When a man does not know what harbour he is making for, no wind is the right wind.
Seneca (Roman Stoic philosopher and statesman)
Setting aims (or goals) refers to the ability to conceptualise in specific terms not only what you want, but also how to get there. Being able to translate desires into aims is the way of fulfilling them. We will consider here the purpose of aims, how to formulate them, and some other related issues, including flexibility.
The purpose of aims
The main purpose of aims is to give us a sense of direction. Without them it is easy to become indifferent and let events dictate our course. Setting your goal is also the first step towards realisation. A goal creates an inner tension as there is a difference between where you are and where you want to be. A tendency to resolve that tension enables the goal to become a driving force, to pull you in a particular direction. Not only do aims increase motivation and persistence, but they also have a positive effect on attention, information processing, remembering, and performance. This is because a clear aim enables you to be selective and focus your energy. Furthermore, research indicates that ‘having valued goals and experiencing progress in goal pursuit are vital to our subjective well-being’.(1) The aim, though, is different from the reward. Reaching an aim provides satisfaction because the action has been accomplished, which may, but does not need to, bring an advantage or reward. In other words, crossing a finishing line is one thing; getting a medal for doing so is another.
Staying on track: when you feel that you are losing your sense of direction, self-guided imagination can help to focus your mind on your aim again: for example, you can imagine that you are heading in a boat towards the light-house, or aiming and shooting at a target. This does not need to take long, just a few moments can be enough.