Establish is the first step of ESPER.

In Establish, you establish the goal that you are going to be pursuing. Since you are reading this goal achievement series, you probably already have a goal in mind which you want to achieve.

Yet, establishing your goal is more than just identifying a goal target you want to achieve. There are numerous list of factors of consideration to ensure that your vision is robust, accurate, and most importantly, what you really want.

Unfortunately, instead of investing quality time on this step, many people run into the mistake of being hasty. They skip past proper goal setting and jump straight into the planning and execution. At the end of the day, they end up causing a lot of backtracking and rework because they did not set the goal properly in the first place. Some of them actually achieve their goal, then find out that they did not want the goal in the first place.

Your time and energy are extremely precious, so it is better to invest a small portion of time to set the right goals. You do not want to waste your efforts on poorly set goals and end up crying over spilled milk after finding out you have spent your energy in vain. You do not want to be wasting time on goals which you never really wanted to begin with.

Establish consists of 2 parts. The first part is to setting your goal based on a set of 10 key, fundamental principles. The second part is what to do with your goals after establishing them. Let us explore each in turn.

Setting Your Goal

As you set your goal, you need to ensure that they adhere to the 10 key principles below. These are what will guide you to set the right goals so that you can pursue them.

1. Ensure Congruency with Your Life Purpose.

Your goals need to be defined in the context of your life purpose. Everything in your life flows from your purpose. Your purpose is the guiding direction for everything in your life. It sets the stage for what you do every day.

For example, part of my purpose is “To achieve my highest potential and embrace my best life; To live consciously and freely in truth, love and power“, while my goal for the mental aspect of myself is to “To unlock and utilize the full capabilities of my mind“. My goal is a subset of my purpose to achieve my highest potential. Both are congruent with each other.

Some people may ask – So where do ad-hoc goals like losing weight fit in this bigger picture? For me, losing weight is about looking my personal best and achieving the peak of my health. As such, it fits with my purpose to be my highest potential as well.

If your goals and your purpose are not congruent with one another, it either means

  1. Your goals are not in-line with what you really want to do. If so, relook into them to understand your underlying motivations for listing them.
  2. You have limited the definition of your purpose. If this is the case, try to expand on the definition of your purpose.

Do you know what your purpose is? If you have not discovered your life purpose yet, I highly recommend you read the Discover Your Purpose series (7-part) before proceeding with this, as your purpose sets the right context and background for your goal setting. By identifying your purpose, you then have absolute clarity on your direction and focus in life. The last thing you want to do is to spend your whole life trying to grow oranges when you actually wanted apples.

2. Ensure Your Goal Is A Key Goal, or 80/20 Destination.

How much does this goal matter to you? Is this goal a key goal in your life – in other words, a 80/20 Destination? Your 80/20 destination refers to the 20% goals which when achieved, will give you 80% of the collective happiness from achieving all your goals. What are these 20% goals which really matter to you? These are what you should start focusing disproportionately on.

Note that the 80/20 figure is just a metaphor to describe a small handful of your goals brings you that disproportionate amount of happiness, so do not get hung up over the numbers. You may very well have 90/10 goals (i.e. 10% of goals which give you 90% of your happiness), 70/20 goals, and so on.

3. Understand Your Motivations.

Have you ever had an experience where you went full throttle at pursuing a goal, only to find out you never really wanted it? This brings to mind our society’s mad pursuit toward wealth and success; the endless paper chase to validate one’s worth; the corporate rat’s sprint up the managerial ladder.

There are some common symptoms which emerge when you do not actually want a particular goal: such as self-sabotaging yourself in your goal pursuit, losing interest during the goal achievement process, feeling hollow after the goal has been achieved. Has this ever happened to you in your goal pursuit?

As you set your goal, be clear on your underlying motivations. Your goal should be something that you really want, and not what others want you to do. Why do you want this goal? Is it for yourself or for others? What will you achieve out of conquering this goal? Being clear on your underlying desires will drive you forward in the times when you face obstacles.

If you find yourself setting a goal which is not what you really want but what others want you to do, it is a sign that you are chasing imposed purposes – purposes imposed upon you by other people around you. They are the opposite of liberating purposes – purposes which are active creations by you and your consciousness. If you are having end goals like earning money and being successful, there is a high likelihood that you are pursuing imposed purposes.

4. Identify Your Objective Goal First, then Activity Goals.

What are objective and activity goals? Objective goals are your vision behind activity goals.Activity goals are specific end outcomes which you are more familiar with, such as lose 10lbs or earn $10,000.

Examples of objective vs activity goals are: Be healthy vs lose 20 lbs. Foster strong relationships vs Spend more time with family. Have an enriching, fulfilling career vs get a job as a financial trader. Living in abundance vs increasing income by $500.

Objective goals are the visions you want to pursue forever in your life rather than end destinations. Activity goals are means to achieve that visions. Objective goals usually remain the same throughout your life. Activity goals change over time.

Always define your objective goal first, followed by the activity goals needed to achieve the objective goals.

By clearly articulating your objective goal first, you can instead be guided by a whole host of activity goals tied to your objectives. You develop new insights and open yourself up to many other routes toward achieving your objective goal.

For example, say you looked yourself in the mirror and decided you want to lose 30lbs. What is the objective behind this? Usually people lose weight to become more attractive, so let us assume this is the objective. In this case, losing 30lbs is an activity goal which you think will make you look more attractive.

However, that is just one of the many ways you can achieve your objective to be more attractive. If you start brainstorming against that objective, you will start coming up with ideas such as ‘losing weight’, ‘buying more attractive clothes’, ‘improving your image’, ‘joining etiquette classes’, ‘improving your complexion’. This is a stark contrast vs how you initially limited yourself to just ‘losing weight’.

Clearly differentiating between your objective and activity goals enables you to see the bigger picture. You stop getting hung up on the outcome of activity goals and instead focus on achieving your actual objective goal. A lot of people obsess over their activity goal and hinge their life on it They may become upset or demotivated when they fail to live up to their activity goal. However, they do not realize their activity goal is merely one of the many methods they can use to reach their objective.

5. Plan for BHAGs.

A BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) is a goal that is so visionary and ambitious that you have people going ‘wow’ and telling you that you are nuts when you share it with them. BHAGs are great for personal growth and goal pursuits because they require you to take on an entirely different set of thinking and strategy rather than a normal goal. They stretch you to levels you were previously not aware of.

People typically factor in many considerations as they are setting their goals and end up with half-baked goals in the name of realism and practicality. Do not do that. These considerations are all just ‘noise’ and they are irrelevant at the goal setting stage. Focus purely on what you want, and not how to do it. The ‘How’ part will come in the later steps of ESPER.

Your BHAGs should be big, challenging and motivating to you all at the same time. Setting small goals which don’t inspire or setting goals which are too big and discourage you defeat the purpose.

6. Be Specific.

Be very specific on what you want. The more specific you are, the better guided you are in your goal pursuit. Some guiding questions you can use include: What do you want to accomplish at the end point? What are the exact end output you are expecting? What is the time frame you are setting?

Ambiguous goal leads to ambiguous results. Imagine trying to shoot at a dartboard that is not clearly demarcated. How can you aim when you do not even know what the target is? When your end point clearly marked out, you have a clear target to home in on.

7. Make Them Measurable.

This principle applies specifically for Activity Goals, rather than Objective Goals since the latter are meant to be continuous directions to pursue (see principle #4 above).

For your (activity) goals to be effective, they need to be measurable. They should come with (1) a deadline and (2) a value you can measure against. These will be your success criteria when you evaluate against your performance. For example, if you have a goal to meditate, it may be to ‘Cultivate habit to meditate 30 minutes every morning by XX date′. If you have a goal to lose weight, it may be to ‘Lose 20lbs by XX date′.

For tasks which are qualitative, find a way to assess it. Let us say your goal is to be more confident. One way is to make it measurable is to set a target for how many times you broke out of your comfort zone in the day and spoke up. Or maybe your goal is to be more disciplined. You can attach it to an activity you want to achieve – such as waking up at 6am – and measure your success rate of performing that task.

8. Start with Long-Term, then Break Down into Short-Term.

Always start off with your long-term goal so you can get the full picture. From there, break it down into smaller segments. Two common criteria to break down are (a) time (b) magnitude. If your goal is to lose 40lbs in 1 year, your shorter term goals may be to lose 20lbs in 6 months and 10lbs in 3 months.

9. Set them as End Outcomes, not Tasks.

This refers to the end outcome that you want to see, not the task that is needed to get the result you want. Examples of Outcome vs Process are: ‘Achieving #1 in the competition’ vs ‘Attending 15 practices’, or ‘Securing $100,000 worth of sales’ vs ‘Securing meetings with 10 clients’.

By focusing on the end outcome, it builds the fastest track to goal achievement as actions that need to be undertaken will naturally fall into the picture. Some self-help educators recommend focusing on tasks vs results as results may be influenced by externalities which we cannot control. Personally, I think focusing with the end in mind is much more effective because you learn to anticipate and plan for contingencies for successful goal achievement, rather than attribute things to external factors. Instead of placing your locus of control externally, you put it internally within yourself.

10. Use Positive Framing.

Your goals are what you set yourself to achieve, so you want to be sure that you are attracting all the positive energy in the universe instead of negative. If your goal is framed negatively, it affects you on a subconscious level and sets you up for failure. Instead of ‘Prevent sickness and ill health’, try ‘A life of good health and longevity’. Instead of ‘Eliminate poverty’, try ‘Create unlimited abundance’. You do not want to waste any bit of your energy on any form of non-positive energy.

If you know about the Law of Attraction, this is essentially what this principle is about. Law of Attraction is about how thinking positive thoughts attract positive things into your life. If you do not believe in the LoA, it is okay – just know that your thoughts naturally guide your behavior and you want positive thoughts to be what is guiding your actions, not negative ones.

What To Do With Your Goals After Setting Them

After you have set your goals in accordance with those 10 principles, you are almost ready to move on to the second step of ESPER. However, before that, there are 4 steps pertaining to your goals you need to adhere first.

1. Write Them Down

Write down your final objective and activity goals. This should be listed prominently in a place you will always be referring to.

2. Develop Absolute Mental Clarity of Your Goal

As you pursue your goal, you need to develop such a clear mental impression of your goal that you are able to perceive it with all your 5 senses, as if you have already achieved the goal. In fact, make it a point to do this every day in the morning, before you start your day. The clearer the image in your mind, the easier it is for you to manifest it in reality. Every goal is always created twice, first in the mind and then in reality. If you are unclear on how your goal looks like in your mind, how can you expect the physical manifestation to be what you really want?

For example, if your goal is to be the owner of your own restaurant serving Italian cuisine, imagine you are already in the situation. Close your eyes now and visualize the picture. How do you feel? Excited? Exuberant? What do you see yourself doing as the restaurant owner? How does your restaurant look? How big is your staff? What are you thinking now? What plans do you have for the restaurant moving forward? Capture that moment in your head and never lose sight of it. This level of mental clarity needs to be present and right in your mind throughout your goal achievement process.

3. Be in Constant Reminder of them

Set up your goal in places where you will be in constant reminder of it. Reminding yourself of your goal is extremely important to keep them in your top of mind awareness. It creates the drive and energy to pursue it every day. There are many ways to do that, such as setting it as your wallpaper, putting it on your noticeboard, putting up a poster of it, creating a vision board, having it as your mobile phone welcome message, putting it as the cover of your notebook, making a habit to review your goals every morning, and so on. For me, I always make it a point to review my goal sheet every morning after I wake up. It sets me on the activities to take on for the day and keeps me conscious of what is important and what is not important in achieving my dreams.

4. Review Periodically

Review your objective and activity goals regularly. You should review your activity goals more often (e.g. once every month), while your objective goals can be reviewed between longer intervals (e.g. once a quarter) since they are less subjected to changes.

It is important to review goals since they can become irrelevant over time. For example, when I was younger, earning a lot of money was very important to me. Over time, this goal lost its importance when my life purpose changed. Now, it is now most important for me to help other people achieve their highest potential. Money is still important, but as a means to achieve what I want, and not an end.

In the next part of the series, we will be looking at the second step of ESPER – Strategy.

This is part 3 of a 7-part series on what it takes to successfully achieve goals.

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