Goal setting is something I’ve always reluctantly done yet secretly hated.
Why? Because I do it like I’m ‘supposed to’ while secretly feeling like I know nothing, or at least very little, is ever going to materialise.
Every New Year, new quarter, birthday or any other significant time, I seem to get the urge to set some kind of goal. I see a Facebook post or YouTube video about goals and guilt myself into seeing the need to set them. As if this time I’m going to somehow follow through on everything.
Whether it be in business, relationships, general life stuff or even in health and fitness (I know, awesome for a former personal trainer, right?), I always seem to get some kind of motivational uplifting wind for a few days or weeks that then comes crashing back down to earth pretty soon.
Don’t get me wrong, obviously I have achieved some of the goals I’ve set myself. I’m not a complete spanner. If I hadn’t, then I would never have launched any kind of business, the podcast, the Facebook group or this website. Hell, I would still be crawling around on my hands and knees because I wouldn’t have achieved the goal of learning to walk!
It’s just, the usual way of setting goals, with all the boring SMART stuff, it doesn’t really interest or excite me. If it works for you then great! But I’m calling bullshit on the belief that the world will implode if we haven’t set any SMART goals.
In fact, I’m going to do more than call bullshit and suggest there is a much better way of attacking this whole goal setting concept. So in this post I just want to go through five things I’ve learned and like to remember when setting goals:
#1 There’s a Problem with ‘Realistic’
I suppose the largest issue I have with the whole SMART thing is that fourth letter – realistic.
Yes, we’ve all seen the Will Smith video where he talks about the whole ‘realistic’ thing. If not, I’m sure you’ve seen something along similar lines. And I’m not simply going to fill this space with ball-tickling stuff about reaching for the stars.
But, rather, to just be aware of what the R in SMART is conditioning us to think like. Just its presence sort of gets us to reconsider what we really want and implies that we need to re-think our initial desires. In short, it suggests that we compromise on our dreams.
After all, isn’t the whole point of a goal to stretch ourselves and to take us into experiencing a new way of being? Not to simply stay almost stagnant and bore ourselves to death with what is ‘realistic’.
Having the smaller, less exciting goals in place may well still be needed. For example, eating three healthy meals a day and doing this or that for your business.
But, at the same time, hold onto the ‘unrealistic’, big, fucking wow goal(s) you have. Don’t hold them back. And declare them confidently without fear of ridicule.
Maybe, deep down, you don’t truly believe these big ones are possible yet. But simply removing the idea that they’re impossible is a monumental start.
#2 Desire, Don’t Require
Something else I’ve noticed from personal experience about our mindset when it comes to goal setting is how we seem to require that they be achieved.
By this I mean that we attach our happiness, our self-worth and our entire identity into achieving a certain goal. We feel like we desperately need to achieve that goal or risk being deemed unfit for society and exiled to some far off corner of the world as life as we know it comes crashing down around us.
Of course, this isn’t true. And, when we think logically, we know this isn’t true.
Desiring that a goal be achieved is one thing. Wanting to grow and achieve and experience new and ‘better’ things in our lives is perfectly healthy and natural.
But requiring it? Needing it to happen and attaching all of our happiness on the outcome? I would suggest maybe that’s not the healthiest way of thinking.
It takes us away from appreciating what’s in our lives right now. We start looking around and seeing everything that’s shit, validating the need to achieve said goal(s) and banking our hopes on doing so making everything not so shit at some point in the future.
Then, even if that goal is achieved, we start thinking how much better life would be if we achieved the next one. So we start looking at this next goal and going round in a vicious circle of self-shittery.
Every goal is a search for a feeling. We don’t want a million £/$/€ in the bank, we want the feeling of security and freedom (or whatever else) we think that will bring. We don’t want to be a certain body weight, we want the feeling of confidence and self-love (or whatever else) we think this will bring.
So when looking to achieve a goal allow yourself the time and space to feel the feeling you wanted to feel… NOW! Not delaying it until achieving the ‘next goal’.
#3 Does the Process Excite You?
When I was a personal trainer, I obviously had goals for my business.
I wanted to have my own studio that was the hub for real, holistic health in my local area. It wasn’t going to pander to diets or the whole negative body image shizzle going on in the media. Just promote and teach real, all-over health for people in my local area.
I was going to have trainers and coaches working underneath me, a manager to manage the facility and I would be the owner who didn’t need to be there training people at all hours of the day like I had been doing as a personal trainer.
Even as I write this and bring this idea back into my head now, it excites me. I’m still passionate about holistic health and the thought of having a business like this does ‘get my juices going’, so to speak.
The problem that existed, however, back when I tried to do this (and would still exist if I were to try again now) is that the dream sounded awesome, but the process didn’t excite me. In fact, the process down right bored and frustrated the pants off me.
In order to build this studio business, I needed clients and customers (duh!). Yet writing exercise programmes, training people in the gym at all hours of the day and doing all the niggly things that a brick and mortar business requires just did not float my boat.
Add on top of this all the marketing and sales stuff and you’ve just described my business/career hell. And I wanted to somehow build my dream business on this foundation!
Maybe some of the business coaches out there will tell me how I could have switched things up, delegated, systemised, etc. But I just couldn’t extract very much joy from that business at all.
My point here is that the ‘end goal’, the dream or the vision for what you someday might create could be amazing. It could light your fire, float your boat, bake your pie ( :/ ) and butter your bread all in one go and at the same time.
But how does the process look? What’s the journey like? What would you have to do on a regular basis in order to get there?
Happiness is in the journey, not the destination. So setting goals that sound awesome, but require us to run through hell will usually end up in frustration and giving up on them at some point.
My philosophy now when it comes to any goal is to, first of all, ask myself… is the juice worth the squeeze?
#4 Measure Success Backwards
Again, becoming aware to this concept was huge for me with regards to goal setting.
It’s very easy to set goals and become discouraged pretty soon into any attempts at achieving them. Even when something positive would happen and a little goal was achieved, I would look at the bigger picture and frustrate myself because of how far I was from the ‘big goal’.
For example, say you’ve been moving for a few months towards a goal of setting up a business turning £100k a year. Or that you need to lose 100lbs in weight to get to your ‘ideal’.
It’s very easy to get into our own heads in situations like this and start feeling bad about how far we’ve got to go. Maybe you’re only making £20k a year or you see how much weight you’ve got to go and get discouraged. You look at all the other people much closer to their ideal weight or £100k and just feel like you’re not good enough.
For some of us, it’s enough to activate that douchebag in our head again and get us feeling like total losers and that there’s no point carrying on. The goal is too far away, everyone else is better and it will take too long to get there, so there’s no point. Just crack out the Dorito’s and let’s have a Breaking Bad marathon.
But this, in my opinion, comes because we’ve decided to measure our success forwards. We look at how close or far we are to the ‘end goal’ and judge our success by that. If we’re ‘too far’ away, then we deem ourselves failures.
Measuring success backwards, however, is very powerful when it comes to preventing us falling into the Doritos/Breaking Bad trap. This way, we look back on what we’ve achieved over the past.
Maybe you’re only at £20k in pursuit of your £100k, or you have another 100lbs to lose. But where were you a week ago? A month ago? A year ago? It’s possible that a year ago you were homeless and living out of your car. Or a year ago you had no desire to lose weight and was on your way to having to lose 200lbs instead!
Of course, having that goal in the future is important. I’m not saying just remove all future goal setting and continually look back on your past. Use that goal, that vision, as something that inspires you and keeps you focussed on the actions and behaviours to take right now.
But measure the success you have by how far you’ve come, not how far you have to go.
#5 Include Regular Self-Review
Man, oh man! Is this something that was hugely missing from my goal setting and ‘success path’ procedures.
Believe it or not, I’ve only very, very recently included this as part of my weekly habits. It seems so simple and obvious, but I never thought about it previously.
In the past, when it came to goal setting, I would set the goal, work out what I had to do, put a plan together and take action. Sound logical, right? And it is! It’s a pretty good way of achieving a goal.
I’d get a wind of motivation and keep going for a few weeks, sometimes a couple months, only to get frustrated or bored if something wasn’t working. I’d get major pissed off, have an adult-style tantrum and completely shift direction in the hope that this next thing would be the ‘magic bullet’ to make everything in my life amazing.
The critical thing that was missing here was a process of self-review. A regular meeting with myself where I look over what I’ve done, not done, what’s worked, what’s not worked, what to celebrate, what to stick with, what to drop and whether there’s room for anything else that could be useful moving forward.
The magical thing about this is the ‘brain’ we’re operating in. How I used to do it was to keep going until I built up enough frustration and self-doubt that it all exploded over the sides and I’d come to a complete halt. It’s all coming from a subconscious, emotional and reactionary perspective.
A regular self-review process, however, comes from a proactive, logical and conscious perspective. It’s sitting down and taking time to critically analyse our steps forward.
In short, it puts ME in control. The urge to chase those ‘shiny objects’ like some fucking moronic magpie severely decreases. And I no longer feel like I’m missing out if I don’t do all the courses, read all the books and do all the things everyone on the interwebs is telling me I must do.
I’m starting to do this self-review process weekly. So every Monday morning I basically just analyse the previous week and work out what should be included in this week’s action plan.
I told you it was simple and obvious!