“We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims.” — Buckminster Fuller
Much has been said about setting goals if we are to get anywhere in life. But artists in general are not known to be good at setting goals. It’s supposed to be against our nature for the liberal stigma attached us — a persona that implies that our lives be selfishly carefree and aloof — says that our work (when we actually do work) is totally dependent on our gifted talent and spur of the moment inspiration. How else could we be so both lovingly revered and widely shunned by society at the same time?
But we know better. We know that without discipline our wants and visions become nothing but mere hope and memory. Because without a carefully constructed vision and game plan to build ourselves into productive and happy artists, we’ll never develop either the skills or strength necessary to accomplish anything, let alone our dreams.
“Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength.” — Arnold Schwarzenegger
There are many rules to success. They include faith in ourselves, hard work, discipline, the ability to ignore naysayers as well as the strength to endure failure. We also need good habits and rituals, so that we do the right things regularly and automatically. But all that is for naught, if we do not chart and track our progress.
Remember these? I wasn’t always goal oriented. I still remember my best friend and I had, by far, like the least gold stars of anyone in my grade 2 class.
Charting and tracking our goals forces us to acknowledge them every single day. So, not only do we have to spend the time thinking about and writing down our goals, we must place them visually in front of us where we can see them regularly. This idea goes beyond just being inspired. It’s about keeping focused and staying on track. We all know how easy it is to fall off the wagon so to speak. Dreams and goals always feel distant — all finish lines do — and as terrible it is to say this, the odds are we will fail.
Regardless of anyone’s opinion of him, Arnold Schwarzeneggar is the definitive example of someone who set his goals high and created an effective game plan to accomplish them. Coming from a small Austrian town with limited access to both opportunity and education, the odds were all stacked against him. From becoming a five-time Mr. Olympia bodybuilder and iconic movie star to sitting on the throne as Governor of California, few people have accomplished as many grand and diverse dreams in a single life time.
But odds are irrelevant when it comes to actual living. We all know that anything can happen. Yes, we can win OR lose aiming for our goals, but by not setting any goals, failure is all but GUARANTEED. Dreams are achieved by first envisioning them, then by inching closer to them day by day. In charting our progress, we are forced to acknowledge whether we are actively doing anything to make them come true.
Personally, I set two types of goals that are charted and tracked: outcome goals and action goals.
Outcome goals are what most people think of when they think of goals. Examples include winning a marathon, becoming a great animator or become as big as Arnold Schwarzeneggar. These types of goals are easy to identify and may be inspiring, but their success is dependent on many factors, some of which are completely outside of our control. Sometimes these goals are vague and even hard to measure — what does becoming a great animator really mean anyway? or happiness for that matter? Outcome goals are also large and distant, in that they can rarely be achieved quickly (if at all). Their grandiosity and the difficulty involved make them very hard to hold onto consistently in your heart and mind. Life gets busy and soon, we forget or give up on them. For far too many people, such goals, no matter how achievable, become like those bygone childhood dreams and the very language that they use — words like “wish” and “hope” — give these people away.
“Life can be pulled by goals just as surely as it can be pushed by drives.” – Viktor E. Frankl
Therefore, when making our outcome goals, we must make them as specific and inspiring as possible. Something that is worthy of our efforts and drive but can also be visualized. If, for example, we want to become a great painter, we can aim to be selected for a solo show at a famous museum. Or if we need to get back into shape, we can say we’d like to be able finish a 20 km marathon by the end of the year. The best goals are not only inspiring and grand, they are completely measurable.
This SMART goal chart should be familiar to all, but again, common sense is not common practice. In fact, most people don’t set any goals at all.
These are the types of goals that we can quickly and easily see whether we’re accomplishing or not. They are small, immediate and can be easily scheduled. They have fast approaching deadlines and can be checked off on any “to do” list or calendar. The beauty of action goals is that the outcome of whether they are achieved or not have nothing to do with our environment or circumstances — they depend only on our will to do them. And when they need fine-tuning, we can adjust them accordingly but only to get us closer to our vision rather than to take a step back or worse, flake out on our promise to ourselves. If our work day has run long, and we can’t do our usual 30 minute workout, then we do 15 minutes instead. (Anyone who says they can’t spare 15 minutes is lying.)
I love action goals. The reason is because they are not only simple and direct, they give an immediate sense of accomplishment. There aren’t too many things in our lives that give us that, not following orders, not doing our errands and certainly not watching TV or playing games all day. We’re talking about actionable activities we designed to better our own lives. Each time we do an action goal, we are one step closer to reaching our outcome goal. That feeling of accomplishment is almost indescribable — a sense of fulfillment that boosts the soul, confirms our intelligence and strengthens our character.
The Gossips by Norman Rockwell. Regarded primarily as “only” an illustrator during his lifetime, Rockwell was generally rejected by the fine art community. But despite this, and the strain of having to constantly produce and work with tough deadlines, it never stopped him from creating formidable art — art which was often loaded with wit, character and beauty.
So what does all this look like, working with a tandem of outcome and action goals? Well, as a personal example, I was recently diagnosed with Type II diabetes.* After going thru a few hours of justifiable despair I decided to take action; I didn’t waste one further minute and immediately set three outcome goals that were to be accomplished within six months:
(1) Drop 20 lbs
(2) Lose 5% body fat
(3) Become 90% vegan.
All three of the goals were specific, serious and ambitious and the impact and change required in my lifestyle would be huge. Next, I set aside actionable goals, each one with its own chart that I’d place on my walls to see everyday:
(1) Find out as much as I can about the disease by reading a minimum of 3 books/research papers on the subject every week. (Ultimately, I read a total of 12 books and over 30 articles on the subject within the first three months.)
(2) Begin a rigid exercise plan of 45-60 minutes everyday. (Since that day I’ve missed a total of 22 days in 6 months and that included moving to another city and taking a 14 day trip to Japan.)
(3) Gradually transition my kitchen to becoming a vegan one, setting aside 1-2 meals per week where I’d be non-vegan as a cheat day to make the adjustment more palatable and realistic. Every time I failed to comply, I’d trimmed the content and size of my meals in proportion.
And the end result? Well, let’s just say I surprised even myself. By the fourth month, I’d lost 21 lbs and dropped 4% in body fat. I’ve now lost almost all craving for meat or dairy. My blood glucose levels are balanced and I’ve never felt more respectful of other life forms and the environment. Honestly, I didn’t fully expect to reach those goals so quickly, even as I weighed myself daily witnessing the predictable yo-yo effect of my weight and my emotions. But what was most amazing about this process was seeing the chart fill with simple annotations both in success and failure. More often than not, the sight of any unchecked boxes drove me to action almost immediately. And more incredibly, since achieving my milestones, I’ve gotten more confident and inspired to do better not just for my body, but for other areas of my life. Again I’m reminded of the power of following the process. Small success breeds further successes.
“The object isn’t to make art, it’s to be in that wonderful state which makes art inevitable.” ― Robert Henri
Lucian Freud, seen here working on his very last painting only two weeks before his death at the age of 88. He was a prolific painter who painted slow but dutifully his entire life. Everyday he worked and everyday he gave his full attention to his craft leading him to become the greatest realist painter of the 20th century.
I illustrated my story not to impress but only to demonstrate that setting goals in this fashion can work for anyone. The most important point is this: big identifiable goals are necessary because they serve as targets so that we can reach the not-so-measurable goals of happiness and meaning in our lives. Without them, we won’t reach beyond the merely comfortable, regular and safe. Entropy is a natural scientific law — if we do nothing, we slide insidiously from higher order to lower order, from growing to dying. Large visions and colorful dreams give us the drive necessary to move forward and, more importantly, to take action. Outcome goals inspire action goals. Action goals lead to a process of living a better, healthier and more meaningful life regardless of any future outcome.
“A moment of complete happiness never occurs in the creation of a work of art. The promise of it is felt in the act of creation but disappears towards the completion of the work. For it is then the painter realizes that it is only a picture he is painting. Until then he had almost dared to hope the picture might spring to life.” — Lucian Freud
*Note: The Center for Disease Control estimates that 1 in 3 people in America will have diabetes by the year 2050.