Neal Freyman, managing editor at Morning Brew, asked goal setting guru Ashna Mankotia a few questions about her approach to personal growth and goal setting.
Text by Neal Freyman
Why do goals exist? The answer isn’t complicated. People, and companies and governments and nonprofits, set goals because they want to motivate themselves or their workforces to complete a particular task. It’s probably the most popularly accepted method of brain hacking.
Goals are everywhere around you. They’re in…
- Kickstarter campaigns
- Quarterly earnings reports
- Books (“let me just finish this chapter!”)
In fact, Morning Brew’s referral program is entirely based on hitting goals: readers need three referrals for Light Roast, five for stickers, and so on. The system uses benchmarks to encourage people to share the newsletter, and it’s been wildly effective.
How do you select your personal goals? And over what time frame?
I set yearly goals in January and check in (and sometimes edit) them every 3 months. I try to make sure my goals are categorically broad and help develop me in more than just one way. For example: health/fitness, financial, and personal development.
You tweeted, “I LOVE goal setting.” Why?
In my early 20s I realized that the life I wanted for myself was in fact achievable. I could have everything I ever wanted if I was willing to figure out how to get it. To me, goal setting feels like the first step in living the life of my dreams.
What makes a good goal?
I think all goals should be two parts: 1) value-based and 2) accompanied with objective metrics. For example, becoming financially responsible could be your value-based goal, but creating and sticking to a budget, paying off 30% of your debt, or contributing x% of your income to retirement are all specific objectives that you can measure. Don’t think of a goal as a pass/fail situation, but more like a progress bar.
How do you make sure you stay committed?
First, you are in a relationship with yourself. When you forgo your goals, you’re kind of cheating on yourself. And you deserve better than that. Secondly, you can’t rely on motivation. Motivation is fleeting, so do the thing even when you don’t want to. That’s how goals are achieved.
What specific tools do you use to help you achieve your goals?
I use Notion so I have one central place to look back on my goals each year and see how they have grown with me.
What’s the most ambitious goal you’ve ever set? Did you accomplish it?
In the beginning of 2019 I could barely run a mile but set a goal to run a 10k. This genuinely felt impossible but on June 9, 2019, I ran my first 10k in 1:03:07. Then, without really thinking about it, on June 21, I signed up for a half-marathon. I figured if I could do what felt impossible once, why not again? On October 20, I ran 21k in 2:23:58. Now, when I set my goals, I try to remember this and while I celebrate “10k” milestones, I set my sights on “half-marathon” goals.
Do you mind sharing your goals for 2021?
Two of my 2021 goals that feel very ambitious (but exciting):
1. I want to feel stronger.
- Metric 1: I want to be able to do 75 pushups at once (currently at about 15 lol)
- Metric 2: Create, follow, and iterate on a workout program with more strength training and less cardio
2. I want to own being a creator, and feel less self-conscious about the content I put on social media.
- Metric 1: Reach 10k followers on TikTok
- Metric 2: Reach 5k followers on Twitter
What’s the best way you can set goals?
Please, PLEASE do not use Google. I did and ended up in a listicle hellhole that burned a hole in my brain the size of 1 billion neurons. But, after some digging, I found some real science on the subject. A fellow by the name of Edwin Locke, together with a few colleagues, developed a goal setting theory that is generally accepted by the broader academic community.
Here’s the 101: You want better performance? Make your goals specific and difficult.
- Specific: If you want a healthier diet, you’re better off pledging to “eat one dessert per week” rather than promising you’ll “eat more veggies,” which is vague.
- Difficult: Try to set your goals in the 90th percentile of difficulty. By having tougher goals, you’ll simply work harder and be more focused than if your goal was easy to accomplish.
You can’t go wrong setting difficult, specific goals—unfortunately, there’s more to goal setting theory than just those two terms. Without getting too in the weeds, I’ll present several other useful concepts:
- Commitment: As we all know, setting a goal is one thing…following through is another, far more difficult thing. There are several variables that affect commitment, such as who assigns the goal and whether the person believes they can actually achieve it.
- Feedback: Feedback is an important tool on the goal-achieving journey. It helps you recognize what you’re doing wrong, so you can improve your performance accordingly. Let’s use a simple example: Hiring a tennis coach will help you achieve your goal of hitting a topspin two-handed backhand faster than if you don’t have access to that training.
Head to Morning Brew Daily for more of the world of goal setting.