My housemate Paul has life goals and lots of them. His goals are the things that he would like to do, the life he would like to live in the future and the possessions he would like to buy. It's very aspirational, and I sometimes feel a bit inadequate that I don't have aims or focus to my life like that.
My goal is very simple. To be content. Of course, it's not as simple as it sounds, because I probably have to live ethically, have a good social life and do a variety of things that interest me (to name a few) before I can be content. But as long as I fulfil my main goal, contentedness, then the route there doesn't bother me. But it does to Paul. Of course Paul wants to be happy as well, but he can't be happy without fulfilling the lesser goals that support the main goal.
At work we would call the main goal a level 0 goal. It is very aspirational and woolly and covers all areas because it can be interpreted in many ways. The next goals down (level 1 goals) can be more specific and cover only one area of development. At work, the level one goals are set by individual departments, whereas level zero goals are set by the top levels of the company. These feed down to level 2 and 3 goals at work, but I won't bother with them for the point of this post.
The question to ask is this: which type of goal should we focus on? At work, focus on the level zero goals would be pointless because they are so vague that they don't mean anything. The only concrete thing on it that I can remember is the aim of cutting down how much we are ill in the company. We can supposedly choose how often we are ill and therefore cut the number of days we take off sick per year (averaged per person). Yeah whatever: if I'm sick then I'm not coming in, but if I'm well I'll be there. The rest of them are along the lines of "provide world-class service to customers" and other vague rubbish like that. So we have to focus on more sensible goals like "Reduce waste in our area by X% by introducing X procedure", which would be a level 1 goal.
That would imply that Paul's approach of setting himself small specific goals is the correct one. However, there are a couple of caveats to it that mean that I don't follow his approach very often.
The first thing is that I don't like the formalism. I don't like planning at the best of times, so thinking of sensible life goals is not my idea of a good evening in! Having formal short-term goals also sets yourself up for stress if you are not attaining them. Paul's not happy when his goals don't match up with where he is at that point, and it would stress me out too.
Secondly, I don't know what makes me happy. I am sometimes happy and I can't pinpoint the reason, and sometimes unhappy without knowing why either. And it's hard to say where I want to go with my life if I don't know what makes me happy. I'm happy this evening but couldn't explain why. It would be awful to pin your hopes on goals, only to find that achieving the goals wasn't fulfilling.
So which is right? It's not an easy question to answer, but I'll tell you more about whether it's working for me in a post soon.
Happiness is a bit of a mystery so don't expect all the answers but at least you'll find out where I am with my life because I haven't blogged it recently.