What if goal setting is actually much less important in life than perhaps we think?
Just to be clear, I do believe that it is valuable for everyone to have an experience of setting goals and achieving them. Living from a place of victimhood and believing that life happens to us without our influence does not create a healthy and happy person.
So what I am about to say comes from the assumption that most people do know they have some influence over their environment and have a sense of empowerment. If so, I’m suggesting that it might be time to forget about goals!
The problem with traditional goal setting is that is presupposes that we have more control than we actually have. Let’s say that I decide to set a goal to earn £20,000 more a year. Perhaps I come up with a well thought out plan for how I will achieve that result. I will probably break it down into manageable milestones. I may even map out the tactics that I can deploy to make it happen.
The problem is that what we think is reality is not actually reality.
Instead we are living from our own thoughts and perceptions. We take the millions of bits of data present in any given moment and choose what to pay attention to and what to ignore. Sometimes that will seem to work for us and we think life is going to plan. Other times we perceive life as challenging, difficult or frustrating because it is not conforming to our expectations.
The information that we base our plans upon is unlikely to be accurate – our own thoughts and filters bias what we perceive. Life is changing moment to moment so what we put in our plan to increase our revenue is going to be out of date before the ink is dry! And the longer term the plan the more inaccurate it is going to be.
And we are likely to get attached to our goals. Life throws in a curve ball and your goal doesn’t have the capacity to accommodate it. Maybe you or a loved one gets sick and the £20,000 is now an unrealistic target. In this example, it is easy to see that a renegotiation of the goal is required but you might be surprised at the number of clients I see that are so attached to a goal that they cannot see that it is no longer relevant to who or where they are.
And what happens if I don’t achieve my goal? Either I have to redefine it or I will be left feeling disappointed. It is very difficult to feel satisfied with a £10,000 increase when the goal was twice that. Goals also set up what is known as the “I’ll be happy when” pattern (e.g. I’ll be happy when I am earning more money, I’ll be happy when I move jobs, I’ll be happy when I am in a relationship etc). Inadvertently, the goal becomes the very thing that stops us from feeling happy now. In other words, we postpone feeling happy until we have reached the achievement of our goal.
The work I do with my clients has very little requirement for goal-setting. Of course, I will always ask my clients what their outcome is for coaching but I always make sure that any goals are fluid and flexible and can respond to the twists and turns of life as it happens.
I am coaching a number of clients wishing to be in long-term relationships. Even with the best will in the world (and deploying every law of attraction technique available!), you can’t just make a fulfilling relationship happen. There are too many internal and external factors, many of which can’t be controlled. But you can create a wonderful inner relationship that brings a deep sense of personal fulfilment – the relationship between you and YOU is one of the only areas we do have full control. And of course, it makes sense that the happier and more content you are, the more likely it is that you will attract a partner. You just don’t want to set up an all or nothing goal.
So I always invite my clients to have dreams or intentions rather than goals. This allows them to live closer to the present moment rather than going out into the future and demanding that life conforms to their expectations and ideals. Life will never be exactly as we plan and wishing it to be different is the source of all of our suffering and unhappiness. Opportunities will still come our way. In fact, it will seem as though there are more than before because we notice them rather than being distracted by our own plans. Rather than having to predict the future, when we stay connected to what is happening right here and right now, we get to witness the magnificence of life unfolding before us. It really is the simplest way to live.