Stephen Covey notes that:
In the field of personal development, one of the few things that can be empirically validated is that individuals and organizations that set goals accomplish more. The reality is that people who know how to set and achieve goals generally accomplish what they set out to do.
But, don’t take it as a whole-sale endorsement on setting goals. Covey goes on to note the weaknesses of this approach:
There are countless people who use the Goal Approach to climb the ladder of success — only to discover it’s been leaning against the wrong wall.
They set goals and focus powerful effort to achieve them. But when they get what they wanted, they find it doesn’t bring the results they expected. Life seems empty, anticlimatctic. “Is that all there is?”
When goals are not based on principles and primary needs, the focused drive and single-mindedness that makes achievement possible can blind people to imbalance in their lives. They may have their six- or seven-figure income, but they’re living with the deep pain of multiple divorces and children who won’t even talk to them. They may have a glamorous public image, but an empty private life. They have the plaudits of the world, but no rich, satisfying relationships, no deep inner sense of integrity.
It is important to have goals. But there is also a danger in having goals. What’s the solution?
One part of the solution is to have the right goals. Another part of the solution is to not let your life be _entirely_ directed by goals.
You see a good example of this in the life of the apostle Paul. He had an overarching goal — a mission — that was right. Here’s one statement of it (there are others as well):
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith — that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:8-11).
Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14).
Paul’s overarching mission here is an example of a goal, an ultimate goal, that should cover our entire lives and for which we should sacrifice greatly for. And he commends the same goal to each of us: “Let those of us who are mature think this way” (v. 15).
Paul also had some lower-altitude goals that aligned with this. For example, he really desired to visit the church in Rome:
“. . . without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you.” (Romans 1:9-10)
But this was not an all-defining goal, because other things took precedence and prevented him from coming (see Romans 15:18-24–very interesting: what kept him from coming was another goal). Paul had other goals like this as well — things he really wanted to do, but which he sought to do in an integrated way with all the other callings that God had placed before him.
What we see in Paul is a good example of goals working in the right way. He had the right overall goal, or aim, in life. He pursued that goal at all costs — and, because it was the right goal that God would have for him (and us), that did not result in unloving, unbibiblically unbalanced (note: the term “unbiblical” is a critical nuance there) life.
Then, underneath that, he had many lower-altitude goals that aligned with it, and which he pursued with great diligence, but which he didn’t pursue at all costs and without the wider awareness of other things, apart from those goals, that God might want to do in his life.