One day, a young Buffalo in the wild asked his father what he should be afraid of.
His father responded, “Only Lions my son”.
“What should I do when I see one? Should I run the other way?” the young Buffalo asked.
“No. That’s the worst thing you can do. If you ever see a Lion, stand your ground, show him your sharp horns and stomp the ground with your hooves” The father continued, “if he doesn’t go away, move slowly towards him. And if he doesn’t go away still, charge at him, and hit him with everything you’ve got”.
Isn’t that the worst advice you can give a young buffalo in the wild?
But it’s not really a story of Lions vs Buffalos in the wild.
It’s a story of me vs a fear of mine.
It’s a story of being brave and learning to face your fears.
Because right now, as I’m writing this post, I’m that young Buffalo.
A big part of me is telling me to shelf this idea, this post, so it doesn’t see the light of day.
But a small part of me is telling me to share this lost truth with you all, and damn all blowbacks and consequences.
Because this post will challenge your beliefs and rock you to your core. Just as I was shocked when I first learned the truth I’m about to reveal.
It’s brutal, it’s harsh, it’s unfair, but it is the truth. And some of you will have a hard time accepting it.
But hey, if we aren’t challenging the status quo, what’s the essence of personal development and goal setting in the first place?
What you'll learn
Goals are delicate things
If you don’t tread carefully with the way you set your goals, you might find out at the end of the day that you don’t see any of them through to completion.
But I get ahead of myself.
The first thing we’ll look at in this post is the major areas of life that are best to set goals.
The major areas of life to set goals
Our lives can be broadly categorized into nine major areas.
These areas are; Finances, Work & Career, Health, Family & Friends, Romantic relationship, Personal Development, Fun, giving back, and Spiritual (not in any order of preference).
Our whole life is constrained within the walls of these nine categories.
When any of these areas of our lives take a back seat, we feel the effect one way or the other.
People that have so many bad habits already developed in any of these areas of life will be feeling the effects on their overall quality of life.
Also, the only way to improve the quality of our lives is to deliberately set goals in any of these areas and act on those goals until they’re achieved.
The good thing about these areas of our lives is if you take the time to think, you’ll find that some of these areas are interlinked.
Improvement in one area creates a ripple effect.
And as a result of this; improvement in one area mostly means an improvement in another area.
- Achieving a goal in your Work & Career will mostly translate into better financial capabilities.
- If you achieve the goal of being more emotionally available for your partner, it will solidify your family more.
Have you seen my point?
Now, let’s look at what each of these areas means and different examples of goals we can set in each of these areas of our lives.
This is the area of your life that represents the type of relationship you have with money. It also means the type of habits you have around money.
Do you have money in abundance or are you in need of more money?
Are you a saver, or a spender?
Do you think money is meant to be used to control your emotions or other people’s?
Examples of goals to set in this area are;
- save 10% of my income
- Earn $10,000 more per month
- Invest 10% of what I earn monthly
Work & Career/Business
This is the area of your life that has to do with anything you are doing that’s earning you money.
Irrespective of whether you are a business owner or you work for someone, you must constantly set goals for yourself at work or your business.
Setting goals in this area of your life is necessary and important so as to keep moving in the direction you want.
Examples of goals to set in this area are;
- Get promoted to xx post by the end of the year
- Attend at least two seminars in my field in a year
- Increase visitors to the company’s website by 20%
- Increase sales of my business by 10%
Health (Physical and Emotional)
Your health can be your physical state of well-being or the level of your emotional health.
Not setting proper goals and not developing good habits in this area of your life can be very detrimental and most likely lead to a shorter life expectancy.
Some common examples of goals you can set in this area are;
- Fitness goals like exercising thrice in a week
- Lose 10 pounds for the year
- Eat organic and healthy food for breakfast daily
- Laugh more, and be happier this year
- Consult a therapist about my childhood trauma (if there’s one affecting you)
Family & Friends
This is the area of your life that has to do with your nuclear and extended family members. It also consists of your close friends and the relationships you have with them.
Human beings are tribal by nature. There’s always a constant urge for us to belong to our own. And this makes this area of our lives very important.
The truth is when we stop paying attention and stop setting goals in this area of our life, there’s a high tendency to lose our sense of belonging.
Examples of goals in this area are;
- Spend more time with my family daily
- Call at least one of my friends daily
- Do at least one thing for my family daily
This is the romantic relationship(s) in your life. For people that are married, this is your life’s partner. And for the singles, this is your girlfriend or boyfriend.
Most of the time, what our romantic partners require of us is to be there to support them and be emotionally available for them when they need us to be.
The thing is, when we’ve been with someone for a long time, we tend to take the relationship for granted.
That’s why it’s very necessary to constantly set goals and build better habits that will support our romantic relationships. And not only support it, but also make it flourish and more fulfilling.
People that neglect the importance of setting goals in this area end up getting divorced or broken up.
Examples of goals for this area are;
- Listen better when my partner starts talking
- Take my partner out for dinner dates every Tuesday night
- Go to Paris with my partner once in a year
This is the area of your life that has to do with your personal growth in life.
Any goal that you set that enhances this type of development is known as a personal development goal.
Examples of such goals are;
- Read 50 books for the year
- Meditate for 5 minutes daily
- Learn to play the piano this year
Fun things and Relaxation plans
These are the goals you set to intentionally have fun or relax.
- Meditate for 5 minutes daily
- Read 50 books for the year
- Go on vacation in Europe once in a year
- Get a massage once in a week
This is the philanthropic aspect of your life.
Giving back makes us feel good and it’s quite an important aspect to pay close attention to.
Goals that you can set in this area include;
- Volunteer at a shelter once in a week
- Donate $500 to my favorite Charity every month
- Do one selfless act daily
This is the area of our lives that has to do with our connection to our Higher Self (whatever that is for you).
For some people, it’s going on a self-awareness journey. For some people, it’s religion. And for some, it’s science.
What this area means vary from one person to another.
So, a broad example in this category can be;
- Meditating 5 times daily
- Go to Church twice in a week
- Take a walk in nature for 10 minutes daily
The Norm and the Status quo
This is what most goal-setting professionals like Zig Ziglar tells you to focus on.
They tell you to try and achieve balance in all these (nine) areas so as to live a balanced and fulfilled life.
This is where most posts you’ve read on this topic ends.
But this post is far from being over!!
And it’s time to hit you with a harsh truth you’ve probably never heard before.
The Red pill and a word of caution about it!!
Remember the movie Matrix?
From here on, we are about to take the red pill together.
And just as Morpheus offered Neo a choice, I’m offering you a choice;
Choice #1 [the blue pill]; Stop reading this post right here, right now. Click the (X) red button on the top right-hand corner of your screen, leave this page, and continue living in the fantasy world that has been created for you.
Choice #2 [the red pill]; Continue reading, and discover the brutal truth about goal setting. You might just discover the reasons why you’ve been failing to achieve any goal in any area of your life all this while. And you might discover what to do about it and start hitting all your goals to completion.
The choice is yours really.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
That said, those of you that have the stomach for it, let’s go!!
What Zig Ziglar forgot to tell you
In 2012, the Ziglars published a book called born to win.
A very good book which I’ll whole-heartedly recommend.
In the book, the Ziglars talked about the wheel of life.
This wheel consists of seven areas of life namely; Career, Social, Financial, Family, Physical, Mental, and Spiritual (which is the same as the nine areas above).
They advocated striving to achieve balance in all these areas of life.
They are not the only people preaching this balanced life mantra.
The majority of life coaches and self-help coaches have this habit of telling people to set goals in all these areas of their lives.
And this has gotten a lot of people in the habit of setting way too many goals than they can keep up with.
All in the name of striving to achieve a balanced life.
All in the name of the promise of Nirvana.
Now, this is what the Ziglars and all the other coaches forgot to tell you;
NOBODY CAN ACHIEVE BALANCE IN ALL THESE AREAS OF LIFE.
Do you disagree?
Well, if you disagree, I want you to show me one person you know (no matter how successful he or she may be), that has managed to achieve balance in all these areas of life.
Because at the end of the day, something has to give for the other.
What I mean by this is that in order to be really successful in one area, you’ll have to tradeoff another area.
As harsh as that may sound, it’s the reality we live in.
The Four Burners Theory
This theory was first validated (and given a name) for me when I read about it on James Clear’s amazing website.
The theory is about four of the seven areas that we all mostly try to achieve balance (Health, work, family, and friends).
Each of these areas is likened to a burner on a stove. All these burners are operating on a single supply of energy.
So, the Four Burners theory states that “In order to be successful in a single area, you have to cut off one of your burners. And in order to be really successful in a single area, you have to cut off two burners”.
And the Four Burners theory talks about just four areas of your life.
Now imagine having 7 burners (7 areas of life to set goals in) and imagine how stressful it will be to keep up with all those goals and be successful in each area.
Forget about the stress, think about all the other areas you’ll have to cut off.
This theory has been operational in my life when I didn’t really know how goal setting worked.
And it’s been characterized by procrastination, anxiety, mental exhaustion, physical burn-out, and occasional panic attacks.
When I got to understand what laser focus would do for my goal setting, I started really, really prioritizing each area of my life.
As sad as it was, the year I wanted to work on my writing, my family took a back seat and I also had to put off meditation for another year.
The year I wanted to be closer to my parents, I had to turn the work burner all the way down.
The year I wanted to lose my very annoying belly fat, I had to cut off hanging out with my friends at the bar (which took a big toll on my friendships).
In short, life is a series of tradeoffs.
The two reasons why the Four Burner theory is a truth you need to accept when setting goals
But why is the burner theory operational when it comes to goal setting?
Why can’t I just go around and set as many goals as I want to set, in as many areas of my life as I want?
Physically, Humans are limited. We have limited energy. We have limited brain capacity (limited willpower, limited concentration, limited memory…).
Also, we literally have limited time in the day. There is only so much you can cram into a 24-hour window.
I’m not disputing the fact that some people are really gifted and can keep up with most of their goals, but I’m willing to bet that these superhuman are really scarce to find.
And also, if you meet someone that’s boasting of achieving like 7 major goals in a year, then they’ve probably already (beforehand) built habits that can support some of those goals.
Biologically, psychologically, and anatomically, Humans are goal-seeking by nature (at least the majority of us).
Our brain is wired to seek goals.
Imagine if we aren’t goal-seeking in nature!!
We would still be running around naked, picking food and getting eaten by hungry tigers in the wild.
In other words, no cities, no technology, no cars, no airplanes, no iPhones, nada.
But the way our brain is wired comes at a very heavy cost.
The cost is that whenever we have a goal, till we achieve/complete that goal, our brain keeps permutating and ruminating on how we are going to achieve that goal.
On the surface, this is a good thing, right?
But if you really think about it, there is a very thin line between this form of mental model and panic attacks.
When you set like 7 different goals at a time, your brain will still be ruminating and giving you feedback on all the moving components of each of these goals.
Especially the unfinished ones!!
This feedback from the brain manifest in different forms for different people.
It can be in the form of anxiety, procrastination, or increased stress levels.
Top behavioral psychology researchers, Masicampo and Baumeister (whom have been researching goal setting and willpower for the past twenty years), found that our brain’s mental model about goal setting leads to anxiety, stress, lack of concentration, and lack of comprehension, when we have a lot of open and unfinished goals at the same time.
This creates a kind of feedback loop.
Because when you start getting anxious about not achieving a goal, or not working on a particular goal enough, you start getting anxious about your anxiety.
Soon afterward, you start getting more anxious about the level of your anxiety. And on and on and on.
Another example is if your brain’s feedback about having to keep up with a lot of goals at the same time is procrastination.
Take a look at the following scenario of someone trying to keep up with like 4 different goals in 4 different areas of her life at the same time;
Let’s say today, she had to put off meditation for her goal of reading 10 pages daily.
The following day, she had to put off reading for the gym.
The next day she puts off the gym for Spanish class.
Now, because she’s been putting off meditation for the last 4 days, she’ll likely want to put it off for some TV time because she doesn’t know where to start meditating anymore.
And on and on until she gets entangled in the procrastination loop and can’t seem to find a way to get out of it anymore.
And at the end of the year, all she’ll have to show for her four goals is a full re-run of Game of Thrones and an unused gym membership.
4 tips on how to have as much as a balanced life as you can have
Our brain literally shuts down when we have too many things (goals) to work on.
You’ve recognized this problem and the question that’ll be running through your mind is the solution.
How can I have a more balanced life? How can I live a well-rounded life as much as I can?
Make your life goals seasonal
As James Clear pointed out, the best thing to do is to live your life in seasons.
And this allows you to set your goals in seasons.
What this means is that you should take each season and focus on just one or two of your life areas to set goals in.
For example, if the next three years is your season for family and friends, focus on those solely.
If the next year is a work season, focus on your work only.
The idea is that after achieving the goals of a particular season and have you’ve been able to build better habits in that area of your life, you can move to another area, in another season.
Find where your life-areas link
To help in prioritizing your seasonal goals, it’s best to work on goals that interlink two or three of your life areas.
Cast your mind back to when I mentioned earlier in this post that our life-areas are linked together somehow.
For effectiveness, it’s best to choose goals in one life area that its effects will spill into the other areas.
- If you choose a goal of “becoming a good listener” in the personal development area, know that the effect of achieving that goal will spill into your romantic relationship area.
- If you choose a goal of “building a self-sustaining business” in the work area, know that the effect of achieving that goal will spill into your family area because you have more time for them.
Draw concrete plans for your goals
The best thing you could do for your mental health when setting goals in your life-areas is to map out a plan of action for the goals.
Because the researchers (Masicampo and Baumeister) that found that our brains are fixated on incomplete goals discovered that when we draw a concrete plan for our goals, we are taking off a huge mental load from our brain with those unfinished goals.
What this means is that the goals you choose to set in each season should be equipped with a plan of “how”, “where”, and “when”.
This makes working on the goals autopilot and can help you avoid the negative feedback loops that your brain gives you when it comes to your goals.
Take solace in the fact that you’re not alone in this, and accept your limitations
Everybody you know is giving up something for the other every day of their lives. Just as you are.
As I said earlier, life is filled with tradeoffs.
And at the end of the day, something has to give.
I’m not saying that you now have a license to become irresponsible and make excuses for the things and people you have to show up for.
You can’t start thinking that it’s okay to neglect your family completely and focus 110% on your work. But if that’s a price you are willing to pay, the choice is yours.
One of the most productive and successful guys in business and invention, the billionaire Elon Musk gave a tearful and emotional interview with the New York Times about his work-family balance;
“I almost missed my brother’s wedding this summer. There were times when I didn’t leave the factory for three or four days–days when I didn’t go outside. This has really come at the expense of seeing my kids. And seeing friends.” — Elon Musk in an emotional interview with The New York Times.
Remember that to be really successful in a burner, you have to cut-off two.
There’s no balanced life anywhere. But you do have to get your priorities straight and compromise.
At the end of the day, you can’t do perfect, all you can do is better.
Till we speak again, STAY GOAL-ORIENTED, STAY WEALTHY.