So this is the time of year when everyone reflects on what they don't like about themselves and then "resolves" to rectify it. That's why I've never liked New Years resolutions. If you have an issue to resolve, resolve it. Don't wait for an arbitrary date on a calendar to turn your life around.
Goal setting, on the other hand, has proven to be an integral part of the strategies of the most successful people. Whether you measure success in money, fame, happiness, freedom and an abundance of options, or any other metric, chances are the people who have excelled in that category made it their specific goal to do so.
In my twenties, when I was a truly driven Type-A prick (not that all truly driven Type-A personalities are pricks, but I certainly was), my goal setting for the coming year would begin during the 4-day Thanksgiving weekend. I would assess what I'd accomplished over the year, measure how close I'd come to my goals set out the previous year, make any necessary adjustments to bring me closer to achieving the goals I hadn't yet achieved, and set new goals for the coming year based on the outcomes I thought were important.
This worked very well for me, because it kept me on track. Of course, back then I measured success in dollars and cents, which makes a goal very easy (relative to more organic metrics) to achieve. I also discovered, after almost a decade of monetary goals, that money did not equal success. I won't preach about this, because I think it's something we all have to learn for ourselves, and I certainly wouldn't have listened if someone told me that when I was 25 (in fact, I'd bet my bottom dollar that plenty of people did tell me that, and I just didn't listen).
The motivation for achieving goals is something my fellow traders and I would call "high criteria". If you could discover a person's "high criteria", it became easy to predict what they would do in a given situation. Likewise, if you could discover your own high criteria, you could more effectively achieve your goals.
For example, if you told me your goal was to make a million dollars this year, I would know that you weren't aware of your own high criteria (at least conciously). Let's face it: a million dollars is just a stack of green paper piled up on a desk (or poker table, ala WSOP). In and of itself, it has no intrinsic value. It's just paper. What you really want is what that money can buy. But that's not your high criteria either. Real estate and cars and toys aren't what you really want either. You want what those things represent.
Maybe you want a hot car because you think it will get you chicks and get you noticed. So you don't really want the money. The money is just a means to get the car. But you don't really want the car either, because the car is just a means to get the chicks (and get noticed). Here's the kicker: you don't really want the chicks, either. The chicks and the recognition are just a means to get what you really want: prestige or the admiration of others. That is your high criteria.
In my case, having been raised by a man who grew up in an orphanage and a slew of miserable foster homes and having been born in an orphanage myself, my high criteria was (and still is) all about security. My father was the same way. He went about achieving security by working up to 3 manual labor jobs at a time. He retired from the military, he retired from the Post Office, and he saved like a madman his whole life. He tried to get me to follow the same path, but it wasn't for me. I think my desire for security was even more powerful than his, and it led me to take crazy risks throughout my adult life to achieve that security. Luckily, many of them worked out.
My point in all this is that your goal setting will be much more effective and get you closer to what you really want in life if you take the time to discover your high criteria - what really motivates you - before you set your goals. Why do you want the money? Why do you want the promotion? Why do you want the MBA/CFA/XYZ? When you answer those questions, you might be surprised to find that there are other paths available to achieving what you really want to achieve.
With that in mind, here are a few of the goals I have set for myself for 2010 (and the high criteria behind them):
- Lose 50 pounds by June 30, 2010 - I'm tipping the scales at 230 right now, which is not a healthy weight for a guy who's 5'9". By dropping to 180, I'll feel better, I'll have more energy, and I'll be more attractive to my wife. My reward for achieving this goal is running with the bulls in Pamplona in July.
- Finish the book I'm writing - I'm working on a non Wall Street-related book and I plan to finish it in the first half of 2010. I want it written because I think it's a great story. Though I will go through the process of having it published, I won't set publication as a goal because too much of that process is beyond my control.
- Help a dozen people start successful businesses of their own - That's 1 per month, and I think that's doable. My high criteria on this one is the satisfaction I receive when I can point to something and say, "I helped build that."
So now I'd like to hear what some of your goals are for 2010. My high criteria in that is how jazzed I get when people talk about what they want to accomplish. I guess it's the remaining Type-A in me.