Showcase of Target Toffee boxes, MacRobertson Chocolate
Showcase of MacRobertson Chocolate [1] Target Toffee boxes, c. 1910 – 40 via State Library Victoria

Before I get into my Project Worthwhile Life goals, I want to talk a little about goal setting.

I think that one of the essential components of a happy life is setting and achieving goals. Many others agree, that’s why the planet is awash with exhortations to set goals for 2017.

A goal is something you can achieve within a given timeframe. That’s why SMART goals are so deeply rooted in modern management speak that many people can’t imagine any other kind of goal. But there are other ways to set your 2017 goals.

SMART Goals

Just in case you don’t know, a SMART goal is excellent for objective or defined outcomes. Something like taking a year off work to take a sailboat around the world.

Specific: or well defined; not that you want to travel, but that you want to sail around the world.

Measurable: that you have an indicator of progress; you will have some smaller tasks to accomplish, from getting your passport and visas in order, to travel vaccinations, to arranging accommodation for your pets. You will be able to tick off each step off as your departure date comes closer.

Achievable: that you can do it; if you get seasick, you might be better on a monster ocean liner than a small sailing ship.

Realistic: is within the scope of your available knowledge, time and resources; that you can go for a significant period without a regular income.

Timely: that the amount of time required is not too much or too little; that you are not trying to sail the world in a fortnight.

Your sailing goal would end up something like “Sail around the world for twelve months departing January 11.” Or maybe “Prepare to sail around the world for twelve months on January 11.”

Stretch Goals

SMART goals sometimes come with add-ons.

Stretch goals are so ambitious they are seemingly impossible. Which can be de-motivating if you are not passionate about the outcome you are pursuing (like when you are allocated them at work). But if you are, they can inspire you to go to extraordinary lengths to achieve them.

If you are studying, you might set a grade goal of 99.55%, which will require extreme dedication to achieve. You must learn to study more efficiently and effectively. And you risk irritating and alienating your instructors and fellow students with your constant questions. Plus you will have to sacrifice your leisure time, volunteer to get more hands-on experience, and may lose friends.

But if your outcome doesn’t sufficiently motivate you, you will not achieve it.

HARD Goals

Some goals aren’t quite so easy to put into objective terms, for example giving up smoking. When you’re on the chain-smoking side of the equation, it’s difficult to know whether quitting is realistic, let alone achievable. In these cases, you might prefer to rely on a strong emotional attachment to the outcome and set a HARD goal.

Heartfelt: you have a strong emotional attachment to the outcome; you want to see your kids grow up.

Animated: you can imagine and connect to that outcome; running around in the park with your kids and not gasping for breath.

Required: is necessary for success; lung disease is not on your top 10 list of ways to die.

Difficult: you need to learn new things and grow as a person to achieve your outcome; like the ermine stoat that sheds its white winter coat in exchange for its sandy brown summer one.

It’s much easier to get excited about “Live a smoke-free life playing in the park with the kids” than “Quit smoking by January 11” isn’t it?

Better Goals

But some goals aren’t SMART or HARD either are they?

Where does running faster, or learning a new skill fit in? These aren’t about reaching an end point, let alone an emotionally charged one. You’re  just getting better at what you do, or growing your soul a little larger. The only way to measure them is with a subjective pat on the back for feeling that you have improved.

Even better, you don’t have to get depressed about “failing” to achieve your goal, you can take a break, and consider what strategies might be more useful for you. Then you can start again.

How do you feel about “This year I’m going to shave a minute off my walk to the train station” or “Learn to speak a little French”?

How Many Goals Do You Need?

You can have as many goals as you like, but the more goals you have, the harder it is to achieve them. Seemingly, Warren Buffet advises an elimination strategy. First, write down the top 25 things you want to do, then decide which are your top five. Then ignore the other 20 until you have completed the top five. Every moment you spend tinkering with the bottom 20 is a moment you have taken your eyes off what you want.

You have to manage the cost of achieving your goals without sacrificing your mental, physical or spiritual needs. You need to consider whether the cost of achieving your goals are worth the outcome you are seeking. Is it worth getting that promotion if you travel so often and work such long hours that it costs your marriage? It’s a delicate balance.


[1] MacRobertson’s Chocolate, or more correctly, MacRobertson Steam Confectionery Works was founded by Ballarat born Macpherson Robertson in 1880. His first factory was in his mother’s Fitzroy bathroom, but by the 1920s, he had so many white factories in Fitzroy the block was known as “White City.” Some of his most popular products include Freddo Frogs, Cherry Ripes and Old Gold Chocolate. The business was bought by Cadbury in 1967. You can read more here.


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