Goal Setting

by Arielle Essex

Myths and misunderstandings

If you have come to this topic because you know that goal setting is important, but it just isn’t working for you, perhaps you have been side-tracked by one of the myths around goal setting.

It’s a matter of cause > effect

A goal could be viewed as the effect you wish to achieve. To get this desired effect, you must create the cause to produce it. The cause could be a single action, but it’s more likely to require a sequence of actions. If the goal is to write a report, the actions that will ‘cause’ the report would be things like gathering information, typing it into a template, proof reading, binding and so on.

But the important question to ask is this: ‘What causes the actions?’

Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.

Abraham Lincoln

Prior to the cause, you made the decision to create the effect. At that moment of decision, you thought something like ‘make it so’. Without that decision, the effect would never manifest, the report would never get written.

So if you want to manifest a goal, the crucial part is to decide to do so. The decision you make to do something is more than just a choice, it’s a commitment.

So a more accurate equation would be: Commitment > Action > Effect.

Lining up your ducks

When you see a mother duck waddling along purposefully, the ducklings are often lined up behind her. Stop for a moment and think how this happens. Does the mother duck stop at the side of the road and wait until her ducklings are obediently lined up before proceeding to cross the road?

No. The mother duck just starts crossing the road and only then do the ducklings scurry into place behind her.

Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase just to take the first step.

Dr Martin Luther King Jnr

Often, you will need to set out to achieve a goal without any clear idea of how it will be done. If you wait for your ducks to line up, you will never get started.

Self discipline

Many people believe self discipline is the answer to achieving their goals. Push yourself past your comfort zone! Turn up the heat! If you’re not uncomfortable, you’re not stretching yourself far enough – no pain, no gain.

Even though self discipline sometimes succeeds, this brute force approach has a fatal flaw: self discipline suggests that some force seeks to deny you the goal unless you work very hard. You have to discipline some part that isn’t perfect enough. This also implies inadequacy or weakness of character.

If you think along these lines, you end up with a long list of rules: ‘I should do this’ or ‘I should not do that’. Most people inevitably grow weary of the rigidity, so they fail to reach perfection or they rebel. This confirms the belief that they need more self discipline! Meanwhile, they lose their zest for life, and their sense of enjoyment, fun and creativity.

The smart way to move forward is to pump up the motivation to achieve the goal so high that it just becomes the natural thing to do. When you are really motivated to do something, it takes no self discipline at all to do it. It is simply easy and fun – you want to do it! Well-set goals do not require much self discipline because whenever you think of them, you start grinning from ear to ear and you just can’t wait to get on with it.

The best route to such motivation (and achieving a goal) is via your values. Make sure your goal is aligned with your values. See the page on The ultimate goal.

Any man who selects a goal in life which can be fully achieved has already defined his own limitations.

Cavett Robert

Achieving a goal = happiness

Ask most people what their ultimate goal is, and chances are they’ll answer that it’s happiness. All other goals become a means to get this elusive goal of happiness.

Just for a moment, think about some past times when you were happy, even if they were few and fleeting. Clearly, the goals you are seeking now were not in place during those happy times. Therefore, happiness does not depend on your current goals. The paradox is that you might have been perfectly happy until you decided you wanted a particular goal. Then, what used to make you happy simply didn’t work anymore. You started thinking that you’d only be happy when you achieved this new goal. This attitude does not produce the best type of motivation.

Key tip

Most people believe happiness comes as a result of things going on around them at the time, but in fact it is a choice.

Happiness is a state of mind, a feeling, an emotion that you experience in the present. You can choose to think thoughts that produce happiness or you can choose to think thoughts that produce other states, irrespective of events.

Happiness often comes as a by product during the pursuit of an exciting and worthwhile goal, especially if all is going well. Oddly enough, the process of pursuing a goal can sometimes bring more happiness than actually achieving it.

Do you know what most people wish for when it comes to improving their own life?

More stuff. Especially abundance. Because they think having more stuff will contribute to their overall happiness.

But do you know what most people wish for when it comes to the lives of the ones they most love and cherish?

Happiness, peace, creative work, fulfilling relationships.

Because they understand that once these things are in order, stuff, especially abundance, will automatically take care of itself.

Mike Dooley

Also, have you ever noticed that when you have achieved a goal, it is not long before you become dulled to it and want more, or something else? It seems that people are programmed to be always seeking.

So if you hope to increase your happiness by achieving your goals, you will have very little of it in your life. Instead, you may want to tune into what really gets your juices flowing: your values and what you really want. Read more in The ultimate goal.

I believe that the very purpose of our life is to seek happiness. That is clear. Whether one believes in religion or not, whether one believes in this religion or that religion, we all are seeking something better in life. So, I think, the very motion of our life is towards happiness.

Dalai Lama

Goal setting does not work

Some people set goals and nothing happens. So they start believing that goal setting doesn’t work. However, the simple truth is that many people don’t do the process properly. Perhaps they’ve never learned how, or they never take the time, or they hit one of the many obstacles. See When goal setting doesn’t work.

All dreams appear impossible until someone makes them happen.

Barry Neil Kaufman

Effective goal setting means knowing how to set a well-formed goal according to a step-by-step process. You then align that with your purpose, and maintain your focus as you take appropriate action until the goal is achieved. Flexibility, responsiveness, commitment and perseverance all help the process. If it is done well, goal setting always works. Read more in Setting goals.

New Year resolutions

These are often set because you feel you should. When that ‘should’ word is involved, beware. You are dancing to someone else’s drum. If the goal is right for you, the word you will spontaneously use is ‘want’. See what happens when you change the word ‘should’ to ‘want’ or ‘choose to’ or even ‘love to’. When you want to set a goal, why not do it now? Make the decision. Waiting for the New Year is just a way of procrastinating.

The task before us is to silence the negative and the ‘I can’t’ and to build the ‘I can’.

Jack Black

If it is a worthwhile goal, there is no way you will want to wait for the New Year to start.

If it is a worthwhile goal, you will want to start right now.

If you are procrastinating, you’re probably not ready to commit. Ask yourself what you want to choose instead. Read more in Choosing which goals to go for.

Head and heart conflict?

The biggest problem with goal setting is often the goal itself. ‘What do you want?’ is the hardest question to answer. Most people choose goals with their heads. They think they want something for all kinds of reasons. They think they should have it, they must have it or they need to have it. The head will listen to all the commercials and actually believe that these things will bring happiness.

But these kinds of goals often conflict with the heart. The heart has very different types of goal. The heart wants true happiness for everyone, peace, love, connection and forgiveness. It is not so interested in the material goals that make sense to the head.

Look to your values first, for these will give you a framework within which you will find out what you truly want with both your head and your heart. Read more in The ultimate goal.

I can teach anybody how to get what they want out of life. The problem is that I can’t find anybody who can tell me what they want.

Mark Twain

Size does matter

The most common mistake people make is size. Most people think too small. They’ve been disappointed so many times in the past, when their goals never happened, that now they’ll only set what they think might be small achievable goals. This limits their possibilities and diminishes their energy. But at least they won’t be so disappointed when nothing happens. Plus they get to verify the belief that aiming high is out of their reach and it would just be a ridiculous waste of time.

A mistake often made is to focus too much on smaller goals, without enough connection to a bigger goal. This results in lots of tedious effort being expended, but little motivation or reward. There’s lots of ‘shoulds’ instead of ‘want tos’. Trying to force things to happen is hard work. It’s possible to get obsessed with the detail of chasing lots of small goals, while hoping to produce results. But if these goals do not support a bigger one, what’s the point?

Goals are dreams with deadlines.

Diana Scharf Hunt

Can a goal be too big? Big goals that cover a large scope are often termed vision, direction, aim, or purpose. These encompass many smaller goals. So, in order to achieve them, you need to break them down into manageable chunks. Big goals sometimes seem vague, so it is also useful to connect them with your values. Then these big goals will energise, motivate and sustain you. Read more in Thinking big works best and The ultimate goal.

Never change your goal

In the more traditional style of goal setting – the ‘grit your teeth and get back in the saddle’ style of goal setting – it is considered heresy to change your goal. The common myth is ‘Change your approach by all means, but never change your goal’.

The quality of your life is in direct proportion to the amount of uncertainty you can comfortably deal with.

Tony Robbins

This denies the simple fact that people and circumstances change all the time. Therefore it’s appropriate to re-evaluate, re-assess and change tack slightly, if necessary. Remember, you set that goal in order to create some positive change, but the biggest most important benefits often happen along the journey towards achieving that goal.

As you change and grow during the pursuit of your goals, your values may shift and change as well. So it’s a good idea to re-examine your goal in light of these changing values. Read more in The ultimate goal.

Avoiding failure by not setting goals

There’s no such thing as failure, only learning and feedback.

From the set of NLP presuppositions

Some people avoid setting goals in order to avoid failing. It’s vital to realise that failure can be an important part of the learning process. When you move towards a goal and hit obstacles, that’s just information about what doesn’t work yet. Find a way around it, under it, over it, through it or behind it, and create a new path towards the goal. The best strategies and plans can fail, but you can always come up with a new approach, or a new goal that motivates you even more.

Some people advise that the fastest way to learn is by making mistakes. You’ll remember more vividly and make better choices after you’ve fallen down, been rejected, and done things wrong. Dare to make as many mistakes as you can. This will shift your fear and release your energy to succeed.