Sustainable, Lasting, and Life-Giving Goals Are:
- Rooted in your core calling
- Organically growing out of your context
- Outlined for clarity
- Tailored to your lifestyle
- Etched into your memory
- Developed by Providence
Last week, we discussed the importance of finding the overlap between your core calling goals, your starting point, and your deepest long-term priorities. It is in this intersection that we can find goals that are Organically Growing Out of Your Context—goals that make sense for you, where you are, today, and that act as a bridge to help you get to the next level.
This week, in step 3, we’ll be talking about how to Outline (“Reverse-Engineer”) Your Goal for Clarity.
Other goal setting systems will encourage you to outline your goal for clarity—and there’s a reason for this. Our brains crave step-by-step clarity. This phase is all about being specific about your goal and breaking it down into actionable steps.
A Strong Goal is an Actionable Goal
If you remember ONE thing from this post, let it be this one: A strong goal is an actionable goal. Having clarity about the granular actions you must take to accomplish your goal gives your brain an objective that it can actually process, prioritize, and tackle in the day-to-day.
Let’s pause right here to clarify the difference between a task or project and a goal.
- A task or project is more granular, and has a very obvious path of execution. An example of a task would be “wash the dishes.” An example of a project would be, “declutter my cabinets.”
- A goal takes considerable strategy in order to accomplish it. An example of a goal would be, “streamline my kitchen operations so I can do what I need to every (normal) day in under 90 minutes.” (Note: completing a compelling project can certainly be a goal! It's just a good idea to have a clear why for the completion of that project that connects to things that truly matter to you!)
To begin outlining your goal, you need to get extremely, minutely, and even obnoxiously clear on what you want to accomplish with any given goal. If you don’t, you will likely spin your wheels in the non-essentials, and struggle to ever feel like you’ve accomplished it.
How to Set a Clear Goal
Say you’ve done the core calling exercises and you’ve determined that you’re drawn to start a business. But as you got really real with drawing your goals from what is organically growing out of your context, you had to admit that your home felt a little too chaotic to jump into the deep end of business in the upcoming quarter.
You determined that the next-right-thing would be to tackle your biggest pain point: getting your home in order so that you can begin to make space for your business.
Now many people stop right there. They feel they know what they need to do next, and get to tackling it immediately. But, as I’ve learned from experience, that sets your “goal” up to be a vague and potentially meaningless rabbit hole. As obvious as our example goal may seem, it’s actually not very clear.
Let’s work through clarifying it together using simple what, why, and how questions...
- The WHAT: You need to get crystal clear on “what” you actually want to accomplish (which may not actually be what you think it is!)
- The WHY: Then you want to tap down into your “why” so that you can fortify that goal with confidence and resilience, so that your goal will endure through the challenging moments.
- The HOW: Then you want to hammer out a solid (but flexible) blueprint for your “how” so that your brain has a direction to latch onto.
What, Precisely, is Your Goal?
When you start by asking yourself exactly what pain points you’re trying to address with your goal, you are able t0 get laser-focused on the essential things. It doesn’t do to spend your quarter “getting the house in order” by organizing the basement, painting 2/3 of your house’s vinyl exterior, or creating an elaborate system of color-coded chore charts only to find that—at the end of it all—you haven’t freed up a lick of mental bandwidth for your business.
So what actually is burdening your mental bandwidth? If this is not immediately obvious, take a few days to keep your eyes wide open towards this question, and write down anything that comes to mind. It won't take long to determine, once you are focused on finding it, the source of the stress. You’ve got to lean into the precise things that are stressing you out, and think through the precise details that need to change in order to have that mental bandwidth, peace, and confidence to start carving out serious deep work time.
When I (Shelby) was in this stage of my life, needing to “get my house in order” so I could make more space for Evergreen, I came to realize that clutter was my #1 stressor—if I could declutter our home completely, then my daughter would be able to pick up her own toys, my drawers and closets would basically stay organized, and my cleaning routines could be minimal. I gave myself a very precise goal—”declutter all of the main areas (defined as: kitchen, living room, bathroom, bedrooms, laundry room, and hall closet) of the home down to the basic essentials ”. I decided to ignore the shed, our guest room, our homeschool storage closet, and other spaces that weren’t part of my daily rhythms. What I precisely needed was to minimize the mental bandwidth I had going out to day-to-day housekeeping operations so I could have a whole lot more time and decision-making energy to give to the business.
This brings up another very important point: Clarifying WHAT your goal precisely is not will be just as important as clarifying what exactly it is. For me, getting a new duvet for my bedroom was not a primary need in “getting my house in order”—but paring down to a capsule wardrobe and getting all the junk out from under the bed so I could vacuum faster was.
In order to identify what you’re not going to focus on, ask yourself: “What would it look like to bravely do this in my own unique style?”
For me, this meant that:
- I was not going to worry about whether my closets looked good on my Instagram grid
- I was not going to make myself keep the same toy system that my favorite decluttering teacher had if it wasn’t working
- I was not going to worry if my dollar store organizational bins looked tacky behind closed cabinet doors
It meant that I was going to take alllll of the time, effort, and emotional energy that would’ve otherwise gone into the non-essentials listed above and pour it into finishing the task of decluttering my home and clearing that space for business.
To figure out what I was going to work on, I employed the Pareto Principle. Only 20% of what I could do to declutter my house would actually give me the results I wanted. This means I could forego the 80% of the non-essentials (like whether my organizational bins matched perfectly) so that I could stay laser-focused on accomplishing the essence of my goal. In order to get very clear about the 20% that mattered most, I had to tap down into my “why” (which we’ll cover next).
Why, Precisely, Does This Goal Matter So Much?
This step will help you to tap the essence of your goals and fortify them so you don’t give up at what feels like the first impasse. I find my “why” for any given goal by asking myself if and how it connects to my core calling. (If a goal doesn’t connect deeply, I have to think long and hard about why I’m even setting that goal!)
My “whys” for decluttering my main areas of the house were these:
- TIME - I wanted to drop my daily cleaning time from 2 hours down to 30-45 minutes so I could put the time I saved into the business—a business that was a stepping stone in my core calling.
- DECISION-MAKING ENERGY / MENTAL BANDWIDTH - I wanted to put decision-making power into choosing the strongest copy so that I could attract the people I was called to serve, not trying to decide if my toddler’s shirt had too many stains on it to wear.
- INDEPENDENCE FOR MY KIDS - I wanted my children to have so few toys that they could actually enjoy them and learn early to master taking care of them. I wanted them to see me focusing primarily on work that only I could do (running a business, preparing dinner, and choosing homeschool curriculum), while they continued to learn how to embrace their own responsibilities (such as cleaning their own room, or putting their own dishes in the dishwasher).
- PEACE - I knew I achieved my goal when I could relax on the maintenance and our home still felt like a peaceful environment for our hearts. Having a peaceful home is also a vital part of my core calling.
Knowing my precise “whys” for the goal meant that I could really distill my “what” down to the essential, as well as engage my feelings to help me pinpoint when I had accomplished my goal. Decluttering my bathroom wouldn’t be about counting towels, but instead about how much time and decision-making energy it took for me to get ready every day. Decluttering my kids’ spaces would be focused exclusively on the level of independence they could attain with whatever clothes and toy systems we landed on. Decluttering my kitchen would be more about how much peace I felt when cooking than on how I technically still had a box of random kitchen accessories to go through in my shed. If I was saving time, bandwidth, effort, and stress throughout the day, then I was succeeding. This is SO MUCH STRONGER than writing a massive checklist that I felt had to be completely checked off before I felt like I was “allowed” to move on to my business.
How, Precisely, Might I Tackle This Goal?
Knowing and accepting this is fundamental: You probably do not know every step of your “how,” and the steps you think you know are likely going to change as you go.
Knowing precisely your "what" and your "why" are absolutely essential for ensuring you are tackling the right goal and for keeping your motivation on track. But taking a perfectionist approach and trying and lock yourself into a “how” pathway from A-to-Z is non-essential, and it can be a recipe for unnecessary stress. Keep that in mind as you learn how to reverse-engineer your goal.
What is Reverse-Engineering?
“Reverse-Engineering” means to take apart an existing product or piece of technology, dissect it, and study it, so you can learn how to duplicate or enhance it for your own purposes. When you “reverse-engineer” a goal, you move past your vague theories about what it will take to make your goal happen and research until you have concrete and actionable understanding.
This can be an emotionally tough part of goal setting, but it’s vital to becoming realistic about your goals. By becoming a sort of expert on what you are wanting to do, you can make the decisions necessary to support your goal with confidence and understanding.
You can conduct this research in a number of ways:
- You can talk to someone who has done what you want to do, and ask (or hire) them to walk you through the steps.
- You can read a book, listen to a podcast, or find a how-to article about your goal.
- You can take an e-course and/or join an online membership.
As you conduct your research, it is important to remember that you’re not just trying to gather any and every bit of random data you can about your goal. Your objectives are specific: you’re trying to identify someone to whom you can relate who has succeeded with the goal you want to accomplish, get a big picture look at their story so you can find where it overlaps with yours, and then zero-in on the action steps that you could take in order to get the results that fulfill your motivating “why.”
When you're ready, our new ROOTED Goals Workbook will help you think through each of these steps, and then reverse-engineer your goal into three overarching phases, each with an actionable task-list. Then you'll take the first phase and learn how to transform it into a detailed game-plan that you can tackle immediately.