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Setting Goals 4 – How To Set Goals – The Rule of One

So far in this series we’ve introduced goals, defined what they are and looked at why they work. Now I want to talk about how to set goals.

I’m going to start with probably the most contentious statement in this whole series, but please hear me out before you make any snap judgements. Here it is –


You can only have One Goal

Yep. Just one. You can’t seriously work towards becoming a chess grand master, CEO of a FTSE500, rock god guitarist and film star all at the same time. If you want the best chance of success you have to go for one of them at the expense of the others.

Why? It goes back to what we said about why goals work. They help you make decisions quickly and easily. If you have more than one goal then it’s much harder to choose a course of action. You have two competing priorities and it’s not obvious which you should be working on.

Remember we said goals should be big things, the primary focus in your life. They are going to take a lot of time and effort. Years of dedicated work. As soon as you have more than one you will be spreading your resources and energy very thin. Progress will be slow and demoralising. If you go all out working on more than one goal you’re much less likely to succeed. You also risk neglecting friends, family, relaxation and other important things that can lead to burn out in the long run.


It’s not as bad as it seems

Hopefully I’ve convinced you now, so let me bring up a couple of things that soften the blow a little.

Firstly, big goals can encompass many things. If your goals are acquisitive (house, luxury car, expensive jewellery, etc) then those don’t each need to be a goal. The big goal can be one of: get high paid job; marry rich person; commit perfect bank robbery; or suchlike. By framing your big goal well, working towards it and achieving it, you are also working towards those smaller things you want.

Similarly, it may be possible to group other goals together under one bigger heading. Just because my main focus is session guitar work that doesn’t mean I can’t compose, record my own material, tour with original material bands, dabble with other instruments. It all moves me towards my overall goal.

Also, just because you’re working towards a big goal doesn’t mean you can’t do other things. As I’ve said in prior posts, rest and relaxation are important. So you can still play football, go to the cinema, cook a nice meal, play a bit of piano, learn a new language. You just fit it in around the work you’re doing toward your big goal.

And when you do these hobbies (things that aren’t your number one ambition), don’t beat yourself up for not being the greatest at them – the most skillful footballer, best chef, fastest pianist or most fluent linguist. Take the pressure off yourself because you know what your big goal is and anything you do other than that is just a pleasant diversion, not another yardstick to judge yourself by. By all means push yourself when working towards your goal, but don’t carry that over into everything else or you’ll drive yourself mad.


Having more than one goal

Ok, I’m not completely naive, I know that most of you are going to struggle to narrow your ambitions down to one goal. The reason I say one goal is that hopefully that will make you limit yourself to two or at most three.

Just be aware that if you do have more than one goal you will inevitably have to make compromises in how actively you pursue each one, in order to accommodate the others. Your progress will be slower towards each goal because you will be spending time, effort and resources on the others too.

As a result you will need even more willpower and discipline when working on multiple goals. Your advancement toward each may seem painfully slow, which can be discouraging. You just have to trust the process and be confident you will get there in the long run, even though it will be a long run.

For these reasons, having one goal is more effective, more rewarding and easier to manage. If you must have more than one then be prepared for the extra effort you will have to put in.
Next time we’ll talk about how to narrow down the many things you want to do to one goal (or maybe two…)

4 thoughts on “Setting Goals 4 – How To Set Goals – The Rule of One”

  1. Pingback: How to Set Goals - Step By Step

  2. Pingback: Setting Goals 3 - Why Goals Work - Matt Helm Guitar

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