The setting and pursuing of goals is a “happiness tool”, shown through research to increase positivity. You need only to make a plan and get started.
When a pilot steps into the cockpit, she has a definite destination in mind and she has created a flight plan to get her plane and her passengers to the right location. However she never flies straight to her objective. Due to various elements beyond her control — weather patterns, cross winds, updrafts, downdrafts, storms, and the earth’s magnetism — she will be off course up to 90% of the time during the flight. Using feedback from her instruments and air traffic control, the pilot and crew make many adjustments during the course of the flight. But in the end they land at the chosen airport, usually within minutes of the scheduled arrival time. The flight plan is essential in aiding the pilot and her crew to reach their goal — the intended destination — successfully. 
A key point is that the pilot has a destination, a goal, firmly in mind U-before she takes off. If she didn’t first decide where she wanted to go, the pilot would never reach the desired location. The universe rewards action – often with a course correction. You take an action, receive feedback, make adjustments, then take the next action. That’s how you reach your destination and fulfill your goal.
A Happiness Tool
The act of setting and working toward a specific goal provides a number of positivity-building benefits. Having a goal to work for imparts a sense of purpose and a feeling of control over our lives. It bolsters self-esteem, self-confidence, and the feeling of being useful and effective. Pursuing a goal adds structure and meaning to daily life and helps us to master our time and set priorities. Commitment to a goal can help us cope better during times of crisis. And in the process of working toward a goal, we often engage with other people, which can bring happiness in and of itself. [Lyubomirsky]
As we work toward our own goals, we need a “flight plan”, a strategy to help us stay the course like a pilot navigating toward her destination. Just as the wind and weather and other external factors tend to pull a flight off course, we come up against numerous factors in our day to day lives that tend to get us off course from pursuing our goals. When this occurs, a plan becomes crucial. When you have a strategy, you clearly see the actions that lead you toward your goal. Here are a couple of plans to consider.
Goal Planning Exercise #1
In The How Of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky describes how researchers in Montreal worked with a group of retirees to successfully plan and pursue their goals. Their findings include these steps for successful goal achievement. [Lyubomirsky]
- Generate a list of desires, intentions and aspirations. Examine any irrational beliefs you may have about these goals. (“My friends won’t like me anymore.” “I could never afford to __ .” “I’m to old / young / fat / thin, etc.”, and so forth.)
- From this list, identify your highest priority goals. Examine the goals and assess how much effort they require, what resources (money, time, people, etc.) you need, and what achieving the goal will mean to you.
- Select one goal from your list of top priority goals. Write it down. Commit to achieving the goal.
- Break the goal down into small, discrete action steps. As you think of the actions you will take, anticipate any obstacles that you might encounter and plan for how you will manage them. Use the Wish – Outcome – Obstacle – Plan (WOOP) exercise to help with this. h
- Begin on the first action step right away. Start while your motivation is high and let it move you through the first steps. As you complete more and more of the steps toward your goal, momentum builds and keeps you moving to completion.
Goal Planning Exercise #2
Brian Tracy, a leader in the field of personal motivation and personal development, suggests a seven step process for setting and achieving goals. [Tracy]
- Decide what you want. Examine all areas of your life and list what you want in each part.
- Write it down, clearly and in detail. How will you measure it? As Tracy says, “A goal that is not in writing is merely a wish, ‘a goal with no energy behind it.'”
- Set a deadline for your goal. A deadline can be a motivating force in moving you toward achievement of your goals.
- Identify the obstacles you will have to overcome on the road to achieving your goal. What stands between you and your goal? Use the Wish – Outcome – Obstacle – Plan (WOOP) exercise to help with this.
- Determine the additional knowledge and skills you require to reach your goal. “Remember, to accomplish something that you have never achieved before,” says Brian Tracy, “you will have to learn and practice something you have never done before.” Every new goal requires you to acquire and use new knowledge and new skills. What do you need to learn?
- Identify the people whose help and cooperation you’ll need to reach your goal. If yours is a BIG goal, you’ll need the help of many people. Who are they? How will you earn their support?
- Make a list of everything that you can think of that you are going to have to do to achieve your goal. When you think of new tasks and activities, write them on your list until your list is complete. Organize the list into a plan. Then, decide what you will do first, what you will do second, and so forth. Decide what is more important and what is less important. Write out your plan on paper.
Develop Your Flight Plan
Either of these two plans can get you started on the positive path of goal pursuit. Or, if you want to go deep, consider the Goal Achievement Excelerator. The Goal Achievement Excelerator gives you a set of tools, based on Positive Psychology and other research, to create your individualized goal achievement plans. It guides you through an in-depth process of creating a detailed “flight plan” for selecting and reaching your goals.
Whichever plan you choose, I encourage you to begin using it right away. If you are already experienced in setting and working toward specific goals, good for you! Keep at it. If you haven’t done this before, use one of these planning processes to begin setting goals that you want to achieve. Make this a life-long endeavor. Make a plan and begin. That is embracing the Excelerated Life!
Excelerated goal setting — planning and achieving BIG goals — is one step in creating your Excelerated Life, a life of flourishing, of well-being, meaning, and purpose.
(1) I credit Brian Tracy for this illustration of a pilot using a flight plan to successfully reach a chosen destination.
Lyubomirsky, Sonja. The How Of Happiness. New York: Penquin Books, 2007
Tracy, Brian. Flight Plan: The Real Secret Of Success. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 2008, 2009.