The Weird and Almost Scary Power of Goal Setting

As I’m writing and reading blogs about FIRE, one of the recurring themes I notice revolves around goal setting. Now, I’m not going to bore you with a step by step guide on how to set goals “properly”, as there are is a massive library of information on the subject available at the click of a mouse (the best of which, IMHO, is Brian Tracey’s book, “Goals”. )

Over the years, I’ve used goal setting, affirmations, visualisation and NLP techniques to see if I can change my behaviour. It works, up to a point, for me. Apart from anything else though, I found it interesting and fun to learn about and experiment with the concepts and the instructions on what you need to do achieve the best results. Over time, I probably began to use the methods as part of the way I approached life without really thinking about it. For example, it has only very recently occurred to me that I had a very defined goal to retire early from my work. I had a spreadsheet that detailed how my finances might grow and a projected date that I could walk out of the office and not look back. Not only did I have the goal in my mind, I’d written it down, I had a time bedded in (November 2018), I had alternative scenarios mapped to help me get there and I worked on the spreadsheet a lot, maybe even weekly. In other words, a pretty good recipe to facilitate the achievement of the goal.

I didn’t actually realise this at the time. That spreadsheet was just something I was working on. It only began to occur to me that I’d been goal setting when I achieved my target early, thanks to my work making me redundant and coming up with financial compensation that bridged the gap between January 2015 and November 2018 almost perfectly (weirdly enough) . I then started joking with people that one of my issues with Early Retirement was that I was so focused on achieving the retirement, I’d forgotten to set any goals for life after it happened, something that I feel has more than a kernel of truth within it.

I was musing on this the other morning after my early swim at the gym (an output of previous goal setting, incidentally). I felt I needed to write out some broad goals and objectives for the coming year as I was feeling that I’ve had enough of pleasantly drifting through the days.  To get me started, I jotted down 10 potential targets to work on. I didn’t give the application the full nine yards as per Brian Tracey’s book, but it was a start.

About half an hour later,  I arrived back home and had a few things I needed to do. Near the top of the list was a despised task: “ironing”. In our household, my wife and I do our own ironing, because we both hate it. When I was working, I paid to get it done for me. Those were the days.

Oh well, I thought, at least I can listen to some Podcasts while I’m doing it, maybe Dave Ramsey, as I’m currently reading a book of his. I opened my Ipad to browse my Podcast list while the iron heated up. Hmm, Tim Ferriss, long time, no listen, due to his utter hagiography of Silicon Valley billionaires. Pathetic. Mind you, that one with Scott Adams, cartoonist of of Dilbert fame, that should be different, that might be a bit of light entertainment. I’ll give him another chance.

I put it on and within fifteen minutes there was a somewhat intense (but lighthearted) discussion about the power of affirmations, goals and systems. I had to laugh –  what are the frigging chances of that happening immediately after I write my own goals and state to myself that I’m going to get seriously back into that stuff? Really? It’s borderline weird, as if The Universe has said, “Okay Jim, we’re with you on this. If you’re up for it, so are we, so have this nudge free of charge”.

When I’ve done goal setting in the past, I’ve found that this kind of strange “circumstantial” thing happens quite a lot. To give two examples that immediately spring to mind: I once wrote down a goal to pick up with an old ex-colleague I hadn’t spoken to for years. I wrote down, “I called Alan this week, before Thursday, and had a good chat with him”, or something along those lines (I forget the exact technique and wording you use for goal setting. Clearly I need to brush up!) I visualised doing it, looked up his mobile to be sure I had it and put it on my goal list.

The next morning, completely out of the blue, and after maybe a five year gap, Alan called me! I was gobsmacked. And I’ve just checked this in my diary. It happened literally the next day. What’s the chances?

A similar thing happened with golf. I hadn’t played in years but badly wanted to get back into the game, so I wrote a precise goal about returning to it. The next day – the very next day – I received my very first invite to attend a client’s annual golf day later that year. I’d never been invited before, don’t know how they got my name or knew I might be interested.

I could go on, but actually I suggest you listen to the Tim Ferriss/Scott Adam podcast for similar stories. I found listening to the discussion almost creepy. I have no idea how this might be explained, but Scott and Tim ponder the possible scientific (?) and psychological/behavioural factors that may be contributing to the process. It’s interesting stuff. But it’s not half as interesting as when you set a goal and something like this happens to you. And I bet it has, so feel free to tell us in the comments below!

15 thoughts on “The Weird and Almost Scary Power of Goal Setting

  1. I can well believe your ‘coincidences’, because they happen to me all the time. I am wondering whether you also notice little weird things like an odd leaf, or a sound that will catch your ear? Sometimes you might flick on the radio and a song is playing and its lyrics really speak to your situation in that moment…

    I’m really happy to got back to your goal-setting. I mentioned in a previous comment that I’d love to see you set three new goals by this week, so I’m really glad you went the whole 9 yards with TEN instead! Way to go Jim!

    Thanks for the book link, would you be able to add the links to those podcasts too?



  2. Hey Jim
    Have you thought about writing a “winning the lottery” goal as you never know what will happen the next day, haha! 🙂

    Good luck with the goals – look forward to you sharing them!


  3. Love this so much.

    I have 1, 5, and 10-year goals. But I’ve found the most effective thing is to break them down into 3 to 6 month intervals.

    It’s amazing how it sets your unconscious mind to move toward the things you want. Everything is a step toward your goal, whether you know it or not.

    Thanks for this reminder. I love the Universe. Maybe reading this post today was part of a goal I set and forgot about 😉 #meta


    • Thanks Harlan. I always liked the Tony Robbins quote, something along the lines of “the only pretty certain thing about five years from now is that you will arrive there. So what will you be like when you do?” Having those long term goals is a fun thing to do. I’m looking forward to setting mine, aged 99.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Absolutely right Jim. Interestingly enough, of all the folks I know who retired early, I don’t know a single one who did it without setting a goal. The crazy thing about writing them down though is that even when I forget about them and find the written goals years later, it’s amazing how many have already happened “all by themselves”. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Cheers Ron, I think nearly all people set on ER are highly goal orientated. You just need to read the blogs! Perhaps it’s to do with the arithmetic, which needs to be written down and calculated out in order to answer the first question, “How much do I need to do it”?


  5. It is spooky and powerful stuff.

    I never really set myself any ‘goals’ before this year, the only thing was to do something ‘big’ each year. That led to getting my motorbike licence, surfing the west coast of Europe for 6 weeks, cycling lands end to John O’Groats, changing career, doing a few track days on my motorbike and surely some other cool stuff I forget.

    In truth, the financial savings goals I set this year I never expected to meet, aim high and all that. But I am on track to meet them, or there-abouts. Fantastic. Is it just the power of writing stuff down?

    I can’t wait until my big thing is to quit my job, walking out with this ( blaring away on some speakers I set up and perhaps drop kicking the office douche-bag on the way out.



    • I also thought synchronicity as I read this blog! I also believe that as soon as you write it down, your subconscious mind starts looking for the links, connections, and opportunities and then pops them into your consciousness.


  6. I listened to the podcast last night. Most of it, anyway. I am beginning affirmations today. I’d done them in the past, but not the same way. And even then, I thought it was new-age hooey. I enjoyed hearing the science-based theories on why it might work. And so now I agree with Scott Adams, what have I got to lose?


  7. Reblogged this on Live Da Life and commented:
    This is a great post on goalsetting. My experiences have been actually very similar. The interesting thing is that I don’t know a single person who retired early who didn’t set it as a goal relatively early in life.


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