Goal Setting: How to Look at Goals as Benefits and Costs

Second in a Series of Article on Goal Setting
By Make The Days Count Contributor Philip Wood

The first step toward effective goal setting in any area of life is deciding what you want. 

Although this statement may sound simplistic, it is helpful to recognize that every decision we make is naturally followed by one or more commitments.  Certainly trivial decisions require less substantial commitments than monumental, life altering choices.  But they require commitments none the less.

As this applies to goal setting … larger wants require larger commitments.  With this in mind, I personally find it helpful if I ensure that any goal I decide upon is cost effective, genuinely personal, and clearly defined.

The cost benefit analysis involved in determining great goals is no different than the same principal applied to a business transaction or venture.  When the benefits outweigh the costs, both an opportunity and a goal are often worthwhile.  With goal setting the benefit is what we hope to attain.  The cost is the commitment required.  Both parts of the equation are equally important.

The Benefit of Your Goal
With regard to the benefit of any goal, ask yourself how badly you want it.  Is this something of genuine value to you?  How important is it to you?  Is it genuinely your ambition, or is it an aim that someone else has set for you?  Goals will have more value for you when they hold a tangible worth, importance, and personal inspiration. 

To the contrary, when your want is minimal your drive to achieve the goal will also be minimal and will likely fade.  Greater goals are more likely achieved when your want becomes a burning desire.

Most importantly, answer for yourself the why question.  When you are able to identify why a particular goal is worthwhile, important, and personal, you will find it much more possible to maintain the commitment required achieving it.  At times, your commitment to your goal may be tested.  At those times of challenge, reminding yourself of why you are working toward this goal will be helpful toward continuing your efforts.

The Cost of Achieving Your Goal
With regard to the cost of achieving your goal, consider all conceivable commitments required.  With some goals, the commitments may range from giving of your time (for example the time it takes to exercise) to financial.  They may also include sacrifice, abstinence, or certain work.  For the high achievers amongst us, many goals will require the help of other people to reach.  In those instances, the cost benefit analysis must apply to our helpers as well. 

When considering the costs, evaluate your willingness to endure them.  Ask yourself whether you are willing to commit the time, energy, effort, finances required to reach your goal.  It is this question which is ultimately most important. 

Wants Are Not Enough
We all have wants.  Want may be a start but it is not nearly enough. 

As with our annual New Year’s resolutions, many of us approach a goal with great intentions but only that want in mind.  I want to make more money.  I want to do better in school.  I want to be a better husband, father, mother, wife, friend, mentor, disciple, etc.  I want to live a more balanced life.  I want to be happy, successful, kinder, more helpful, green, sober… 

Not only are these ambitions too vague to be effective tools or aims, but also they fail when they are undertaken without a consideration of your willingness.  A wannabe is, quite frankly, one who is not.

Often in reading about goal setting, I encounter the notion that one should state their goals in positive terms.  “I will,” we are taught to say and affirm.  While this is a step up from the wannabe, it too is not nearly enough. 

Work on “I’m Willing To …”
Instead, I’ll suggest that one should phrase their goals in terms of what they are willing to do, have, attain, or become.  “I’m willing to ________.”  Whether the blank is filled in with “send out twenty resumes a day until I find a job” or “hold my tongue every time my mother-in-law offends me this month” or “shed these last 400lbs by the end of 2020 by going to the gym three nights a week and forgoing the gallon of chocolate ice cream I eat daily” or “move out of my mother’s basement by the age of 40″ or “stop forwarding chain spam emails to all but my closest friends and family” or something more meaningful, you’ll find that your goals are more effective as tools when the cost is considered and phrased accordingly.

When the question, “At what cost?” of a goal that holds great personal meaning, value, and clarity can be answered with “None that I am not willing to incur,” then you’ve likely identified a great goal that you can effectively use toward making your days count.

“The reason most people never reach their goals is that they don’t define them, or ever seriously consider them as believable or achievable. Winners can tell you where they are going, what they plan to do along the way, and who will be sharing the adventure with them.”

-Denis Watley


“Before you begin a thing, remind yourself that difficulties and delays quite impossible to foresee are ahead. If you could see them clearly, naturally you could do a great deal to get rid of them but you can’t. You can only see one thing clearly and that is your goal. Form a mental vision of that and cling to it through thick and thin.” -Kathleen Norris


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Posted on 15 December, 2008 in Goals, Productivity
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One Response so far | Have Your Say!

  1. Bruce
    December 16th, 2008 at 1:46 pm #

    I like taking the position of asking people to think through their goal. I think a lot of us (me included) just assume a goal is going to provide a benefit to us, rather than doing the analysis. Thanks for the post.

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