Are you aware of your targets and their design?

Are you aware that you are moving towards multiple targets right now? Whether you think about the various phenomena involved or not is up to you. However, addressing the topic of targets is critical for a life well-lived.

I am confident that your path ahead will be a lot smoother and in a better direction leading to greater joy if you implement some of the ideas I will speak about today. Nothing that I will present is difficult to understand. However, what matters for success is that you close the implementation gap between your talk and your walk.

You have only one life – the target is to have a life full of joy. Which areas of your life should you have targets for? How should you set those targets? In what way do your varied targets affect each other? How aware are you that you are a target yourself?

Be it a desire to have better sleep, to have better health and productive waking hours, or progress with joy through a hobby garden like music or language learning, understanding how you can engage with targets will be worthwhile.

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Why Talk about Design?
English Goal, English Target
Society and Targets
E X I S T E N C E,   A W A R E N E S S,  M I N D F U L N E S S
Awareness of Existence
1234Simple Scenario
1234Daily Decision Scenario
1234Highly Frequent Scenario
Why is an Awareness of Targets Important?
Targets from Birth to Death and Afterlife
Mindfulness and Targets
A Philosophy beyond Targets
Why should you have Targets?
1234Avoiding Failure
1234The Unholy Trinity
Which Areas of Life should you have Targets for?
1234Hierarchically Speaking
1234Cascades and Waterfalls
Certification and The Divide
W H O  &  W H O M
Who Should Set your Target?
Whom are You Setting Targets For?
When Setting Targets for Someone Else
Basic Architecture
S.M.A.R.T. Targets
Outcome vs Process
Can we always Specify in Detail or Quantify a Target?
Targets for a New Pursuit
Setting the Level
Genetic Potential Fitness
1234Planning Horizons
How often should you re-visit your Targets?
Reminders to Revisit your Target
How Ambitious or Difficult should your Target be?
Chilling Out with Target Obsession
Portfolio Effects
Understand the Domain
Benchmark vs Target
Tolerance for a Target
Outperformance Considerations
1234Encouraging a State of Flow
Competition and Your Competitors
Amazing Life – Easy Kickstart Targets
Parting Message

Why Talk about Design? [top]

Today’s conversation is not so much about achieving a target. How you go about reaching a target is important. But more important are your thoughts around the definition or design of that target. Put another way – it makes more sense to plan and fix which direction to row your boat in before you start rowing furiously.

English Goal, English Target [top]

Often, we get confused between the terms target and goal. There are numerous articles floating around the internet trying to explain to us what the differences between a goal and a target are. Let me make it simple for us. If you were to look up the equivalent for either word on Google Translate in most Indian languages, you would get the same answer for both words. [Something along the lines of lakshya] Our conclusion is? Focus on the big picture and stop worrying about rounding errors. If you want to be a bit fastidious, just think of a target as being ‘more crisply defined’ than a ‘general’ goal.

Society and Targets [top]

Any society aims to function better through the setting of targets to be followed. Whether at a national level set by the government, or sections of society setting targets in line with their visions, the individuals that form part of that society have to be aware of the targets if society as a whole is to function in line with its set of visions. With shareholders’ continuous demands for investment returns, corporations have a “target culture” from the top of their hierarchy to the bottom. Without such a culture, firms will not be firm!

My regular conversations with you are about you having a life of joy and fulfillment and so it is important that we are aware that our personal targets sit within a broader context of societal targets which present us with opportunities, guidance for our own targets, and both constraints and resources.

Awareness of Existence [top]

Simple Scenario: You step out of the front door in an unfamiliar town. You have a target. It may be purposely vague like “explore the neighbourhood” or it might be specific to a requirement e.g., “go to the grocery store nearby shown by Google Maps”. In a state of alertness with focused thought, you now have a target that you are conscious of. You know it would be foolish, perhaps dangerous, to not have a conscious target in this unfamiliar setting. With a target in mind, with guidance (thank you, Google Maps) you will achieve your target. [top]

Daily Decision Scenario: When you step out of your home, you have a destination e.g., office, school, supermarket, gym. You don’t start off with a declaration, “I’m going to the gym” and find yourself at your office instead. The target having been identified you move towards it correctly and reach it. [top]

Highly Frequent Scenario: You are going about your day partly in ‘automatic mode’ and partly in ‘focused mode’. The automatic mode, quite logically and rationally, is for the thousands of routine actions you have in a day. The focused mode is for the two or three specific tasks various stakeholders (e.g., your spouse, parent, or board of directors) have allocated to you. Are the automatic mode tasks moving you towards targets that are beneficial to you? Do those targets even make sense? How does this automatic mode affect the focused mode? Are the targets set by stakeholders that you are highly focused on today even the correct targets? [top]

Why is an Awareness of Targets Important? [top]

When crossing a road with traffic, you do not look up vertically to focus on the heavens. In this case, the joke goes, “If you don’t look where you are going, you will go where you are looking.”

If you are not, at appropriate intervals, aware of the target you are moving towards, you will waste your time and other valuable resources.

For the targets that you are pursuing in automatic mode, there exists a risk that you lose track of the fact that the targets need to be restated as they have become stale with the passage of time and the emergence of new information.

Being aware of the existence of targets also makes you conscious of the fact that you, as an individual, are a target for others. Not predators in the wild but corporations out to extract value from you in exchange for something or nothing. If you complain that Big Tech has made a target of you, you also have the resources to target not being their target if that is what you want.

Targets from Birth to Death and Afterlife [top]

As a newborn, your unconscious target was a breast to suckle on for milk in order to survive. The decision-making was programmed into you by nature – to detect a specific fragrance produced by your mother. The target (an instinctive desire) to survive and grow then transformed into a target to thrive beyond just survival. Society played a significant impact on the targets you started following. Whether to walk, communicate in multiple languages, give to charity, climb trees or become sharper with mental mathematics – you were nudged towards targets to help you thrive for the greater good.

If the setting of and progress towards multiple targets is not taught properly early in life, what happens as one grows older?

Going for a Vipassana retreat, to Church for a confession, or for Hajj, there are targets – even if not easily quantifiable.

Mindfulness and Targets [top]

Being present and focused in-the-moment is a wonderful thing. A wonderful target that experienced meditators hit continuously through the day and we, mere mortals, hope to hit for a few seconds of each day.

Having targets and being aware of them will make you tremendously mindful of your thoughts and actions throughout the day, pretty much every day. In what way could this be a wonderful feedforward loop? The more you focus on targets, the more mindful you become, and the more mindful you are, the better you engage with and benefit from your targets.

A Philosophy beyond Targets [top]

In the modern world full of targets, especially in urban and corporate settings, we can feel good about our economic progress, our learning and intellectual development, and our achievements in sports or the arts. Even in a world without social media, it would be good to have a philosophy of life beyond chasing targets. Be wise and take that step back regularly to maintain a healthy balance.

Why should you have Targets? [top]

Avoiding Failure – Just like failing to prepare is preparing to fail, not stipulating the destination will lead you to go in the wrong direction or in an inappropriate direction. This leads to failure to reach the destination, or to reach it late and with resources poorly invested. [top]

The Unholy Trinity – Every time you are out there, and without a target, you increase the likelihood that you will be a victim of the Unholy Trinity. A lifelong war against your Unholy Trinity can only be won if you win most battles against it along the way. When setting targets, let that arithmetic be your philosophy of war, in this wonderful war we call life.

In this life, the only one you have, seek to conquer your mind and your body. [top]

Which Areas of Life should you have Targets for? [top]

I hope you have realized by now that the answer to this question is “in all areas”. Nothing stops you from replicating “no target” with “an extremely easily achievable target”. Never say “no” to a free option. You can always choose to not exercise the option. And, even if you don’t want to have a target and if it has been set by someone else, you can always choose to ignore it and act accordingly. Be wise when making such a decision. It is not fun to be unemployed and homeless.

Hierarchically Speaking – I think of targets for desired outcomes for:
* external wealth
1234– for each category of external wealth (e.g., property, equities…)
12345678– for each type of activity (e.g., long-term investing, short-term trading)
* internal wealth
1234– physical health
1234– mental health
1234– emotional health
1234– spiritual health
The possible outcome for any of the above are not singular points but a range of possibilities. The positive outcomes can be thought of as being the return on our effort invested. The risk for any of the above can be thought of as being the chance of a negative outcome. So, we also have targets for risks taken in our pursuit of positive outcomes.

For each form of external wealth, have targets for the processes being followed. For example, “file tax returns before the deadline”.

For each form of internal wealth, have targets for the protocols being followed. For example, “do cardio 3x per week” or “at least 5 mins of mathematics every day”. [top]

Cascades and Waterfalls – For each pursuit, breaking down a target into sub-targets is a great idea. In concert with the time dimension, you will create a 2-D granular structure that will support your effort and increase the likelihood of achieving success, whatever you define success to be. See Portfolio Effects. [top]

Certification and The Divide [top]

When prioritizing in practice, the vast majority of us, the vast majority of the time, are targeting external certification. Doctors who treat rather than cure. Teachers who teach rather than empower. Managers who manage rather than lead. You may be required by others to cross a certain target to get external certification to get the job you need to put bread on the table. Let that be the bare minimum – focus on personal (internal) targets that go way beyond external validation so as to become a master of your craft.

A practical expression of skills above certification expresses appreciation of the Interna-External Divide. Do your patients get off medication safely? Can your students teach what you taught them? Does that team member who says “Yes, Sir” work diligently from home without your constant supervision?

Who Should Set your Target? [top]

You should accept for yourself the target that you are going to work towards because otherwise, it is a pointless target. Whether you or someone else has set it will depend on the domain. If it is someone else’s external wealth and you are managing it – they will have set a target for you along with constraints that they will place on the actions you can take. If it is your internal wealth, you might set your targets after discussions with your guide or mentor.

If you are religious, you have pretty much no choice – the targets are all usually set by some man you’ve never met probably somewhere very far off in distance or time.

Whom are You Setting Targets For? [top]

As an infant, you did not realize that you had implicitly set targets for your caregivers. The needs of every child are different and even without a sense of entitlement, there are targets set by each child on others around them. As adults, being consumers of products and services, we desire certain wants and needs to be met by providers of those products and services. Sometimes it is done by others on our behalf (e.g., educational standards at a university) and often we specify the target (e.g., for a meal you request).

When Setting Targets for Someone Else [top]

As a coach, parent, team leader, or boss, you are likely to need to set targets for others quite regularly. If you are cognizant of the many concepts, principles, and tools outlined here, you will do a fine job in fulfilling your role. I cannot stress enough the importance of attempting to step into the other person’s shoes, to see the world from their perspective, before you set their target.

Basic Architecture [top]

The template for your target will be such that it specifies the activity (or sub-topic), a metric to be measured, a level to be achieved, a tolerance range around that level that might be acceptable, and a time horizon for the specification.

The topic could be broad (e.g., learning another language) or highly specific (e.g., reading Arabic fluently). The tolerance range could be zero or large, and symmetrical or asymmetrical (e.g., lose no less than 400g of fat)

S.M.A.R.T. Targets [top]

I notice that even experienced professionals often express that they have not quite internalized the idea of SMART Goals. An acronym that has been around for more than 40 years is worth paying attention to. The 5 letters can do 95% of the job for your actual target specification and successful implementation.

Specific – as specific and unambiguous as you can be
Measurable – even what is qualitative might be intelligently quantifiable
Achievable – most of the time, otherwise, what is the point?
Relevant – don’t waste time memorizing the first 100 digits of pi
Time-bound – because time is one thing you will never get back

Outcome vs Process [top]

Time and time again, you will have noticed me say “be aware of the desired outcome, but focus mainly on the process”. Even the best amongst us can often forget about this important distinction. When it comes to targets, this distinction is critical. You cannot achieve an outcome target without the necessary process targets being met.

I am unfit, I want to run a marathon” isn’t a bad statement. It’s just that “I am unfit, I will do moderate intensity cardio for 30 minutes 3 times every week for 3 months” is a better proclamation for your desired outcome of being physically fit.

Can we always Specify in Detail or Quantify a Target? [top]

Not all targets can be specified in detail or with clarity. When crispness isn’t possible, it’s better to specify the range within which you want your target to be rather than not have a target at all.

Not all targets can be specified easily in a quantitative manner. Difficult doesn’t mean impossible, so try to quantify your qualitative targets. When you are sure that numbers don’t make sense in a specific case, try categories. Sometimes it can be a simple “Y or N” or a “Very, Some, Little, None” type of classification.

Targets for a New Pursuit [top]

Each time you start something new, there is some excitement as you start to explore the garden. At that time your target is just that – “initial exploration for X days”. As you become more familiar with how you move around in that space, you can begin to set more detailed targets for your journey ahead.

Setting the Level [top]

A major part of defining the target is setting the actual levels you would like to hit at each time horizon. The level and its tolerance range will be set bearing in mind your GPF for that pursuit, the current level you are at, the constraints that will exist, and the resources that can be allocated to it.

Genetic Potential Fitness [top]

When I coined the acronym GPF a few years ago here, it referred to your natural genetic potential in any pursuit – be it music, the ability to metabolize alcohol, your predisposition to cardiovascular disease, etc. For example, in theory, even with unlimited time to train, I will never do a 1-arm pull-up in the future. I can attempt to get close to 80% of it and that 80% can be my theoretical target to start off with. In practice, however, with limited time allocated to strength training, the distance of my actual target from that theoretical 80% target increases. Hence, my actual target needs to be set by taking my GPF into account in conjunction with the resources, especially the time, I allocate to the pursuit.

Time [top]

Planning Horizons – For the same area of interest you may have targets at multiple horizons. Whether for your external wealth or your internal wealth, it makes sense to have an ultimate target with intermediate targets that are in sync with that ultimate target. [Time Optimized Living] [top]

Time-Varying – For the same area of interest the target is likely to change over time. In fact, it is best to always assume that the target is time-varying – and in most cases, the changes to the targets may be nil i.e., the 5-year target will remain mostly unchanged from one day to the next over time. [top]

Age-Varying – Our needs and desires change as we age as do our internal and external resources and therefore, correspondingly, so will our targets. [top]

How often should you re-visit your Targets? [top]

When you should next consider evaluating and updating a target will depend on the nature of the pursuit and each time horizon. If the pursuit is to acquire another language, say Portuguese, today you can have targets that are long (5 years), medium (1 year), short (1 month), shorter (1 week), and ultra-short (this evening). You will update your ultra-short duration target daily, but your long duration target very infrequently.

Reminders to Revisit your Target [top]

You will revisit many of your targets automatically e.g., how many steps you walk today if you have sprained your ankle yesterday. For others, you may need a manual entry as a reminder in your diary e.g., 1 month from now, take a Vitamin D-3 supplement.

How Ambitious or Difficult should your Target be? [top]

Remembering that difficult is not the same as impossible, in general, it makes sense to have ambitious targets. They should be reasonable i.e., reasonably realistic. Assuming that you are within your genetic limits, the probability of hitting a target is determined by the time horizon for the target and the resources including the rest-and-recovery time you allocate to it. Don’t be afraid of setting a realistically ambitious target.

Chilling Out with Target Obsession [top]

If it appears to you that having targets for many things is going to stress you out, you always have the option to “go light” for a while when things get too much. The alternative of not thinking about targets at all will never lead to a life of happiness – I can almost guarantee you that.

You can also have “chilling out for 30 mins” as a target for each day 😉 In fact, I insist that you have such a daily target if you want to train yourself to be a better intellectual both next month and when you are 110 years old.

Portfolio Effects [top]

You will often hear me say, “Everything is connected” and, correspondingly, it is important to appreciate the constraints that any pursuit and its targets place on all the others. So, “I want to train for an ultra-triathlon” won’t sit well with “I want to play soccer with my daughter twice a week and go to a yoga class before I cook dinner for my wife three times a week after returning from the office via my piano lesson”. [I feel out of breath just saying that!]

On the other hand, for the same reason, targets can be connected, and that is how we also create recipes for bigger ROTIs.

Constraints [top]

Along with any target comes constraints. Some constraints are natural or by design. Others you might consciously and purposely place based on cultural or personal preferences. You may also be endowed with financial constraints and limited time. Awareness of the constraints is critical when defining your targets.

The wonderful people I mentor around the world understand early on in our journey together that our joint project is effectively a dynamic optimization problem with multiple objectives, at multiple horizons, and also time-varying, along with a bunch of constraints from different sources.

Understand the Domain [top]

If you don’t understand the domain, you won’t even know what to target. As a beginner that’s fine. As a professional being paid a fee it is not OK to not understand the domain within which you are advising others.

It happened again last week. Someone called up from my mother’s physician’s clinic in London to say “her cholesterol numbers are high, so she needs to decide if she wants to be on statins”. I asked them to e-mail me the blood report and for the second time in as many years, I find that the general physician has no clue about how to read a lipid profile report. Instead of focusing on the detailed breakdown of the numbers, they used ‘total cholesterol’ to incorrectly prescribe statins. The fact of the matter is that my 80-year-old mother’s lipid profile is enviable even for an 18-year-old athlete! It made me question the knowledge, intelligence, and integrity of the medic.

Benchmark vs Target [top]

A benchmark is a standard against which you assess your performance. At times the benchmark may be a bare minimum (e.g., achieve 1% returns above the benchmark, with the S&P-500 equity index as the benchmark) or it may be something much higher than what you can achieve currently but to which you might aspire.

So, the benchmark is not the same as your target, but you may set your target level to be the same as that of the benchmark.

Tolerance for a Target [top]

You may have a target that you may want to not exceed or fall short of e.g., the amount of saltiness in a dish you are cooking.

The tolerance might be asymmetrical e.g., get 70% marks in the exam or higher not lower

At times the tolerance is based on the risks you take or the constraints you place. For example, “outperform the stock market by 0.5% but with your portfolio beta being within [0.98, 1.02]”.

Outperformance Considerations [top]

Depending on the pursuit and your journey through it, your attitude towards outperformance will vary. A surefire way to fail at a long-term pursuit is by giving up altogether because you set overambitious targets that are not revised down soon enough. On the other hand, always outperforming a target because it is easy to do so will also create boredom that may lead to your project stalling.

Encouraging a State of Flow – By setting a target level that is only slightly more difficult than your current ability you will enter states of flow. This will increase the likelihood you progress even if you miss the target “by an inch” quite often. [top]

Competition and Your Competitors [top]

Although competition can be a great external motivator, it is the internal motivation that is the more wholesome and sustainable motivator. When disparaging (y)our podium finish and later discussing competition and happiness I nudged you in the direction of being aware of your competition but focusing more on your own plate to enjoy your journey in a long-term sustainable manner.

Amazing Life – Easy Kickstart Targets [top]

Here are some broad areas for which all of us, in most states of health, and stages of life above the age of 5, can design a set of targets:

* Sleep
* Private Study
* Daily Overnight Fast
* Connect with Nature
* Cardiovascular Exercise
* (Muscular) Strength Training
* (Minimizing) Non-Vegan Consumption
* Data Collection, Record Keeping, and Journaling

Parting Message [top]

You cannot escape targets. Sometimes you are the target but hopefully, when it is under your control you will set targets with wisdom. Therein will exist a long life of daily joy and fulfillment.

If everything you do is consistent with your core beliefs and desires, then a long and healthy life of joy is pretty much guaranteed to be yours. If you want to be guided in detail, you know how to reach me, and if you found this useful, please do share it with others.



Dr Purnendu Nath spends his waking hours focusing on helping individuals and organizations reach their goals, to make the world a better place. He speaks, writes and advises on topics such as finance, investment management, discipline, education, self-improvement, exercise, nutrition, health and fitness, leadership and parenting.


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