Many people experience confusion regarding the difference between setting goals and letting go of attachment to outcomes. A client and I were discussing being in the moment with her work, rather than stressing about the outcome. “Then how can you set goals for yourself? Everyone sets goals based on the outcome. Why else would you even set goals or try to accomplish anything?”
Setting goals is a very positive and powerful thing to do. Setting goals helps us take the loving action we need to take in our own behalf, to accomplish the things we desire to achieve.
Setting goals and working toward accomplishing those goals is very different than attaching your happiness, worth and wellbeing to achieving those goals. If you attach your happiness and worth to accomplishing your goals, then you will never feel happy until you have what you want. And, because most of us continue to create new goals once we accomplish our previous goals, this means never being happy or feeling worthy. As long as we attach our happiness and worth to accomplishing our goals, we can never be happy in the moment. There is always the proverbial carrot dangling in front of us, and we never reach it. No matter how much we have and accomplish, the carrot is always there. This is why there are so many successful people who are very unhappy and never feel that they are good enough.
Goals are wonderful, and achieving them is fun, but happiness is right now -being fully present with all that you have. Your sense of worth needs to be based on your intrinsic qualities – your goodness and ability to love, your compassion, caring, and understanding – rather than on achieving goals.
As soon as you attach your happiness, worth and wellbeing to something – to connection with someone, to money, things, approval, success, and so on -you then want control over getting what you want. And it is your controlling behavior that causes your distress. Not only does the attachment itself cause anxiety because you might ruminate on getting what you want, but all the things you do to attempt to control the outcome keeps you from being present to your experience of life in the moment.
Taking loving action in order to accomplish your goals is not the same as trying to control the outcome. Loving actions may include hard work, staying open to learning, being honest and acting with integrity, being on time, following through on commitments, caring about others, and so on. Controlling actions may include lying, using others, ruminating, getting angry or defensive, being closed to learning, and so on. Controlling behaviors not only make it harder to manifest what you want, but these behaviors often result in feeling alone and unworthy.
When you are willing to accept that you are not in charge of outcomes, you can be fully present in this moment, connected with the inner guidance that will help you to achieve your goals. It’s wonderful to want to be in a loving relationship, to be rich, to have a baby, to be accomplished in your chosen profession, to lose weight or be healthy, to buy a new house or new car, to plan for a vacation, and so on. It’s wonderful to do all you can do physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually to achieve your goals. But if your happiness and sense of worth is dependent on achieving these goals, and if you spend your time trying to control the outcome of things, you will not be a happy person and you will not feel worthy, even if you achieve all of your goals.
Do all you can do to achieve your goals, while being present, open, loving and caring about yourself and others. Do the work you need to do to achieve your goals, while being connected with yourself and with your inner Guidance. Do the necessary loving actions to accomplish all that your heart desires, while being unattached to outcomes.
Margaret Paul holds a PhD in psychology and is a relationship expert,
noted public speaker, workshop leader, educator, consultant, and artist. Join Dr. Margaret for her 30-Day at-home Course: “Love Yourself: An Inner Bonding Experience to Heal Anxiety, Depression, Shame, Addictions and Relationships.”