Horizon Goals: The Surprising Magic of Endless Progress
5 min read

Horizon Goals: The Surprising Magic of Endless Progress

A woman standing on top of a cliff looking out onto a vast and magical horizon.

If you've spent any time trying to improve yourself, you've surely heard that you should set achievable and realistic goals. You know you can use the SMART technique of setting specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound goals or any other technique to do that.

What this technique, and others like it, have in common is to define achievable goals.

The reason that they focus on this so much is that having an unachievable goal is widely seen as unmotivating. If you don't achieve your goal you've failed and that failure demotivaes and frustrates you. As you know from pursuing your goals and failing along the way, that's definitely true.

But, are acheivable goals really the answer? Aren't you also demotivated and frustrated when you set normal or SMART goals and fail at achieving them? How about when you achieve those goals? Do you not feel empty and directionless a few days or weeks later?

So, why don't we explore a new idea of goal-setting?

Let's call them "Horizon Goals."

What are Horizon Goals?

Horizon Goals are goals that are impossible to reach.

They're so ambitious, vast in scope, or big in size that they're impossible to realize by any reasonable standard.

Contrary to the common belief that unachievable goals are demotivating Horizon Goals may provide endless motivation. After all, what really satisfies and motivates us is making tangible progress toward our goals and Horizon Goals enables you to do just that forever.

So, if you aspire to a Horizon Goal, you can experience the benefits of having a clear goal with endless potential for progress. This provides you with the opportunity to experience consistent motivation, satisfaction, and contentment without a demotivating crash after achieving your goal.

If you haven't found an approach to goal setting that works for you, a Horizon Goal might be the counterintuitive approach that works for you.

If you want to try your lick at Horizon Goals, here are a few things to keep in mind:

1. Make Your Horizon Goal Specific

Most people set fuzzy goals.

"Get healthier," "be more productive" or "reach your potential" all lack specificity. A lack of specificity makes it almost impossible to create a promising process that improves your odds of reaching your goal. Thus, reaching your goal becomes highly unlikely.

The same will be true of your Horizon Goal if you don't specify a specific and measurable outcome as your goal.

For example, you might set yourself the goal of collecting 1 million potentially life-changing ideas. The number of 1 million is unreachable. Even if you collect a new idea every day from the age of 20 to 80, you will only collect 21,900 ideas. Nowhere near 1 million. But every idea you collect gets you closer to your goal which provides you with all the psychological benefits that are associated with moving toward a valued goal: decreased anxiety, increased motivation, more happiness, more life satisfaction, and so on.

So, make your Horizon Goal very specific: Set a clear target, a specific timeframe, and other measurable markers that allow you to track your progress.

2. Lower the bar for Success

When progress takes too long, you lose motivation and become frustrated.
Thus, it's important to pick a Horizon Goal that you can make progress toward every day. This is especially true for bad days when you're swamped with work, unmotivated, or low on time, energy, or resources. If you set your bar for progress low enough you can make progress even on those days.

Your low bar for collection ideas can be to collect just "one idea." You can do that every day: save a tweet, highlight one of my blog posts, or watch a YouTube video and takes note afterward. You'll find an idea and can collect it. In that way, making progress toward your goal becomes very easy. That will keep you motivated and prevent you from becoming frustrated.

Making progress due to a low bar for success can also help you establish a positive feedback loop of progress. You make progress on your Horizon Goal by completing your small task and feel successful. Because you feel successful, you feel motivated to make even more progress, which is easy because your bar for progress is low. Thus, you make more progress which makes you feel successful ... and on and on and on.

In this way, your Horizon Goal makes it easy to start a virtuous cycle of progress that you can keep up endlessly.

3. Choose a Process You Love

It's difficult to stay motivated and to show up every day when you hate what you have to do and the process you have to go through.

Thus, it's incredibly important to pick a Horizon Goal that is associated with a process you love doing. At the start, it might be helpful to simply think of activities you already love doing and make them part of your process. By spending more time on these you'll figure out if you could see yourself doing these activities every day for a long time.

If you collect ideas, a process you probably love is taking notes. Thus, you can link your Horizon Goal of collecting 1 million ideas to reading 1 page a day. If you already love to read, you can see yourself doing this for years to come while coincidentally making progress toward your Horizon Goal.

Aside, if you find yourself hating the process even though you thought you'd like it, you've achieved a small win. You've found out that what you don't like, can set a new Horizon Goal or try a different process to reach your Horizon goal. If you experiment with processes you enjoy doing, you're destined to find one that you love and that will contribute to your Horizon Goal. This is the ideal match you should be looking for.

4. Limit Yourself to One Horizon Goal

A Horizon Goal can create a lot of pressure and just doing one thing on most days for decades is an extremely rare achievement - almost regardless of what that thing is. Thus, I suspect, that having two or more Horizon Goals might be unsustainable, leading to lost motivation, frustration, and all the other negative side effects of not making progress on goals.

By all means, try having more than one Horizon Goal if you want. I just don't imagine it will go well - especially as more responsibilities cut away at your time, energy, and focus.

5. Hold Your Horizon Goal Loosely

Not only should we hold our beliefs loosely, but also our Horizon Goal.

The worst thing we can do is just stick to one thing even though we know or feel it's not working. So don't dig into the trenches if you feel like you can't win the war. Hold your Horizon Goal loosely and let go when you can honestly say to yourself "This isn't working."

You might change the goal a bit, try different steps, or modify it in other ways first. But don't be afraid to quit that goal and try something different. Maybe you need some time away from that goal to get an insight into how you can modify it to work better, too.


So, in closing, when you set a Horizon Goal remember to:

  • make it very specific
  • make it easy to make progress on
  • make it likely to love the process
  • only have one
  • hold it loosely

If you do, you might find that setting a Horizon Goal might be the counterintuitive approach to goal setting that finally works for you.[1]

  1. Inspired by Walking as a Productivity System ↩︎

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