Last year, I achieved a huge goal of mine; to run my first successful yoga retreat. I had been working up to this retreat for well over a year when it finally happened; I had the dream, then the vision, the encouragement from friends and family (and my own determined ego-driven subconscious!) as well as the utter fear and self-doubt before it all came together and actually happened. And then it was done. And to be honest, after the brief initial feelings of elation & achievement, what I was left with was, quite frankly, dread. Where do I go from here?
See, that’s the thing I’ve come to realise with goals. It doesn’t matter how small, or how big, your goals are; once you’ve achieved them what do you have? Can you sit back and live the rest of your life freely and goal-less? Likely the answer is no. Once one goal is achieved…it’s on to the next, and the next, in a never-ending cycle of one-upmanship with yourself; the desire to do more, be more, achieve more which is perpetuated by modern society.
Achieving Goals Doesn’t Make You Happy
Most people tend to set themselves specific goals; “this year I want to launch my product” or “in the next 3 months I will bring in 3 new clients”, and because of that, if they are too big, we can set ourselves up for failure. When we become too fixated on a very specific outcome or goal, without flexibility or compromise, we are making it harder for ourselves to achieve, and therefore contributing to our dissatisfaction.
What’s more, when we place the source of our happiness in a particular goal (i.e. I’ll be happy when I get promoted, or when I can afford to by a house) we are setting ourselves up for ‘unhappiness’ when we fail to reach that goal in the given time frame, or worse, ever.
Work on Your Vision First
My practice of mindfulness helped me enormously to come to terms with this realisation. The fear and exhaustion I felt was totally of my own making; I had become too GOAL-focussed, and had lost an appreciation for my VISION.
Our vision is a more conceptual view of the type of life we want for ourselves. Similar to our ‘purpose’, our vision is who we want to be, or the type of life we want to lead, but without specifics. My vision for my life is to make the world a better place, to be a loving and giving person and to leave everyone I meet feeling happier than when I met them. I can expand that idea to incorporate the type of people I want to surround myself with, or what aspects of life are most important to me (whether it be money, health, family, travel etc) but the specifics of how I go about achieving this vision do not matter. Because of this, my vision can manifest itself in many, many hundreds of different ways. I can look at what I am doing in my life right now and know that it is in some way contributing to my ultimate vision.
So, should we all just give up on goals? Well, no. Setting and writing out goals can be an incredibly powerful tool for living a more purposeful life. Goals give us direction, when used wisely. By all means set your goals, but remove any idea that you will be ‘happier’ or ‘more worthy’ once you have achieved them.
Your Vision Is The Field, The Goals Are The Pathway
Instead, think of your goals as stepping stones along the pathway towards your broader vision for your life. Imagine the vision as a vast open field, with many tracks and paths winding towards it, within it and away from it. There may be a gate, or two, or some hedges or ditches to navigate on your way to the field. Each goal is a step along the pathway towards the field. The pathway might wind it’s away around, or at times, away from, the field, but eventually it will get there. The hedges and ditches are life’s obstacles – at times your goals might lead you straight into a ditch, other times they will lead you right past one. So long as you are flexible about how you get there, and always keep the field in sight, you’ll make it.