Mark Twain famously quipped:
The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you figure out why.
Having a purpose clearly adds context and sensibility around our daily activities. But it also enables us to turn traditional goal-setting completely on its head to achieve far greater impact.
Let's start with the challenges using traditional goals to lead our lives (both personal and professional):
First, when you set a goal, you are continually failing until you hit the goal. Write book, complete project, ship product, etc. The moment a goal is committed, a part of our psyche considers how far away we are from success. And every time we think of the goal, internal anxiety builds. This is why typical weekly and monthly reviews are so energy-draining.
The other big challenge with goals is how little control we have over them. So many factors involved in bringing about success are beyond our ability to affect. Market conditions, global pandemics, other people's behavior and actions, random circumstances, and so forth - these can all be hindrances toward the achievement of a goal.
Thus goals do very little for inspiration. Other than filling journal books in early January and KPI spreadsheets each quarter.
That's why I suggest scrapping traditional goals altogether.
And instead, enable emergent goals through impact initiatives.
Here's what I mean.
An impact initiative is something undertaken for the primary purpose of having some sort of positive effect. This is contrary to the intention of simply getting something done. It may seem like a subtle shift in perspective, but has profound consequences.
Consider something as mundane, yet important, as "pay rent." Hard to be inspired by that. And imagine a daily (or weekly) to-do list filled with equally dispiriting tasks.
Now consider this impact initiative: Provide shelter and safety for my family.
I'm then paying the rent (or any other related requirement) not because "ugh, it has to be done"; rather, I'm doing it as one way to extend love and compassion for my family. At the end of the day, checking off the "pay rent" task feels a lot different than recognizing "I was able to leverage my resources to help the family for another month."
It turns out that every task can be transformed into a component of an impact initiative. I'll share more on that in another article. But for now, let's bring this back around to goal setting and execution.
By documenting our list of impact initiatives we enable emergent goals to naturally follow.
Let's consider a typical traditional goal: "Complete Project XYZ." And suppose we're a team contributor on this project.
So many factors are involved in making XYZ successful, many of which I have little to no control over. Plus, I'm failing every day that XYZ is not complete.
Now consider this impact initiative instead: Help inspire and motivate my teammates and manager through my words, actions, and contributions to XYZ.
Waking up each morning to "Complete Project XYZ" can be taxing, and sometimes demoralizing. But thinking of ways I can further inspire others and have my work help make a difference? You can't not be stimulated by that!
For one thing, I have complete control over my words, actions, and the work I do. And every time I help or inspire someone else or make a contribution to XYZ, I am succeeding in my impact initiative. Not only can I get a win every day, but often multiple wins in one day. It's incredibly energizing and rewarding. And the completion of the project naturally emerges from the collective impact initiatives.
As I said, every task can be transformed and subsumed into an impact initiative, and every traditional goal into an emergent one as a natural consequence.
To get started, list out your impact initiatives. Good ones often start with positive action verbs such as: Help, Inspire, Serve, etc. Think about what matters most to you. Consider Twain's question: what are you here to do?
You know you've got a fairly complete list when every traditional goal or project that is on your mind falls under one of these impact initiatives. Most people will have somewhere between 3-6 impact initiatives. But the number isn't important. What is important is that each one of these should inspire you. When you read it aloud or bring it to mind it should fire you up and resonate with your core.
Do this, and your daily activities will take on far more meaning and satisfaction. And you will create far more impact in life. After all, that's what you're here for.
I'll be writing more on these topics - including how to leverage impact initiatives and emergent goals to ensure big project objectives are achieved on schedule. In the meantime, if you get stuck starting with these concepts, reach out to me anytime. I'm here to help.