Spotlight: The Life-Changing Magic of Goal Setting
3 tips for inspiring accountability for the things you wish to accomplish
The Chinese word for “crisis” includes two characters, explains Dr. Albert Cruz ’11: danger and opportunity.
“When I see a crisis, I ask myself, ‘What opportunity is going to be in front of me to uncover?’” he says. “The opportunity won’t come to you. You have to find it.”
Cruz adopted that attitude in his early 30s when he found himself mired in personal and professional struggles. Before emigrating from Hong Kong to the U.S., he put pen to paper and wrote a wish list for what he wanted from his life. Thus began a commitment to goal setting, a process he credits with his bountiful success: a lucrative career in computing, a college degree, three advanced degrees including his Walden PhD in Applied Management and Decision Sciences (now PhD in Management), and a second career as a college instructor and author.
To secure those achievements, he didn’t compile an arbitrary list of ambitions. Instead, over more than 4 decades, he has created a structured, dynamic, balanced group of goals rooted in his personal values.
“If you become successful financially at the expense of your family life, that’s not success. If you’re successful professionally at the expense of your health, that’s not success,” says Cruz, whose recent book, Becoming Who You Want to Be, provides a detailed guide for following in his footsteps.
He recommends starting by identifying four “core” goals: physical, financial, social, and mental. Next, select two levels of goals—central and supporting—that relate to each core goal. Finally, identify three duration goals—short term, intermediate, and long term—that can help you achieve each core goal.
In the end, Cruz says, you should have 24 total goals: four core goals, each with two levels of goals and three duration goals. What’s the key to following through on your goals? Cruz has advice for that, too:
- MAKE SURE YOUR GOALS ARE ATTAINABLE. “Setting goals is not important. Completing the goals is important,” Cruz says. “A goal should be challenging, but you need to be able to complete it. If not, set it aside.”
- WRITE DOWN—OR TYPE OUT—YOUR GOALS. Cruz started his goal-setting journey decades ago with loose-leaf paper in three-ring binders. He still has the binders, but for his most recent goals, he turns to Microsoft Excel. “It’s easier to update and organize,” he says, “but that’s the only difference.”
- REVISIT YOUR GOALS. Goal setting should be a dynamic process, Cruz says, and he uses his birthday and half-birthday as benchmarks for refreshing his goals. You may discover that some of your duration goals have moved from long term to short term, or perhaps you’ve completed a core goal and need to replace it with a new one.
When Cruz looks back at his initial wish list, he’s happy to see he’s accomplished nearly everything. But goal setting isn’t just about making it to the finish line. It’s about enriching the journey you take to get there.
“You can’t extend your life span; that’s based on your DNA, your health, all the other variables,” Cruz says. “But one thing you can do is expand the width of your life. I can’t extend the length of my life, but I can make it more colorful and more enjoyable.”
Dr. Cruz’s Goal-Setting Framework in Action
Core physical goal: Run a marathon.
Two levels of goals:
- Lose 20 pounds (central)
- Adopt a healthier diet (supporting)
Three duration goals:
- Read a book about the Whole30 diet, follow the diet, and begin a rigorous running schedule (short term)
- Run a half-marathon within a year (intermediate)
- Complete a marathon within 3 years (long term)