Why I Stopped Setting Goals Last Year

This may seem like an odd post for someone who has been a consistent goal setter for over a decade now, but walk with me for a moment.  The purpose of today’s post is twofold:

  1. To challenge your thinking about goal setting
  2. To help you cut yourself some slack (and still get where you want to go!)

First off let me be clear – as a starting point, I believe that goals and a clear direction are vital to living a fulfilling life.  I will always do that.  Without them you’re a ship without a rudder. Moving a lot, but accomplishing little.  As humans we’re designed to push the needle, develop ourselves, learn and grow.  We all know that great feeling when we’ve put time and effort into a worthy goal and achieved it.  Nothing better (well, maybe not ‘nothing’…).  I’ve proven to myself that a proper goal setting process works, and anyone who’s pursued and accomplished a goal knows what I mean.  So as a first step towards tapping into your potential, goals are critical.  But that’s a different topic for a different day.

So here’s the story:  at the beginning of every year I usually dedicate a few days to setting big goals for the upcoming year.  It energizes me and gets my mind outside of my comfort zone.  I work through a process that starts out high level and ends up with clearly defined goals that I track consistently over time.

Last year, however, that didn’t happen.

The goal setting planner that I usually order wasn’t in stock, and so I wasn’t able to order it.  And like anyone who is driven to achieve, I got stressed out about it.  At the same time, I learned a valuable lesson from a leadership course I was taking.  You’ve got to slow down to go fast.

The professor’s rationale was that while planning is critical to hitting a goal, we really have no idea what the future holds.  I have no idea where I’ll be in five years truthfully.  I have a vision of course, but not a crystal ball.  His point was more meaningful – all you have is right now.  This moment.  You can’t go backward, and you can’t see tomorrow.  You only have today.  Like most of us I’d heard similar advice in the past, and back then just ignored it as fluffy bullshit.  But it really hit me hard when I heard it this time around.  I spend so much time focusing on the future that I am not enjoying today.  Do you have those moments?

And so my 2016 experiment of “no goal setting” began!  Instead of setting and tracking my goals on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis, I did the opposite.  Nothing!  I had my vision in my mind’s eye, but that’s it.

Here’s where it gets interesting…it worked.  Granted, this is a n=1 so by no means groundbreaking scientific research, however it was a light bulb moment for me and likely someone else out there can benefit.  Here are my three key takeaways:

  1. Slowing down works – Sometime it really is important to slow down to go fast.  I achieved my #1 goal mid-year.  Ask anyone who races cars for a living – while they drive around the track at high speeds, they aren’t full throttle/white knuckling it all the time.  Otherwise they’d burn out themselves and their vehicle.  For us mortals, it’s ok to dial it back and rebalance.
  2. It creates less stress – I am harder on myself than I thought, which is likely true for a lot of us.  I had a professional coach last year who helped me uncover my “gremlin,” the negative chatter that creates frustration in my life.  I’ve learned to let go of that negative self talk and just let it be.  For example, my normal routine used to be getting up at 5am to read, plan, maybe exercise and get the day started on a good note.  Get ahead.  Anytime I’d sleep in I’d have a hate-on for myself all day long.  Letting this go was huge for me.  Now if I sleep in I don’t get down on myself.  What a difference!
  3. The “now” is all we have – the mother of clichés exists because it’s true.  Stop and smell the roses.  Life is too short to not appreciate the little things that make us happy.  It impacts you and everyone around you in a positive way.

Action: challenge your current level of thinking about your goals.  If you’re a consistent goal setter, don’t grip the stick so tightly this year.  Ease up and see what happens.  If you’re not setting goals right now, don’t be hard on yourself.  Give yourself permission to take a breath – you’ll figure it out (and I’ll walk you through a simple and highly effective process next week).

Relax,

Ian

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