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Why you shouldn’t set goals

We're all supposed to set goals, but does it lead to more achievements or a happier life? I don't hink so.

couple hugging

Are goals important?

We are all supposed to set goals, preferably goals that are a stretch, that speak to maximum effort and ambition.  We are told that this is the way to achieve a happy fulfilling life; this is the way to achieve our potential, to be the person we were meant to be.

But is this true?

This way of organising our lives suggests we are totally in charge, that the outcomes are totally down to our efforts and intentions. If we achieve our goals easily and quickly this either indicates how hard we worked, how determined and committed we were, or it means we set goals that were too easy, that we didn’t stretch ourselves enough.

If we don’t achieve our goals, this obviously means that we are at fault. We lacked determination; we lacked application, and we gave up too easily. If we failed, it was totally down to us.

But is this true?

Why don’t we achieve our goals?

There are so many reasons that we do not achieve our goals – some of them, of course, are down to us and our laziness or lack of determination or even our ambiguity about the goal itself. We also know that things get in the way of our achieving our goals – the car breaks down; our boss promotes a friend’s daughter rather than us; our parents or spouse continually belittle and thwart us.  Sometimes, even with ingenuity and determination, it is not possible to achieve a goal.

Sometimes we set ourselves too much to do – the obvious example is the people who decide they are going to go on a diet and lose 20 lbs in the next 3 weeks and go to the gym every other day, when they are obsessed by food and hate the gym. Or people who find just getting out of bed is enough of a challenge some days decide to aim high, set goals that will stretch them – they’re going to get a high-paid job, make three new best friends and live a life everyone will envy.

Whatever the reason for not achieving the goal, we can end up feeling that we are hopeless and helpless. It can make it difficult to set new goals or revise existing goals.

Is there an alternative to goal setting?

An effective alternative is to set our behaviours rather than our goals, to determine what our capabilities are and commit to those. I know, from a lot of experience, if I concentrate on my behaviour rather than fretting about outcomes, I am more likely to achieve what I want to achieve.  Here’s some of the behaviour-focussed commitments I have made to give you an idea:

  • To do things in blocks, rather than dipping from one thing to another.
  • To answer urgent emails, then to work on my business ahead of anything else.
  • To commit to nurturing myself throughout the day, rather than getting so involved in what I’m doing that I forget.

I’m not committing to a goal or outcome; I am committing to a process. I know that if I follow through on the process, I’m likely to achieve more and, crucially, with much less stress.

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