2. Helps you identify the specific milestones you’ll need to complete in order to reach the life goal.

The purpose of doing the exercise is to break down your larger life goal into multiple smaller goals and then identify the knowledge, skills and abilities to reach the first smaller goal, then the next one… then the next one… and so on, until you ultimately reach the larger life goal. It seems very simple and obvious, but in all actuality, we do a poor job of implementing it in our own lives.

The Goal Hierarchy in Action

Last year, I created a goals hierarchy and it has been INVALUABLE. I carry it with me at all times in my folio and I constantly refer back to it, as Angela encourages, to ensure that I don’t waste valuable time doing things that aren’t in service to my ultimate goal.

The hierarchy can be used by professionals for a variety of things: to create annual training plans, develop items for an IDP, or even help identify people who’ve already achieved similar goals so you can ask them to coffee for an informational interview. I’ve used the tool for each of these purposes, several times, and it’s been quite successful.

If you want a goals hierarchy to complete for yourself, buy the book, “Grit,” refer back to the video clip, above, or conduct a simple internet search for it and you’ll find a plethora of examples.

The real trick is, as Earl Nightingale points out in “The Strangest Secret,” that in order to realize our goal we need to really wish for it and wish for it exclusively. We cannot attempt this exercise and expect a good result if we try to achieve a dozen or more incompatible goals simultaneously. So take some time and think through it – you’ll be much better off in the end.

The Take Away

1.“Managing Yourself” is a step-by-step plan for achieving success. Before you can achieve success, though, you need to identify what success looks like – your goal. Because without knowing what it looks like, how could you know if you ever achieved it?

2. Once you’ve identified what success looks like, you can lay out a roadmap for how to get there. This roadmap will include all of the smaller things you’ll need to achieve in order to get to “the big one.” This roadmap should stay with you at all times so you can refer back to it, ensuring that precious time isn’t wasted in pursuit of something incompatible or perhaps not as worthwhile.

3. Action

Next week – Step Three: Effective Time Management.

Brian Baskerville is part of the GovLoop Featured Contributor program, where we feature articles by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Contributor posts, click here.

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Kaitlin Moller

I really needed this post! I’ve always had a hard time setting goals because, believe it or not, they’re constantly changing. There’s so much I want to accomplish, but I think those things are part of a bigger goal (as you mentioned, breaking it down and starting with the smaller things) so my perspective has definitely changed thanks to this post. Thanks!