Why goal setting is so powerful

There’s a wonderful sequence in Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’. Alice is lost in the woods when she encounters the Cheshire Cat looking down on her from the branch of a tree:

‘Cheshire Puss,’ Alice began rather timidly, ‘would you tell me please, which way I ought to go from here?’

‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the cat.

‘I don’t much care where…’ said Alice.

‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the cat.

‘… so long as I get somewhere,’ Alice added by way of explanation.

‘Oh you’re sure to do that,’ said the cat, ‘if you only walk long enough.’


Lewis Carroll was pointing out that there’s nothing more important than finding a sense of purpose and sense of direction. Yet numerous surveys have revealed that only 2-3% of the population have clearly defined goals. 12-15% have a hazy idea of what they want (most of them work for the 2-3%, helping them to achieve their goals). The remaining 80%+ haven’t even thought about it.

But you already set goals? When you wake up, you set yourself the goal of washing, dressing and having breakfast. You may have a goal to get to work on time. Each of these comprises many sub-goals, such as starting the car or arriving at the stop before your bus. Some of these goals are your own; others are set for you, by your boss, for example.

Let’s examine in detail why setting goals can make such a difference:

  • Unless you feel a need of some sort, you have no reason to do anything. Goals identify and strengthen that need. Satisfied needs don’t motivate, but attainable and challenging goals certainly do.
  • Setting goals clarifies and affirms your intentions.
  • The unconscious houses a sophisticated guidance system, like an autopilot, which constantly seeks out whatever you consistently focus your attention on. Goals are simply present-day thoughts and mental images of desired future events. If you set the ‘co-ordinates’, your autopilot guides you towards where you want to go. But if you fail to select a destination, it takes you round in circles like a missile that has been fired without a target until you run out of energy or self-destruct. The unconscious doesn’t ask questions, it won’t reason with you, or query your demands. It simply does as it’s told.
  • Many people think they’ll get a lot done if they keep busy. But ‘being busy’ is only the same as productive activity if your actions are goal-directed. Imagine a marathon runner heading off in the wrong direction: he’d cover the same distance at and expend as much effort as the other competitors, but would have no chance of winning.
  • Discipline and self-mastery are two of the most noted qualities of successful people. The daily habit of reading through your list of goals improves your chances of success.
  • You discover reserves of mental energy, creativity and imagination you probably didn’t know you had.
  • You feel that you’re in charge of your own destiny.

The goal-setting technique should be taught to all children in school. Why aren’t they taught the power of goals already? Why do so few parents set a good example?

The first reason is that most adults don’t know how to set and achieve goals. They were never taught in their younger days.

The second reason is disempowering childhood programming and conditioning which often results in negative thinking lack of confidence.

A third reason is that people are often scared of what others think. They worry about looking ridiculous if they fail. However, these ‘friends’ whose opinions they value may be unwilling to take risks themselves and feel threatened by successful people.

Most people spend more time updating their Christmas lists than thinking seriously about their future. How about you?


©David Lawrence Preston, 27.7.2016

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Setting Goals

Goals are used by all high achievers. Anyone who deliberately becomes a goal setter, whatever they have done with their lives previously, writes them down and focusses their mind on them immediately notices an increase in their level of accomplishment.

The goal-setting technique is not that difficult to master. Begin with a few small goals, watch your confidence grow, then set bigger goals. Here are the basic guidelines:

1. Set one major goal, making sure it aligns with your values. Is it clear why you’ve chosen this goal? Are the rewards (material and emotional) sufficiently appealing? If you don’t feel totally passionate about your goal, you probably haven’t yet found the right one. Don’t sell yourself short. Most people’s idea of what they’re capable of doesn’t do them justice.

2. Don’t set too many. Half a dozen or so are quite enough at any one time. Some goals are purely for fun, others are weightier. Aim some at the wider community and the natural environment.

3. Choose your own goals. This may seem obvious, but many people fall into the trap of doing what is expected of them.  The right goals come from the heart.

4. Make sure your goals are balanced and consistent. Some people are so work orientated that they don’t make sufficient time for leisure or personal relationships. Others allow their health to deteriorate because they’re too busy to eat properly, exercise or relax. So think carefully before you settle on your final list.

5. Give yourself a time frame. Set long-term goals, and medium- and short-term goals which lead  towards them. Make your short-term goals realistic, challenging but not out of reach. It is possible to give yourself a firm cut-off date for some goals, but goals involving personal change (e.g. growing in confidence) are usually ongoing.

6. Use simple, straightforward language, e.g. ‘My goal is to…’ or ‘I intend to…’ If your goal is to acquire a material object, be precise. Not, ‘My goal is to get a better car’, but ‘My goal is to own a ……’ stating the make and model.

7. Avoid nebulous words and phrases like ‘I want to help people’. Exactly how do you want to help them? What benefits do you intend to offer?

8. Be prepared to specialise. If you want to be a great musician, it’s unlikely you’ll also become a great athlete. Possible, but unlikely.

9. It will become obvious when a goal no longer has any attraction for you, so drop it. However, don’t change a goal just because it seems too difficult. Problems and difficulties are life’s way of helping us to improve and to grow, just as sports people use heavy weights to become stronger. No-one ever built a better life by giving up.

10. Should you keep your goals to yourself? Yes and no. If your goal is to rid yourself of a harmful habit, such as smoking or overeating, tell everyone. People will remind you. However, if your goal is to achieve something significant, keep it to yourself unless you know the person you are talking is willing and able to help you. Many people are quite derisory about  those who have dreams and ambitions which can damage your morale.

11. Write your goals down. This is vital. The act of writing focusses your thinking. It is also one of the most effective ways of impressing them on your unconscious.

12. List the benefits that your goal will bring you. Include plenty of personal benefits – these are generally the most motivating. Also list the benefits to your family, friends and the world at large. The more benefits you can identify, the greater the pulling power of your goal.

13. Write down the reasons why you must not fail. Remember, everyone is motivated to some extent both by ‘moving towards’ ‘pleasure’ and ‘moving away’ from ‘pain’.

14. Write down one action you can take now to get started. Even the longest journey begins with a single step; take that first step now. Once you’ve made a start, it becomes easier. Think of it like pushing a broken down car. It takes a mighty heave to get moving, but once you have that initial momentum it gets much easier.

15. Write your goals and their benefits on a card and keep it with you. This is crucial. Read through your list daily. Every time you read it, you are imprinting your desires more firmly on your unconscious autopilot.

16. Keep your wits about you. Watch out for synchronistic events and let your intuition guide you. One of the wonderful things about setting goals is that your awareness is heightened and you find yourself attracting opportunities. When you focus your attention on what you want and commit yourself with courage and determination, all the powers of the universe come to your aid.


©David Lawrence Preston, 27.7.2016

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Life Coach book cover

How to Books, 2010