It was a gray USB drive with faded stickers of flowers and rainbows and stars on it. When I plugged it into my computer, I was surprised it still worked. Inside are half a dozen stories I started but never finished. Looking through them reminded me of times when I had so many ideas I couldn’t keep up with them. I would start one story, then get a new idea and start that one and then get another idea. “I just want to finish a novel so that I would know how it felt to finish,” I remember saying to my best friend. After that, no matter how badly I wanted to skip from idea to idea, I made it my goal to finish a novel. A year later, I reached my goal. I learned that finishing a novel felt like getting ice cream and cake on your birthday. It felt like watching your favorite soccer team win the World Cup. Like receiving a hug from someone you love. And that is what I think goal setting is all about. Goals that we associate with positive feelings are goals we actually want to achieve.
Creating goals from a place of gratitude
I recently read The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, a favorite book of so many people I know. I had crazy high expectations, so I was surprised by the story’s simplicity. It’s about a boy in search of a treasure. He spends the majority of the novel trying to get to the treasure and in the process learns a great deal about life and love. He eventually found that “wherever your heart is, there you will find your treasure.”
Sometimes I feel like “the entire universe conspired” to get me a college education--as said in The Alchemist (except in that case it was about love). To this day, I’m not quite sure how I got to college or how I got financial aid to pay for college. I was the first person in my family to go and every little thing was just a little harder. I spent the first three years wandering the college desert, until I finally found a home in the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) at Chico State. As a peer mentor for EOP, I helped first generation and low-income students navigate the challenges of college. Two years later, when I graduated, my goal was to one day return to work for EOP or a program like it.
That was nearly ten years ago.
My first professional job was with Upward Bound, and I worked with this program for nearly six years, helping first generation and low-income students prepare for college. This past August, I accepted a new position as the Writing Center Coordinator at Chico State. The funny thing? This new position is part of EOP.
What I learned from this experience is that goals should be created from a place of gratitude and from our hearts. Instead of looking at what we want, perhaps we should look at what we already have and build from there. And sometimes, it may take a little longer than we originally thought it would to achieve our goals, but we will achieve them nonetheless.
Following the good feelings
Some may say fear motivates us as much as anything else. I disagree. When Alex and I first got Toby, our spoiled furry baby, we learned that the best way to train him was through positive reinforcement. Experts say that punishing a dog for what he did wrong isn’t going to teach him anything. In fact, it might just create a whole-nother issue: anxiety and fear. Instead, reward him with a pat or a treat for good behavior. That way, he’ll want to continue behaving well.
I think the same is true for goal setting. When we set goals that we know will make us feel good upon achieving, we will be more likely to want to achieve those goals. After I finished that first novel and learned that finishing a novel was like getting a warm hug from someone I loved, I wanted more. So I finished two more novels.
When we set goals based on fear instead of good feelings, our journey towards achieving them becomes filled with fear. Fear is with us at the beginning, the middle and the end. Our motivation is based on fear. I don’t know about you, but I want to see fear as little as possible on my journey to achieving my goals.
Achievable goals start with why
In his book Start With Why, Simon Sinek argues that great leaders start with why before going to how and then what. That is how they inspire action. I really believe that goals work the same way. When we start with a strong why, and we hold true to it through our journey, we can inspire ourselves to keep going and eventually achieve our goal. Let’s take my EOP goal for example:
Why do you want to work for EOP?
I’d like to give back by helping first generation and low-income students.
How will you prepare yourself to work for EOP?
By working with programs that help first generation and low-income students.
What are you going to do in these programs?
Provide the best information I possibly can about college and how to go to college.
When setting goals, start with why you are setting that goal. As long as you have strong why, everything else will follow and you will never get lost.
Don’t chase the shiny object
Instead, chase peace. Chase what’s going to help you sleep at night. Chase goals infused with good feelings because good feelings give us momentum and a little momentum never hurt anyone. Good feelings also give us the energy to keep going when the going gets tough. So when setting goals, set it from a place of gratitude and follow what’ll make you feel good.
What gratitude-centered, heart-centered goal are you journeying towards? Let me know by commenting below.