If you’ve been setting goals (and failing to achieve them) for most of your life, I’ve got some good news for you. You can stop now. It’s not working. Goal setting is a complete waste of time. I’m not talking about planning and task lists. Those are smart tactics for getting things done. Saving for a holiday? Figure out how much you need to put aside each week, make a plan and stick to it. If there’s something you really want to do, then of course you should plan to succeed. No, I’m talking about the kind of goal setting you do on the 1st of January. The life changing, financial planning, paperwork dense, health improving, fitness building kind of goal. The tough ones that come up time and time again. Those goals are a waste of time.
I used to be a goal setter. In fact I’m a goal setter from way back. I’ve set goals to improve my diet, my fitness, my career and my bank balance. I’ve set goals to spend my time differently, my money more carefully and expend my energy more thoughtfully. Oh yes, I’ve set goals with the best of ‘em. Sometimes I’ve achieved my goals. I would challenge myself to do something tricky for a month like give up sugar. Then at the end of the month I’d feel like a winner and celebrate my achievement…and go back to eating sugar. Sometimes I didn’t achieve my goals. Those times I felt like a failure and would slink quietly into the shadows. But I kept on setting goals, because how else was I going to improve myself?
Then one day it hit me like the proverbial bolt of lightning. I have never once, not ever, had to set a goal for something I really wanted to do. I have never sat down with pen and paper and written “Have a glass of wine on Friday evenings”. Not once. I’ve never set a goal to connect with friends or read a good book. I’ve never had to work hard to eat more chocolate, spend time with my family or watch the next episode of the latest series. I just do those things. I do them because I want to.
The things I had to set goals for were those I didn’t want to do. That’s why I wasn’t already doing them. I didn’t want to give up sugar, wine and coffee. I didn’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on chinese herbs and acupuncture. I didn’t want to meditate, do more exercise, or go to those scary dance classes. But why oh why did I insist on setting goals for things I DIDN’T WANT TO DO? Was I a masochist, determined to make my own life miserable? Did I want nothing but the worst for myself? Of course not. The goals I set were designed to make my life better. I knew I was healthier when I ate less sugar. I knew I felt calmer when I meditated. I knew I had more energy and less pain when I exercised. I set those goals because I cared for myself and wanted to be happy and feel good. Didn’t I?? Or perhaps I was wasting my time on goals I didn’t really want to achieve.
Once it sunk in that I never have to set goals for things I truly want, I started to question my motivation and look a little deeper. Why was I setting such goals? Why was I trying to improve myself, and why was I continuing to resist? What would happen if I just stopped trying and simply let myself be. If I wanted to do something, I would do it. If it was that simple (and why shouldn’t it be?) then I was setting myself impossible tasks anyway. Of course I kept failing, and I was mighty tired of it.
I don’t set goals anymore. I’ve let myself off the hook. I figure as soon as I’m ready to make changes, I’ll make them effortlessly. When the right time arrives, meditation will come as easily to me as chocolate and a good book on the couch. The energy I used to pour into lists and goals, I now devote to listening. I write and reflect and try to understand what I really want. Then I allow myself to do those things. When I want some time off, I give myself time off. When I want to write, I write. When i want to drink wine, I drink wine! (Did I mention I often want to drink wine?)
My new mantra is this. If you want to do something, do it. If you don’t, there’s no point setting a goal. If there’s something you think you should want, but it continues to elude you, look deeper and find out why you’re not on board. Maybe you’re not ready yet. Maybe there’s something else that has to come first. Listen, and be guided by what you really want. It’s way easier, and the best part is, you never have to fail!