I’m not a fan of the term ‘goal-setting’. I feel it’s often used as just a way of managing expectations — often low expectations. I prefer the term ‘mission’. For me, this conjures up strong emotion and suggests an absolute need to be successful in achieving the desired outcome, whatever it may be. Goals don’t tend to inspire the emotional intent necessary for success and, if set too rigidly, their pursuit can deny us the flexibility to take advantage of unforeseen opportunities. For example, I didn’t have a goal to one day become a Kudo Black-belt. Instead, an opportunity appeared, so I then made it my mission to take advantage of that opportunity.
Of course, any successful mission requires planning and forethought. That includes thinking about the objective itself, and its value to us in the bigger scheme of things.
We don’t tend to make uncomfortable goals. You hear things like, ‘It’s my goal to be a multi-millionaire’, ‘It’s my goal to drive a high-end car’, or ‘It’s my goal to do [insert preferred high-status job]’. I don’t hear people say that it’s their goal to go bankrupt or to give up everything, or to be badly injured, or worse. No, when dreaming of a desired goal, those possibilities — the risks — are often out of mind. But when we take on a mission, we must accept the hardships that may result from our attempt at completing that mission.
My aim in the army was to be capable of any mission expected of me. However, mission success could come at great cost, including the loss of your life or those of friends. Or, it could be that the ongoing pressure and uncertainty of serving becomes too much for your family — so much that you lose them.
Think you’re willing to do what needs to be done in achieving your mission? You may be right — but to know for sure, you must first make yourself comfortable with the likely costs of achieving it.
With that being said, if we weigh up everything correctly and manage the different elements of a mission well, success is likely. And with good mission planning, we should be able to achieve it with minimal adverse effects on ourselves or our group.
The Soldier’s Method
Let’s look at how our defence force assesses the big picture when taking on a new task (aka, a mission). Regardless of your background or what you do for dough, you can adapt this concept for everyday use.
In Australian Army doctrine, leaders will consider three key elements when assessing any given task and our personnel’s capability of achieving it. These are:
- Task needs
- Individual needs
- Group maintenance needs
It is worth taking these on board when setting yourself a mission, as often a mission will fail because we don’t prioritise one or more of these needs correctly. If we attend to them too late, or not at all, we’re inviting trouble. You see, we tend to set goals for ourselves based on our own immediate needs — those of the individual. As a result, we may not put enough time into the task needs required to achieve that personal goal. Conversely, if we focus too much on the task needs, we may not take into account the potential personal impacts. The question is, if we follow through with all the needs of the task, what effect might it have on us as individuals?
The third area to look at is group maintenance needs. These are often overlooked when we’re not dealing with a defined working group, as we would have in the workplace. However, you will almost definitely have a group that you need to maintain, whether you realise it or not. Before embarking on your mission, you need to identify who makes up that group. These people may have nothing to do with your mission directly — and yet, failure to consider them could result in an aborted mission. Or, maybe worse, a loss you didn’t foresee.
Many things worth achieving will not come easily. As such, they may demand a long commitment and substantial effort — not only from you, but those who support you. You may have the discipline necessary for mission success, but can you expect your significant others to make sacrifices in kind? How will your mission tasks, time constraints and direction of focus affect those around you? Consider the potential pressures put on — or that may come from — family, friends and team members.
Mission planning is a subject all of its own, but every mission is best begun by considering the aforementioned factors. Who will need what — and when?
Timing and Training
The timing of our tasks is important: we need to recognise when we should focus more on one area of need than others. And the longer the mission, the more its success will rely on maintaining the right balance. During ‘slack’ periods, when you’re waiting for the results of work or you are light-on for tasks, you’ll need to spend more time on group and individual maintenance. This will give you the ability to push hard during the next period when priority tasks are again at the fore. You want to have plenty of group and individual maintenance in the bank at such times, because the group may not see much of you, you may not get enough sleep or personal time, and so on.
In planning a mission, it’s vital to set a realistic time frame for your lifestyle, taking into account the aforementioned set of needs. If you’re running a marathon, you don’t start out sprinting, or you’ll hit a wall pretty quickly. Likewise, if you’ve predicted a middle-distance race and in reality it’s an ultramarathon, your team — be they family and friends, or colleagues — may not be able to cover the distance with you.
The last key element of a mission is ‘intensive training’. In the army, this applies to the work group — for example, a platoon — and during this period, group maintenance needs are prioritised over the task and individual needs. Outside of the army, you need to apply this same principle across all groups you’re involved with, whether you’re working toward your objective in a team or on your own. On a personal level, I translate this into family time, where I make an effort to get away with them and so on. I don’t stop dealing with small task needs, but I put the group first at that time, regardless.
So, when next planning a mission — perhaps your life mission — give some thought to these elements and how they might influence the outcome. We rarely achieve anything in life alone, so preparing others is just as important as preparing ourselves.