Introduction: What Is Goal-Oriented Thinking & Why Should You Care?
We make hundreds of decisions every single day. Thousands, even. A lot of those decisions are unconscious and arbitrary. What route to take to work, where to step on the footpath, what temperature to put the shower on.
Most of these decisions are easy. They’re autonomous. We know where work is, we know what route is the fastest, so we take it. It’s a simple decision because the goal is clear, and we have our priorities in order. You care about your time and your fuel, so you choose to take the best route. If you cared about the enjoyment of the drive, perhaps you’d take the scenic route, but being on time to your scheduled shift is more important.
This is the essence of how smart decisions are made. Decisions are easy when the world is black and white. If you know what food you’re craving or you’re on a scheduled diet, it’s the simplest thing in the world to decide what’s for dinner. But, as we all know, sometimes, when you have no particular cravings, choosing what to eat can feel really difficult. So can a lot of decisions, especially when the world is in particular shades of grey.
The reason I’m talking about this, on a website built to teach you how dating works, is that we all could be making better decisions. I don’t simply want to teach people how to do things, I want to equip people with the tools to make their own decisions, in smart and effective ways. This is why, from very early on in my career, I came up with the framework that I call Goal-Oriented Thinking.
By copying how we make our autonomous decisions, you can make the rest of your life much easier.
So let’s unpack how it works.
How Do I Make Decisions?
Often, when we’re making decisions, we like to think that we’re logical creatures. In a lot of cases, we’re not. Emotions are always affecting us, most of the time without us even knowing.
When we can, it’s sensible to act in our best Interests. Being intentional with how we think and act can minimise how much of a role emotions play in our decisions, usually concluding in the best possible outcomes.
Think about the last date you went on. How much thought did you put into the organisation, the way you dressed, the way you presented yourself?
All of these things play an important role in your results. Your presentation alone can make the difference between no spark and a happy long term relationship. So why, when we’re deciding on these things, do we not consider our outcome first?
This is the crux of this framework. We start by choosing our ideal outcome. Your ideal outcome is something unique to you and your values. For example, you might only be looking for short term hook-ups after a breakup. Everything you do in your dating life should be geared towards helping that to happen. You wouldn’t bring a screwdriver to work on your garden, nor would you bring a knife to a gun fight.
By having a clear goal in mind both before, during and after the decision point, we allow ourselves to more effectively act in our own best interests. By considering what we want and how to most efficiently get it, before we are required to act or make an important decision, we can reduce the amount of work needed to make choices and act in ways that benefit ourselves.
Evaluate your thinking further with the following heuristics:
Deciding Your Goals & Priorities
There’s a very famous psychological model known as Mazlow’s Hierarchy. It’s a pyramid upon which every human desire and goal fits, in order of most to least important for survival.
For example, things like hunger and thirst are vital to continuing our day to day experience. Passion and fulfilment, as important as they can be, only matter when our basic needs are taken care of.
This pyramid reflects the way we should think about our priorities. Certainly, there are things in your life that you consider the most valuable. If your finances are in order and your safety and security are assured, you likely have aspirations or values that you consider more important than anything else.
When planning for the future, start to ascend your personal pyramid. With knowledge of what is most important to you, you can decide targets and goals for yourself that are based upon your most significant desires.
In this way, you solve the question of what to focus on. If given the choice between pizza and a salad, we can weigh temporary pleasure against long term health or weight loss and make a decision based off what we already understand that we prioritise. Your goals are not my goals. We all care about different things. But figuring out what you care about ahead of time makes decision making that much easier.
If you’re unsure about what you prioritise or struggle to act accordingly, ask yourself why. Often times there’s an additional desire laying quietly in the back of your mind, one that confounds our best efforts to act how we might want.
Confusion or hesitance are symptoms of your mind caring about something you would prefer not to admit to yourself. It is easy to recognise genuine desire, and the simplest thing in the world to chart a course towards something you really want.
Operating With Our Best Intentions
Often, we speak about goals we have no intention of working towards. This can be our New Years resolutions of weight loss, or complaining about our crappy boss in a job we have no intention of changing.
This is not a condemnation, far from it. In fact, psychology tells us that speaking about our goals makes us more likely not to achieve them. This happens because when we verbalise our desires, our brain feels much of the satisfaction it would’ve attained from achieving the things we’re talking about.
So, when we use this framework to understand our goals and our desired outcomes, we need to make sure we’re acting towards them with our best intentions. Venting and talking with friends about fantasies and desires we might have for life is fine, but for the things we actually want to achieve, we require action.
When you do something, do it with focus, intent and purpose. If you’re going to apply goal-oriented thinking to a desire, do it with your best faith efforts. This framework helps you use your logic and intuition to determine what makes sense. Your execution shouldn’t get in the way of that.
Why Bother With This At All?
Many people will rightfully ask what the point of a framework like this is. It can seem like a lot of work if you’re not used to evaluating decisions like this.
For day to day mundane decisions, thinking about them with this depth can be overkill. That is a valid argument. But when was the last time that you applied a solid, reliable framework to a decision? A majority of people make their decisions based on subjective feelings or whatever impulsive logic makes sense at the time.
Most people don’t have a framework for their thinking at all.
When you have a framework to make decisions in your life with, you begin to trust yourself and the way you reach conclusions. That is one of the most underrated feelings in the world. It carries over into a bunch of different facets of life:
- Confidence: Being able to have faith in the conclusions you’ve reached, and a reliable framework to make decisions with builds your confidence, internally and externally. You can explain your decisions to others, and use certainty in your actions, knowing that your logic makes sense. Even if you’re wrong, constructive feedback simply adds to your framework, without damaging any part of it or making failure a personal issue.
- Leadership: When your decisions come from a place of certainty and a logical conclusion, you can more easily give direction to those around you. Leadership is made better when the people around you believe in your vision. Ironclad logic is very persuasive.
- Productivity: If you care about a goal more than anything else, this framework for your decisions is the most efficient way to get there.
Applying Goal-Oriented Thinking To Everything
Say I want to be a world class athlete.
Imagine I’m in perfect health, with no financial concerns and enough time to dedicate towards training and preparing.
My priority is to find the most efficient actions to support my goal of becoming a world-class athlete.
Goal-oriented thinking says that we should work backwards until we reach a point of uncertainty, and then find out how we can resolve that uncertainty.
What is likely to be the most important factors in reaching my goal? Diet, training, and preparation. So we work on that.
If I don’t know enough to decide on the most effective training and diet plan, my biggest priority should be research and discussion with knowledgeable figures like coaches, until I can confidently put together a plan to support my goal.
Once we have the plan in place, what is likely to be our biggest hurdle? Adherence.
Every time we have the option to procrastinate our training or a decision on what to eat, we work backwards from our goal. Does it make sense to have a rest day inside our training schedule? Does the meal we’re looking to consume benefit our energy levels or calorie count?
We understand that our goal is the framework by which we’re evaluating all our decisions, so things like adherence become a matter of executing planned steps, rather than a series of individual decisions. For a large goal like reaching athletic prowess or developing a satisfying dating life, this is incredibly valuable.
This is the power of Goal-Oriented Thinking.
Goal-oriented thinking is an example of a mental framework. We use these frameworks to make our decisions and to govern choices in our life. These frameworks are essential for making the right selections for ourselves, and for building and maintaining confidence in our ability to manage our own lives.
When you can confidently stand behind a decision you’ve made, with logic and evidence to back you up, you will skyrocket your progress towards the things you care about, and be a more confident person and a better leader for it.
What is Goal-Oriented Thinking?
Goal oriented thinking is a mental framework that takes the guesswork out of decision making and reduces it to pure logic. Simply put, it’s the principle of working backwards from your desired outcome and using the outcome to logically deduce the sensible next step. Having an outcome in mind can give you clarity towards your actions and enable you to weed out distractions.
How do I implement goal-oriented thinking?
All you have to do – find uncertainty in your life, understand what your ideal outcome and motivations are – and then work backwards from your goal until you find a concrete set of steps. If I want to lose weight – I need to drop my caloric intake and start a cardio regime. Each of those steps can be broken down in a similar way until you can see your path forward.
Why does goal-oriented thinking work?
We struggle to make decisions when there’s no clear optimal solution or best choice. We can also find it really hard to not be distracted from the things we want. Knowing your idealised best case scenario gives you purpose, clarity and motivation. You can’t start driving until you know where your destination is.