In our result-driven society, we are told to set goals in order to be effective. While goals have tremendous potential to improve your productivity, but focusing solely on results and outcomes also have potential for creating anxiety, overwhelmingness and failure. In this first chapter of a 4-part series, I identify 7 reasons why conventional goal-setting can prevent you from creating unshakable inner peace.
In a hurry? Read the digest version.
Goals can hurt you.
What are you talking about, you may say. Life is about setting goals and achieving them!
Well, I’m not here to dispute that goal-setting has values. It can contribute to tremendous effectiveness.
But if one of your major desires is to live a satisfying life, then I would say the common approach to setting and pursuing goals also has tremendous potential to actually create road blocks for you, instead of removing them.
See if any of the 7 reasons below applies to you. And if it does, then, it’s time to stop and evaluate. Because that means your goals are either keeping you from living a satisfying life right now, or making you base your inner peace on a precarious ground.
7 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Set Goals
1. Achievement: I don’t do anything without goals!
In the other words, you need to set up a reason for your every action, and you revel in the fact that all your actions add up to something. Then how do you feel when it turns out what you’re doing fails to achieve your goals? Or what happens if you get sick and can’t go on achieving?
2. Significance: I set goals so that my life has a meaning!
That’s admirable, but there’s one hitch — you don’t know when you’re going to die. How will you feel if you are to retire before achieving that goal? Is your life meaningless then?
3. Future: I’ll be happy when I achieve my goals!
In the other words, you are not happy right where you are, right now. So you need a goal, a vision of a rosier future, to sustain you and keep you going. Well — I have a piece of bad news, though I’m sure you’ve heard it already. With that attitude, even if you do achieve your goals — your happiness won’t stay.
4. Expectation: I’m supposed to have goals!
Who is telling you this? Your boss, your parents, your spouse? Whoever it is, apparently they only accept you for what you do, not who you are. Besides, why do you need to meet their approval?
5. Mandate: My success depends on my achieving my goals!
So you define success as an outcome, not a state of being. You are not a success unless you’re producing visible results. You compensate for this by creating smaller milestones so that you have something to point to and say, look, I’m productive. And you better break them down pretty small, as milestones are moments in time, not a sustainable state. The moment you get there, it’s gone. You gotta move on to the next one. Days without milestones feel meaningless, progress-free.
6. Proof: I can’t prove myself without measurable accomplishments!
Who are you trying to prove yourself to, and what you trying to prove? Your effectiveness? So, are you saying that you’re nothing if you take away your achievements? What about kids and young people who don’t have anything to show for their life yet?
7. Self-Worth: I am not a good person unless I accomplish my goals!
I feel for you. Your goals must be awfully burdensome. It’s a lot to prove, your worth.
Why Your Goals Are Hurting You
When you base your self-worth on accomplishments, you become more result-oriented than process-oriented. In the other words, you justify your existence based on the good results you produce as a proof of your value. This creates a tremendous pressure on you to always produce results — and measurable, recognizable results. Businesses often drive you to function this way, as they are all about results — profits.
With this approach, the accomplishing of your goals become the sole focal point. If you set goals but don’t achieve them, you’re a failure. Your efforts are wasted. Out of goals come out steps, procedures, measurements of progress. It’s all about getting there, as fast and efficiently as possible. When you achieve one goal, guess what — we’ll set more! If you’re good at achieving goals, then you naturally start creating more and/or bigger goals, since your production capability is large.
But you will never have a day when you don’t have goals somewhere ahead of you. For you can’t dwell on accomplishments. The moment you achieve a goal, it becomes a thing of past. It will not feed you or sustain you, even when its afterglow appears to give you more clout. You become driven (which is considered good) and action-oriented. But on the days when you don’t appear to be making progress, or heaven forbid, if you make mistakes or set backs — your sense of well-being is threatened. You feel immensely frustrated and vulnerable when that happens. And the greater your goals are, there would be longer to-do lists hanging over your head. You get overwhelmed. You cope by breaking them down to smaller, manageable chunks. But your chunks never grow smaller — when you check off some, they are immediately replaced by next sets.
We further compensate for this by manipulating our vision. Create realistic, achievable goals. (don’t dream too big!) Identify tangible goals that have clear criteria that tells you when you achieved it. (focus on results you can see and measure!) Write your goals down, make to-do lists, get organized. (so that you don’t get lost!)
Wow. Do you ever feel tired, doing this? I do.
Rebuild Your Goals on a Stable Ground
I’m going to label this type of goals described above as result-oriented goals. They tend to serve capitalism better than your inner peace. If you’re setting goals because of any of the above reasons then I suggest you throw away those goals. It’s time to rebuild from ground up. They do more harm than good to your sense of well-being, because you’re basing that on a precarious, shaky ground, one which is not reliable and could give away beneath you any moment.
You don’t need goals to justify your existence. You don’t need to prove to anyone that you’re a good, lovable person. You don’t need to display your achievements as an evidence of your effectiveness. These all come naturally out of a healthy self-esteem and a correct paradigm, one set on being instead of doing.
If you seek any peace, joy and satisfaction in a consistent, ever-present way — in addition to measurable results and achievements — then the why of goal-setting must be identified and set right before you set goals. The goal of goal-setting must focus on engaging in a process instead of producing results. It may turn out that you still come back to the same set of goals. But when built upon the correct principles, these goals will enhance and solidify your joy and self-worth, instead of tying them to a ball and chain. You will still produce measurable results, though they become by-product, beneficial side effects of your pursuing of your goals. Your effectiveness will not suffer but increase — your goals will lead you to be productive and guarantee your satisfaction.
How do we do this? By setting process-oriented goals. That’s what we’ll examine in the next installment of this series.