Ready, set, goals

March 16, 2010

It’s pretty darn hard to get from here to there without a road map. Laying out your goals bridges the gap between who you are today and the person you sketched out in your mission statement. Yet when I ask people all over the country whether they write up their goals each year, barely one in 10 say they have. But that 10% gushes over how spelling out their goals transformed their lives.

Why the disconnect? Lots of reasons. Chronically impatient people think goal setting is a waste of time. They wonder why they should spend hours writing down what they want to do when they could be out there actually doing it. Others are wary of introspection, a prerequisite to pinpointing what they want from life.

Some folks actually fear success because living the dream might cause them to sacrifice their suffering. Personal demons trap certain folks into thinking they don’t deserve happiness and financial security. Then there’s fear of failure, an acute malady for fragile egos that just can’t take the blow of another disappointment. Any of this sound familiar?

Herding your goals into one place — a digital file, a legal pad, a planner — is deeply satisfying, clarifying, and deceptively powerful. In his 1951 book, “The Scottish Himalayan Expedition,” W. H. Murray explained: “There is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves, too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.”


Getting started

With your personal mission statement in one hand, writing down your goals with the other is as easy as filling out a job application. The five steps for crafting your mission statement also apply here — find a quiet place, relax, don’t judge, be patient, open up to a deeper wisdom. Once grounded, take a minute to review your mission. Let it sink in. Now jot down what you’d like to get out of life’s big departments during the next 12 months:

1. Family

2. Romance

3. Business

4. Finances

5. Friends

6. Physical fitness

7. Social life

8. Spiritual fitness

9. Intellectual fitness

10. Recreation

11. Emotional fitness

12. Community service

Looking to boost sales by 20%? File it under business. Want to get your temper under control? File that under emotional fitness. Ready to start working Wednesday evenings at the soup kitchen? File it under community service.

Before starting, consult these guidelines:

Make it fun. Choosing what you want from life shouldn’t feel like homework. For me, it’s like picking out fruits and vegetables at the farmer’s market. Or, think back to the childhood excitement of paging through holiday catalogs and making out a wish list. You decide which goodies you’ll get.

Make it user-friendly. Arrange your goals in an easy-to-read, easy to-modify format — perhaps a bulleted list of items or research-paper outline.

Be specific. Clarity and precision make goals measurable, whereas vague, moving targets are difficult to hit and easy to abandon. Where possible, add a measurable metric (a profit target, a number of sit-ups) and a time line (vacation departure date, weekly visits to the gym). The more details the better. Which goal do you think is most likely to produce action: “lose weight,” “lose 10 pounds,” or “lose 10 pounds by May 15”?


Shoot for the stars — or not. Goal setters fall into two camps. The dreamer likes to hang a humdinger of a target out there — like his company making $10 million, dating a supermodel, playing polo in the Hamptons — knowing he’ll fall short but he’s looking forward to the adventure.

The pragmatist, on the other hand, motivates herself with challenging, accessible objectives. She’s disappointed if she can’t put a line through everything on her to-do list. Which camp are you in?

Examine your motives. Don’t just identify what you want, but why you want it. After getting in touch with my mission, I discovered I wanted to build a successful tire company to brighten our customers’ day and provide opportunities for teammates to grow in a healthy environment. Had I wanted to grow my company purely for ego gratification — which was a primary driver early on — the results would’ve been markedly different. Our company didn’t shift into higher gear until I did, too.

Walk the tightrope. Life is a daily balancing act. A lot of people zero in on their career and tune out everything else. I can relate. All the late nights and weekends I worked exacted a toll (cancer, divorce).  The world is full of hardworking moms and dads who would gladly return the extra money they earned if they could turn back the clock and cheer at a couple more Little League games or boost their kids up a few more jungle gyms.

The ultimate gift of time is the moments when you’re fully present, without the faintest thought of anything but what’s in front of you. Yet, success is impossible without hard work. Nothing is easy. Indeed, sometimes circumstances legitimately demand an obsessive focus on work during an extended stretch. Operating out of balance occasionally can help you achieve a better balance in the long run. Trouble is, lingering too long in the red zone can lead to burnout, health problems, bad relationships and ill-advised decisions. Or, at the very least, a vague feeling of emptiness and a life that just doesn’t work very well.

Mix it up. Blend together short-term goals that you can hit in a few weeks, medium-termers that you can reach in a few months, and long-term goals that may take a year or more. Spacing out goals produces a sense of ongoing accomplishment and keeps you motivated. It’s also not a bad idea to find a mix of long shots and chip shots. Envelope-pushing projects test your abilities, but an agenda full of them may set you up for failure.

Make it your own. Some goals will find their way onto your list out of your sense of obligation. Just make sure the majority spring from you rather than somebody else.

Be gracious in defeat. No matter how bold your effort, uncontrollable circumstances may intervene.

That’s okay. Look at what you did accomplish — knowledge, relationships, confidence — in the pursuit. If at least part of the goal is still doable, recycle it for next year’s list.


Finishing touches

Once you’re satisfied with your list, sign and date it. Treat it like the important document it is, a contract with yourself. But there’s always room for amendments (and they shouldn’t require an act of Congress). Review and revise your goals every few months so they’re up-to-speed with life’s twists and turns. You may need to adjust your exercise routine in the wake of a promotion that demands more time or travel — a development that could also impact financial, social and relationship goals. If you happen to slow down to a trot, tweaking your goals sparks a renewed dedication to dig in your spurs and start galloping again. Caveat: Don’t overuse revision. It can become an excuse for giving up on what you wanted.

Your list of goals is a companion to your mission statement. Keep them both conspicuous, at work and at home. Don’t lose sight of why you get out of bed every morning. Carry an easily accessible copy in your BlackBerry, planner or wallet. A quick glance now and then helps me keep my goals top of mind.

Sure, you can skip all this. None of it is convenient. But it’s better than being a human ping-pong ball — always in the middle of the action but getting smacked in so many different directions that you’re lucky to wind up where you started the year. Unappealing, huh? As former General Electric CEO Jack Welch put it, “Control your own destiny, or someone else will.”    ■

This article is one of a series from “The Big Book of Small Business” by Tom Gegax with Phil Bolsta. Copyright 2005, 2006 by Tom Gegax. Published by arrangement with HarperCollins Publishers.

Best-selling author Tom Gegax, co-founder and chairman emeritus of Tires Plus stores, served as that company’s chairman and CEO for 24 years. By the time he sold the company in July 2000, it had mushroomed from a concept sketched on a restaurant napkin to a market leader with 150 upscale stores in 10 states and $200 million in revenue.

Thanks to Tom’s warm-hearted, tough-minded approach to management, and his team’s relentless focus on customer service, the company’s turnover rate ranked among the industry’s lowest, and its guest enthusiasm index reached 98%. He was named Modern Tire Dealer’s Tire Dealer of the Year in 1998 and a Midwest Entrepreneur of the Year by Inc. magazine.

In 2000, Gegax founded Gegax Management Systems ( to help growing companies raise profits and reduce stress through fast and affordable business management guidance.

About the Author

Bob Ulrich

Bob Ulrich was named Modern Tire Dealer editor in August 2000 and retired in January 2020. He joined the magazine in 1985 as assistant editor, and had been responsible for gathering statistical information for MTD's "Facts Issue" since 1993. He won numerous awards for editorial and feature writing, including five gold medals from the International Automotive Media Association. Bob earned a B.A. in English literature from Ohio Northern University and has a law degree from the University of Akron.