Use The Three Ws of Goal Setting To Set Meaningful Goals
It’s not the journey, but who you become along the way.
Greek philosopher Aristotle is known for once saying: “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” As a key thinker in the emergence of Western philosophy, Aristotle understood the importance of balancing knowledge and wisdom. Feeding the intellect alone isn’t enough — you have to also feed the heart and soul, and live your life aligned with values.
Goal setting operates in much the same way. If you only use your mind, set logical goals, or limit what’s possible to what’s rational or reasonable, your vision will lose its zest. Life-changing goals, the type of goals that lead you into new horizons, need to be connected to the heart, as well as the mind.
Enter the Three Ws of Goal Setting. This model, although seemingly straightforward, often goes overlooked. By asking yourself these three important questions, you’ll begin to set goals that are most aligned with your highest potential. Not only that, but you’ll grow throughout the entire process. So what are these three questions?
The First W of Goal Setting: Why?
In Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl shares a famous quote from Friedrich Nietzsche: “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.” Frankl, who survived time spent in concentration camps during the holocaust, before establishing his own form of psychotherapy, applied Nietzsche’s wisdom to his experiences. The people most likely to keep going, and survive against all odds, had a powerful why.
Each of us has an inherent hierarchy of whys. They might not always be immediately clear, but exist in the back of your mind, influencing the decisions you make. By making your whys clear, you’ll better focus on your goals. Your why can be all-encompassing, like the North Star of your life, or specific to a certain area.
For example, let’s say you want to become a published author. One of your whys might be because you’re technically skilled at writing (the logical element). But dig a little deeper, and you might discover that you’re driven to use the power of your words to change minds, or offer fresh perspectives on life. Your why is to inspire others, or to offer support, through the written word.
Your why is usually a powerful vision, something that is the result of achieving your goal, beyond the goal itself. For example, if you have fitness goals, your why may be the vision of playing with your children, or grandchildren, into old age. Making sacrifices to look after your health then becomes more bearable. The why is always the heart of your goal — start there.
The Second W of Goal Setting: What?
The why is the heart, the what is the mind. This is the way you plan and envision what exactly it is you’d like to achieve, in practical terms. Becoming an author requires a lot of hard work and preparation. You’ll need to research, refine your ideas over time, and develop the technical skills to capture those ideas in a captivating way. With your health, you’ll have to improve your diet, exercise, and reduce stress.
Identifying your what is where the SMART Goals template comes in. Make sure your what is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. Be as logical and practical as you like at this stage — but be aware of any limiting beliefs that surface. It’s common for goals aligned with your heart to sometimes feel unattainable, something you’re unworthy of. Know you deserve to experience this goal, to live out your vision.
The Third W of Goal Setting: Who?
Where the Three Ws of Goal Setting offer something different to other conventional models is in the third consideration: who will you need to become in order to achieve your goal? This is deliberately explorative. Allow it to lead you into creative spaces. This’ll show you the ways you have to develop and grow, as you move closer and closer to your goal. It shows you how the combination of following your heart, and planning with your mind, will lead to greater focus and discipline.
The who of your goals is aligned to the growth mindset. Rather than placing all of the emphasis on achieving your goal, it encourages you to explore your values, and the lessons you’ll learn in pursuit of your goals. The outcome then becomes less important than the dedication and resilience you demonstrate along the way.
Better still, considering who you’ll need to be makes your goals purposeful and supportive of your development. On paper, goals appear straightforward and practical. Goals might be written on paper, but they’re achieved in the big wide world. You’ll have to inspire yourself to become resilient, someone who acts with integrity and doesn’t give up at various hurdles.
Taking our above examples, to become an author you’ll have to become someone with high levels of self-discipline, to sit down and write every day. You’ll have to develop a positive relationship with rejection or criticism, developing the self-compassion to keep going. You’ll need to learn how to ask for help, or develop the confidence to build a network, find an agent, or believe in your idea enough to pursue it at all costs.
You’ll know the cliche “it’s not the journey, but what you learn along the way.” Never is this more true than when setting goals. Admittedly, our culture is hyper-focused on outcome, down to the foundations of capitalism, where anything from healthcare to works of art live and die by profit margins and returns on investment. But life’s most meaningful events aren’t outcomes, but processes.
Setting relevant goals, aligned to your values, is a big process. Goals aren’t the be-all and end-all. But the Three Ws of Goal Setting will refine those goals, whilst keeping you focused on personal growth. Success or failure, win or lose, won’t be as relevant as the person you become along the way, maturing in heart, mind, and soul.