What is the difference between a Purpose and a Goal?

I’m sure we all know about goals and how important they are in life. If you’ve had any business training or done some self-improvement work you will understand how to set SMART goals or even SMARTA goals, and you will have learned how best to apply them in your workplace and even in your personal life. They will propel you to dizzy heights of success and enable you to reach levels of achievement you might never have thought possible. Goals will bring you closer to your dream home and your perfect career and will make you rich and more attractive. Won’t they?

What happens when you reach those goals? And what happens if you don’t achieve them? And, please be honest, what’s the point? Do you really understand the point? Well if you understand the point then you will easily and readily get why goals are not the be-all and end-all. Goals are just a small part of the story and without context they are meaningless. And this is where “Purpose” comes in.

Goals direct effort.

Purpose gives meaning to effort.

Whenever I set myself a target I have to understand why I am doing it. To lose two stone in weight is a target or goal and I might, with the best of intentions, form that as a SMART goal but if I don’t see beyond that bare goal and infuse it with emotion, Succes needs a purpose and not just a goalwrap it relationship and bind it with benefits that goal will be a temporary thing.

My weight-loss target was actually two and a half stone but my purpose behind it was almost a page of factors, from feeling better about myself to the many health benefits I hoped to attain.
Purpose implies process too and that is a continuous thing, extending far beyond the achievement of a simple goal.

Purpose is what gives meaning to your aims and ambitions. Once you might have had an aim to reach a certain level of income and the purpose behind that would probably include a certain lifestyle, growing a family and perhaps even saving for retirement. As you get older your purposes might change and in your later years your main purpose might become lest materialistic and more concerning how you feel.

Furthermore, in a business or other organisation surely by now every manager know that if staff members buy into or, better still, participate in forming policies and strategy they are more likely to perform better in achieving goal and targets. So to engage individuals in defining the Purpose behind the goals is essential as a part of that buy-in and participation. This often takes the form of a mission statement for an organisation but that’s really at top level and how much more effective would it be if a Purpose was defined at each stage of progress to which targets could be attached?

The purpose of a Goal

The purpose of a goal is to direct your effort to produce benefit(s) to you or others. 

Examples of a Goal would be: the football team you manage to end the season in the top four of the Premier League – the benefits including European football next season, increased season ticket applications, higher weekly attendance with, more fans worldwide, financial benefots from attracting (more) sponsorhip and so on. So those benefits help to make up your purpose.

The purpose of a Purpose

The purpose of a Purpose is to give meaning to your efforts and to the goals you are setting yourself (or that someone else has set for you).

When I was in sales training early in my career (I wasn’t a very good salesman but I remember lots of the training) I was told that you need to point out not only the “features” but the “benefits” of what you are selling, For example: “This car has go-faster stripes” is a feature but “you will look very cool in this car due to the go-faster stripes” is a benefit. Heated car seats is a feature but the fact that you will stay warm even on the coldest day is definitely a benefit.

Apply that thinking to goals and purpose. A goal (feature) might be to lose two stone in weight whilst a purpose (benefit) would be that you will be healthier.

The goal is a finite thing whilst the purpose is on-going. You will lose a stone at some point but (uf you maintain the improved weight) you will remain healthy.

Setting your Purpose

Write it down

I have always found that writing things down helps to crystalise my write-down-your-purposethoughts and sets important factors firmly in my mind, helping me to remember as I need to. I highly recommend you do so with anything important as by writing something down it brings it into being so that it becomes a real thing and not just something in the ethers or in the back of your mind. Writing it down will also help you to analyse it and can form the basis of any planning.

Start with a list of things that you wish to bring into being in your life plus those things you already have that you wish to protect. Be as specific as possible – visualise each item on your list.

Organise your thoughts

If you are used to Mind Mapping this is a really good time to use it. I have employed mind-mapping in everything from business and personal planning to teaching and problem-solving and I have found it to be a powerful tool in my bag. I know people like to do their own thing with mind-mapping but the most productive and powerful results that I have seen have always been when done in the way prescribed by Tony Buzan, the creator of Mind Mapping.

If you haven’t yet tried Mind Mapping How to Mind Map, by Tony Buzan is an inexpensive book which I can highly recommend

If Mind-Mapping is not for you it doesn’t matter as long as you get all your thoughts and aims down on paper. I find writing with a pen and on paper (rather than typing on a computer) keeps me more connected to what I am thinking and writing – it’s more personal, more sensual, somehow.

Write down ALL the possible benefits you want to or think you can derive from the activity you are considering. Use a highlighter to categoruse them – so you could show prioritisation by colour or you could use different colours for different categories. For example, you could use green for financial considerations, pink for health, yellow for relationship effects and so on.

Create a Statement of Purpose

Use your written notes, as above, to create a “Statement of Purpose”. It is this statement  that will continue to propell you forward even when you are flagging. This is your motivation.

This statement will be intensely personal and will be embued with emotion because that’s where the important stuff is – in your feelings.

The best Statement of Purpose will include a number of tangible benefits but will also be filled with how those benefits will make you (and possibly others) feel.

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