Creating Meaningful Goals

by jon on January 1, 2012

It is that time of year again when we start to think about new year’s resolutions, and it made me reflect on why it can be difficult to reach our goals. I wonder if it has something to do with how we equate so many of our goals with performance instead of something meaningful?


An article called “Learning vs. Performance Goals” along with some amazing teaching from the LaL folks really changed the way I look at goals. Performance goals focus on the outcome or result so there is always success or failure.  For example, “be the best student in class” or “losing 10 lbs.” They usually result in temporary gratification, cause us to compare ourselves to others and lack real meaning. On the other hand, learning goals are inspiring and “reflect one’s desire to improve, to “grow,” and in some ways to break new ground for oneself.” Let me give you a few examples.

Lets start with something like losing weight. Is it really about a specific number or the fact that making changes with your health may make you a better, happier person for others? What if your goal was one of these:

-Use my health to create closer relationships with family and friends.

-Use running to honor the memory of my grandfather.

-To exercise so I can stay active with my children.

Don’t these sound more meaningful? You should still use numbered measurables like going to the gym three times a week, eating vegetarian one day a week or running a 5K to see how well these goals are working.  However, wouldn’t it feel better if your real goal had this larger perspective instead of some arbitrary weight loss number?

Here is an example related to my blog:

Learning Goal:

Co-create a culture where one plus one is more than two.


-Write one blog post a week.

-Connect with innovative thinkers twice a month.

The learning goal makes completing my tasks so much more enjoyable, and it is easier to create time for them.

I first learned about these concepts this past July when I was in the middle of planning a 5K to benefit the local Libraries. It was during a time when we were struggling with how we would achieve numbered goals like money raised. What would ever be enough? So my co-chair and I came up with this learning goal: “to connect our community and demonstrate that we are all in this race together.” Our 5K was really about showing how together we can move our community forward. We knew that Libraries are just one of many amazing resources that connect us, so we started partnering with other non-profits to get the word out. This new goal guided us to a mission that was about more than just supporting Libraries and created a huge shift in our communication around town. And all the planning and coordination became easier!

Race day turned out to be an amazing event. And even with six other 5Ks on the same day and attendance down 40%, we raised 38% more money than the year before. However, the best part for me was two months later when I read an article about how a homeless family used the internet at a local Library to find housing through another non-profit.  Two community resources in the same race together to help people. How about that?


So here are ten helpful reminders for me about learning goals and their respective measurables.

1.  Take your time and focus on something important to you. Wait for that moment when you feel real emotion connected to the goal.

2.  Be simple and don’t overwhelm yourself with measurables. Recently, someone told me they started running by only trying to run for one song on their iPod, then two songs, three…It is important to break down measurables into smaller targets.

3.  Enjoy the journey.  Celebrate your small victories and recognize there is a path to doing something special in your life.

4. Schedule time for yourself. Why do we schedule time for everyone else in our lives but not for ourselves? Put it on your calendar and if someone asks you to do something, tell them you have plans. Thanks to my friend Carole for the tip :)

5. Get together with some friends in person or online and share your goals with each other. This way you can periodically check in and keep each other accountable.

6. Learn from any failures of your measurables but don’t let them define you.

7. Be careful with any goals that make you depend on others. For example, I really held myself back getting this blog started, because I was trying figure out a way to inspire everyone. However, a good friend helped me see that my real goal was to be very authentic in my writing and share information that was meaningful to me. It is not my responsibility to change others, but the authenticity in my writing may just invite someone to see a new perspective.

8. Don’t let the “newness” of one of your learning goal measurables take over your life. Maybe you decided to start road biking and others may say “well if you only had X bike you could…”. Recognize that someone will always have a better bike and be comfortable with what works for your budget. Stay focused with your goal of “being better for family and friends” and not “having the best bike in the city.”

9. Take some risks, get out of your comfort zone and remember you can always re-evaluate your goals!

10. And finally, align your goals with the important people in your life.


I hope you share with me any other helpful hints for creating more authentic goals. I truly believe they help us be better for each other and bring more purpose to our lives. Happy New Year!


{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Nikki moore January 2, 2012 at 8:54 am

Great post to kick off the new year. I worked on my goals yesterday, but have gone back to them this morning to see how I can incorporate your tips. A quick question for you, as you move towards more meaningful vs performance goals how do you go about measuring progress?


jon January 2, 2012 at 9:52 am

Nikki, thanks for your comment! I think you want to use both learning and performance goals together but let the learning goal be the guiding principle. See how I have a learning goal for my blog and then measurables which I would equate to performance goals? That is how I can measure progress. Maybe your goal as a chef is to share your love of food with others. Whatever brings meaning to you when you read it. Then you have measurables like I want to teach 5 classes a month, write one blog post a week, etc…Does that help clarify?


Carole Levy January 2, 2012 at 1:02 pm

Hi Jon! Happy new year!! Thanks for sharing your clarity about goal setting! (and thanks for mentioning me as your good friend!). Your blog really speaks about your 10 steps (as you mention it). TAke care!


jon January 5, 2012 at 3:59 pm

Thanks Carole! It is so nice to have your support with my writing. You sure make me good!


Shayne Hughes January 3, 2012 at 3:10 pm

I love your mindset. Very inspiring. Helps me be with the love of the journey, instead of the pressure of the outcome. Keep it up.


jon January 5, 2012 at 4:00 pm

Thanks Shayne. I sometimes forget the journey and think things will happen overnight. However, the journey is what makes it all worth it. I appreciate your kind words.


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