What if I don't want to set goals
Do we overemphasize the power of setting goals?
Hello fellow Protagonists,
A recent conversation that has really left me thinking was one around goal setting.
Whilst sitting outside in this humid British summer, one person made a general comment, expressing their personal annoyance of being previously advised to set small (30 day), medium (60 day) and long term (90 day) goals whenever discussing a new business venture. They felt that setting goals in this way feels more obligatory, almost ritualistic rather than helpful.
The self-help guru gods all gasped at the same time, clouds started forming and lightning filled the sky.
The winds whispered "Blasphemy".
Many self-help books, blogs and other formats will at least focus some ,if not huge amounts of attention on goal setting. We are told that we can only achieve massive action with massive goals and that if we are unable to meet the goals that we have set, then our goals are either not big enough or not SMART enough.
The reason this comment resonated with me so much is that the more I thought about it, I also have a strong disliking for setting certain traditional types of goals, especially those that are based further away in the future.
The acronym SMART goals still sends shivers down my spine. It has been cut and pasted so frequently into staff training packages that I think those delivering the training throw up in their mouths a little bit after saying it.
After the discussion mentioned earlier, here are a few questions and points to ponder around our goals and if they are set in the right way for us:
Do our goals keep us productive or do they simply give the illusion of progress without necessarily having to act? We might get a nice rush of excitement when we do set ourselves some big goals but does that mean we are going to do what is required to reach them?
Are the outcomes of our goals based on external events? For example, I once set myself the goal to read 50 books within a year but then realised that this is technically out of my control. What if I found a book that I badly wanted to read but it was 2000 pages long? Would I prevent myself from reading it as this could ruin my goal?
How many goals collapse after weeks or even days. Did you know that 80% of new year's resolutions have failed by the second week of February. If this is the case then why do we insist on continuing to create these goals ready to do the same again next year? Is this not a sign that these types of goals are not working for us?
Where have we created our goals from? Are they following the goals of another person we wish to copy? If we think achievement of this goal made them happy then would it also make us happy? Are we secretly just trying to compare ourselves to someone else?
What if we do achieve the goal we set and feel no different as an outcome? What if we set the wrong goal?
If reading these points has questioned the value of goals what does this mean for us?
Well, perhaps the focus is not on the achievement of goals after all and to focus more internally than externally. We will always have tasks to do and however you word them they can be seen as a type of goal.
A key emphasis from the book Atomic habits by James Clear is to focus on us as individuals and base our daily action around this instead of on specific external goals. To decide what we want our identity to be.
So for example, instead of setting the goal to lose 1 stone, we decide that we want to have the identity of somebody who is healthy, athletic and active. These provide flexibility to then base our responses on the decisions we face at the time.
The problem with the goal of losing 1 stone is that it is not really giving any instruction on how this is done and does not lend itself well to the flexibility required to manage different scenarios in our day.
Instead we would start asking ourselves "What would a healthy person like me do in this situation?", would we snack on an apple or crisps, would we skip our gym session today and would we walk to the local shop?
So, back to my book reading goal. Instead of setting myself the goal to read 50 books in a year, I decide that part of my identity is a reader, or someone who loves to read, and then when I have some spare time I can ask myself what a reader would do if given 30 mins to themselves?
The more flexible the approach we can follow we also increase the chances of taking opportunities that we did not plan for. We can focus so much on a goal to achieve something in a particular way, that another, better and more simple route passes before us without us even realising.
Also, have you ever noticed how the best evenings tend to be the unplanned ones?
So there is a chance that the self-help guru gods will smite me for saying this but maybe goals are not that important after all. What if it is more about the identity we want to express each day and to ensure we keep our attention high to spot those unplanned opportunities. Food for thought anyway.
Other posts you may be interested in: