This month let’s talk about setting goals, having motivation and implementing discipline.  Goals, motivation and discipline, in that order.  A goal could be 1) something I must do, 2) something I need to do (maybe because a parent, spouse or boss has requested it) or 3) something I would like to do some day.  The third category has little chance of ever happening.  It would have to move up to category 1 or 2 in order to happen.  An item in category 2 will only happen if the “need” or motivation is strong.  If the parent, spouse or boss says, “Did you get that done?” it might push the item up to category 1.  But even a category 1 goal, “something I must do,” will not happen unless there is motivation and discipline.

In order for any goal to be accomplished it must be clear and distinct.  To live a better life or to lose weight are not clear goals.  A goal must be clear enough that there will be no doubt about when it has been accomplished.  A goal of losing 30 pounds from my present weight by July 1 is clearer.  A serious goal must be written down.  Written goals tend to be more precise and do not change as our memory of the goal fades or is rationalized.

Motivation is the intensity of our intention to get the goal accomplished.  It is what drives us to make it a goal.  This drive could come from others or it could be something we have decided to do.  It might be a step toward a greater goal such as finishing college so that a desired career could be started.  The goal could be to cleanout the garage.  The intensity of our motivation will determine how many times our conscience will remind us.

Discipline could be the most difficult part.  Many New Year’s resolutions are lost due to the lack of discipline.  This means we will do things (or deprive ourselves of them) regardless of our discomfort to accomplish the goal.  Discipline is aided by having another person to whom we are accountable for the success of our goal or who is working on a goal with us.  Rationalization to put off or drop the goal is avoided when discipline is the strongest.  When discipline is encouraged by others, we are more likely to persevere.  The people who accomplish important things in life have greater discipline than most of us.  Having strong discipline means you do not even consider alternatives that appear to be easier and tempting.  

When you select goals, consider them carefully.  Go through several drafts.  Then sleep on it.  Then take the final written version and consider how much you really want to accomplish these goals, Which goals must be accomplished first in order to accomplish more complex goals later?  Picture the outcomes that are possible when these goals are accomplished.  Don’t put off beginning on the list until tomorrow or next week.  For motivation, think about why each goal is on your written list.  Then resolve that you have the discipline to make it all happen.  Whether the goal is small or complex, you are going to look back later in life and be thankful that you had clear goals, that your motivation did not falter and you had sufficient discipline to persevere even when discouraged, tired, out of money or other competing desires arose.  Positive accomplishments are rarely regretted.  Later in life, you will see others who had similar opportunities and time but who did not have clear, written goals with strong motivation and discipline.  It will also develop in you the character of setting goals, developing motivation and being firm in discipline throughout life.  You will be pleased with the result.

Kenneth Oosting, Ph, D

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