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Last Tuesday, we kicked off Happiness Happens month with What is Happiness? In that post, Tony summarised the three elements of happiness – short term emotion, longer term rational self-reflection and personal fulfilment. This is the first of a trilogy of posts that will focus more on the latter two of these constituents.

It is safe to say that I am a goal driven person. On reflection, it is difficult for me to think about the progress of my life without the lens of tasks achieved and to be achieved. Consequently, I am a firm believer in the act of setting goals, both to ‘beat back the chaos’ (as my friend beautifully articulated) in order to focus on the facets of our lives that are truly important, and to get the most out of those areas of life we really care about. And putting those areas at the centre of my life is a huge part of what keeps me smiling! For me, achieving a happy life in the medium to long term is best realised by accomplishing goals, whether that is in my personal or professional worlds.

Your goals could be as simple as spending more time with family, carving out a couple of hours of hobby-time during the evening or completing a course in the hot new JavaScript framework. These are much easier to grapple with than the wider ranging, often more vague aspirations, like ‘become a better developer’, ‘get fit’, or ‘do more for my community’. Yet, I stand firm in my belief that these more complicated objectives are also important to consider, especially when they are composed of simple goals.

Let’s consider the ‘get fit’ example (mostly as I’ve been packing on the pounds over lock down!). Being fit means different things to different people – to some it is being able to do the yearly 10k park run, while to others it means bench-pressing their bodyweight. But nobody gets there overnight, it’s an enormous effort accomplished by completing smaller, more attainable goals. Jogging steadily for 20 minutes is a lot more achievable for a couch potato like me than running the full 10k in 45 minutes. Breaking our larger goals into small objectives is incredibly important for motivation, but I think keeping cognisant of the wider goal is also very encouraging.

Explicit goals really do focus the mind in the face of the staggering number of distractions from our core values and desires. This is particularly true in the attention economy, where we are bombarded with psychologically stimulating, yet ultimately meaningless content. It is amazing how many hours of potentially productive time can be whittled away on Facebook, Instagram and Reddit. I have found that having written goals for the day, week and month incentivise me to stay productive when I need to, concentrate on building skills and relationships, and steer clear of the temptations of social media.

So how do we go about setting goals? The key is to make your goals concise, achievable and measurable. I think it is easiest to work my way from the longest term to the shortest term.

5+ years – long term goals are based on a consideration of you values, and involve answering big questions like What is really important to me?’. These are not easy to pin down, so don’t be daunted if you can’t come up with them quickly.

2-5 years – perfect term for bigger career, financial and personal aspirations, like getting a promotion or saving for a house.

1-2 years – medium term goals are really good for transitions, like the ‘get fit’ example above, or becoming proficient in a desired skill.

1 month-1 year – this range is deliberately large and I think is useful for placing your milestones. Plan to run your first 10k? Definitely achievable within a year of training!

0-1 months – Finally the short term goals! These should be the items that are on your to-do list, are first and foremost in your mind, and should serve your longer term objectives.

It can take a great deal of time to set out what and when exactly you want to achieve what you want in life. But I maintain that by taking the time to set out your goals and review your progress (being careful to allow yourself some flexibility!), we are happier people. Plus, who doesn’t like the feeling of seeing exactly how far they’ve come over the month, the year or the decade!

Stay safe, and stay happy!
Ben

Ben Ross

Ben Ross

Director & Co-Founder at Humans of Code