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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Your life’s mission

‘Here is a test to find whether your mission on Earth is finished. If you’re alive, it isn’t.’

Richard Bach

King Solomon, reputedly the wisest man of his era, said, ‘Where there is no vision, the people perish.’ But it’s amazing how some people have no vision for their lives, no idea where they are going or where they want to be. How about you? Do you have a vision, a sense of mission in your life? Once you know what that is and immerse yourself in it, you open yourself up to great possibilities.

Clarifying your values is the starting point. Once you are clear on what is really important to you, a vision of your ‘life mission’ starts to form.

You already have the answers within you. If you’re not sure, try the following and make a note of your answers. They’re fun to think about, and before long, clear ideas will start coming to you:

1. Ask yourself, ‘What is my life about?’ Listen to your intuition. Allow yourself to daydream (daydreams are often the intuition attempting to communicate). And ask late at night, just before you drop off to sleep – your mind will work on it and you may wake up in the morning a lot clearer. Write down anything that seems relevant, or make a drawing of it. Be patient; the answers may not come immediately, but they will.

2. Try mind storming: write down all your main areas of interest and any cherished goals you can think of. The first few that come to mind are often the right ones for you.

3. Ask yourself the following questions and write down the answers:

  • If I could achieve anything I wanted with no possibility of failure, what would I choose?
  • If I had ten million pounds, what would I do?
  • Supposing I had only six months to live, what would I want to do that would leave the world a better place?
  • What would I do if I had everything I wanted?
  • If I could have three wishes granted, what would they be?

4. If you had a week to yourself that you could spend any way you wish, with no limitations, how would you spend it?

5. What did you enjoy as a child? (Children are more closely in touch with their intuition.) Then take the top three or four and ask yourself: ‘How can I do more of this or do it more often?’

6. List all the main things you are good at. Add anything you were good at as a child. Then take the first three or four and ask yourself: ‘Am I making the most of these talents? How can I make more of them more often?’

7. Reflect on the coincidences in your life. Is there a pattern? Is it possible that life has been trying to guide you? Be alert; the answer could possibly be in a newspaper article you come across, or a chance remark by a friend.

You’re looking for a major purpose and perhaps a few secondary ones. Don’t expect to get all the answers at once; allow your mind to work on them for a few days. Hopefully, the answers that come will point in a consistent direction.

You’ll know when you’ve found what you are looking for, but if you’re still not sure, try one or two things you fancy. You may be guided to your true vocation this way.

There’s nothing more important than finding a sense of purpose that gives your life meaning and direction and inspires and motivates you.

Find a mission that gives your life meaning and purpose. Turn it into something tangible by setting firm goals (the tried and tested formula for bringing dreams into reality). Find plenty of compelling reasons for wanting to achieve them. Then go for it!

©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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What motivates you?

Motivation is what gives us a reason for action. For instance, when we are hungry, we are moved to find food. (Physical deprivation produces powerful motivation.) Well motivated people have more enthusiasm, more energy and are less likely to give up. And they get more done.

Early experiments on animals concluded that we are motivated quite simply by a ‘felt need’. Place a starving rat and a piece of cheese in a maze and it will search for the food. Repeat this daily, and after a few days the rat doesn’t need to search, it goes straight to its target. The rat is motivated by its physical state (i.e. it has a need – hunger – which induces stress), and its desired object (the cheese).

One of the great psychologists of the last century, Abraham Maslow, categorised human needs into a five level hierarchy:

At the ‘lowest’ level are basic physiological needs (food, water, oxygen, sleep etc.). Once these are satisfied, individuals can turn their attention to Level Two – safety needs (freedom from physical threats and anxiety).

Level Three needs are about belonging – the need to associate and have good relationships with others, to love and be loved.

Level Four needs, according to Maslow, only become important when physiological, safety and belonging needs are met. They concern self-esteem, confidence, achievement and status. Crucial to this is the feeling that we are exercising control over our situation rather than being controlled by it.

On the ‘highest’ level is self-actualisation – the need for self-fulfilment and to realise our potential. Humans need to use our creativity, to experience truth and beauty, and ultimately transcend our physical limitations and experience the spiritual (non-physical) aspects of life.

However, there is plenty of evidence that Maslow’s theory is too simplistic. Many people with few material possessions and who live in hazardous circumstances enjoy fulfilling lives and have dignity and self-respect.

Austrian psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl spent several years in a Nazi concentration camp and was struck by the way the inmates carried out acts of kindness and self-sacrifice which seemed at odds with their surroundings. He saw people sharing their meagre rations, supporting and protecting each other. He concluded that those with a passionate reason for living – an unfulfilled ambition, a business to go back to, family ties and so on – were more resilient and the most likely to survive.

In his book, ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’, Frankl showed how those with a strong sense of purpose in most walks of life are the happiest and most successful. He wrote, ‘Ever more, people today have the means to live, but no meaning to live for.’

The Basis of Motivation

The basis of motivation is, in essence, simple. We are motivated by:

1. A felt need (whether physical, mental or emotional) which causes tension, and

2. The amount of ‘pleasure’ or ‘pain’ that we believe will result from any given action. We weigh up the choices available to us and choose those which appear to offer the most pleasure and least pain.

To return to the rat briefly, it has a ‘felt need’ for food. It knows from experience that eating relieves this tension and is pleasurable, therefore it goes looking for food. Then once it has fed, it is content to go back to sleep.


Pleasure and pain

Only an unsatisfied need motivates. Say you’re relaxing on a sunny beach after a good lunch, with no pressing engagements. You’re happy to stay the whole afternoon! But, as mealtime approaches, you begin to feel restless. You drag yourself off to get something to eat. What happens? Well, the discomfort of an empty stomach gradually overtakes the pleasure of sunbathing and the balance tips in favour of taking action.

Most people are more motivated by the desire to avoid pain than a longing for pleasure. They prefer to stay in their ‘comfort zones’ rather than strike out for new experiences, new attainments and new rewards.

But the reverse is true for high achievers. They are so attracted by the prospect of more ‘pleasure’, they are content to run the risk of some ‘pain’. They are more inspired by a vision of what they want that deterred by thoughts of fear and disappointment.

Others struggle on mainly because they dread the consequences of failure, e.g. their safety needs may be jeopardised by the threat of losing their savings, or their esteem needs threatened by losing face or driving a less prestigious car, etc.

Sometimes it’s more a matter of avoidance tactics. For instance, a young person who puts off revising in order to enjoy the short term pleasure of watching TV or going out with friends may simply be postponing the ‘pain’. Eventually the prospect of failing exams (and incurring parental displeasure) looms large, so he or she chooses the option which offers the least long term pain, and gets down to work.

The most powerful motivation comes from:

1.      A vivid image/conception of what you want.

2.      Strong desire, and

3.      The extent that you believe you can succeed.

(1) and (3) can be cultivated, but in my experience (2) is either there or it isn’t. It’s hard to to create a burning desire artificially – if you know differently, please get in touch.

So what motivates you? How strong is your desire? Do you have a clear conception of what you want? Do you believe you can have it? If you can truthfully answer ‘very’ to Q2 and ‘yes’ to Qs 3 and 4 go for it! You’re motivated!

©David Lawrence Preston, 27.7.2016

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How to Books, 2010