Why Goal Setting Still Sucks!


As we turn the corner on 2017 I reflect on an article I wrote a few years ago around goal setting.I find it interesting that so many of us seem so eager to throw away the year that has elapsed. I have heard many people say something to the effect of “I can’t wait for 2017 to be over and get on with a fresh new year!” I tend to nod, smile and acknowledge the sentiment although when I actually put any thought to it it really does not make sense to throw away all the trials and tribulations of the year gone by.

With challenge comes opportunity for change, so instead of dropping the year gone by like a hot potato let’s celebrate it for the opportunities it has offered.

Would we be the person we are today had these events not occurred? It is something I would like you to consider before throwing it all away as you sit down to plot out the year ahead. We know that those things we wish to accomplish rarely come easy so take some time to reflect on the trials and tribulations of the 2017. Extrapolate the lessons from them so that we can be better prepared for a kick ass 2018.

What can you let go of and leave behind for 2018? What lessons can you build on from the challenges of 2017?

In my 2015 article I told you why I stopped setting goals. I shared with you a much better framework.

Stop setting goals! Just stop.

The new year is when we should be reevaluating and reaffirming our Values, our Intentions and setting Milestones as a roadmap.

As I write this now and reflect on that popular refrain of “I can’t wait til this year is over” I will add a fourth piece to the framework: Reflection.

Before we dive in again let’s revisit why I still contend that traditional goal setting is a bad idea for life.

I’d love for you to take the time to read the original article and contrast it to this one. One of the important factors with both the traditional method of goal setting and the new paradigm I propose is the need to continually reevaluate. These methodologies are cyclical in nature and build upon our life experiences which is why adding that initial piece of reflection is paramount.

Let’s touch on what I call the ‘scorecard’ of life. A scorecard is used to tally up accomplishments in order to measure progress or achievement. Most of us have been taught from an early age about the scorecard. We are started in kindergarten and it follows us through school career. It endures well into our employment years. We are taught that what matters most is your tangible achievements. Things like more money, more things, more beauty, less fat, perfect children, perfect spouse, external love and the list goes on.

Remember this…

They can take away what you have, but they can never take away who you are. Focus on becoming more not having more.

Here are the four reasons I think goal setting still fucking sucks. (I was feeling generous today so I added a FREE fifth reason!)

  1. Traditional Goals SUCK! (aka We put the wrong things on the scorecard)
    The problem with traditional goals is that they set a false measuring stick and leave you open to ‘failure’. Are you really a failure if you don’t earn that six figure income? Of course not.Are you really less of a human being because you don’t drive a fancy car or live in a big house? I am not opposed to having a wish list of material things but we need to change the priority of what goes on the score card.
  2. What you THINK you want is probably wrong!
    Lets take the six figure income goal as an example. It’s not likely the six figures that you want. More likely it is what you think that kind of income will allow you to have. The house, the car, the boat, the toys, the trips. Even those are not likely your end desire. What you are really looking for is how those possessions will make you feel. Whether it is status, prestige, security, time with the family or maybe just plain ol fun, the income is really just a means to an end, not the end itself.
  3. Traditional goals potentially blind us to other possibilities
    If we become blindly focused on the outcome, the six figure income for example, we may actually miss other options to achieve our real desires. Even worse, the pursuit of these traditional goals may move us farther away from WHO we want to be.If family time is our true priority then trust me, chasing an income goal is probably the easiest way to get further and further away from it.Once we have set these goals as firm it becomes easy to justify their pursuit regardless of whether they are in alignment with our values.Here is a classic: “I’m staying extra hours at the office so I can earn more income, which will provide more for my family.”This one isn’t rocket science. If what you truly value is more time with your family then spending LESS time at the office and MORE time with them is a much easier solution. The problem is your six figure income ‘goal’ may well be in direct conflict with the real desired outcome of more family time.
  4. You may not like who you become
    Chasing materialistic goals may cause you to compromise your values. We tend to justify our actions based on the measuring sticks we set. Working extra hours may certainly get you that six figure income but does it come at the expense of missing your daughters dance recital? Do you justify a moral lapse that will get you that big deal?
  5. We become to attached to the results
    I know this one may seem counter-intuitive. After all isn’t it the results that matter? There are a number of perils in becoming results oriented. 

    1. When we focus on the results we become future focused. We can easily miss out on the present moment. If instead we detach from the outcome and focus on the process or activities we can become much more present focused. This allows us to more fully enjoy the moment instead of worrying about the potential future result. 
    2. When we focus on the result we relinquish control. We have 100% control of the process we follow. We do not necessarily have control of the results. There may be factors outside of our control that prevent us from ultimately achieving the desired outcome. 
    3. When we become attached to the result we tend to measure our worth based on achievement rather than effort. Effort is the only thing we have control of. 
    4. We are less likely to experiment along the way. When we let go of the result we are more apt to take a shot at other methodologies.

So let’s talk about an enhanced paradigm, something I believe much more meaningful than “achieving your goals”.

All change starts with awareness. Awareness starts with reflection. Reflection means the use of formal serious and careful thought.

While reflection should be a daily practice, I recognize for many of us this is not feasible. A great alternative is sitting down at the beginning of a new year to practice it.

What you can do right now:
Write down 3-5 of the major events or accomplishments in your life over the last 12 months. If you want you can categorize them into positive and negative.

Values are what should be on the top of the scorecard of life, yet we rarely visit these with the frequency do ‘goals’.

Acknowledging that values do change over time is important as well. I think we tend to think of values as static constants that should never change.

This would not be a healthy reality for anyone to live in. I would be in a lot of trouble today if my values at the age of 48 were the same as they were at age 18.

Our experiences give us the opportunity to reevaluate and revisit our values. When we challenge them one of two things happen, either they are reinforced or they start to change.

Over a lifetime the values that continue to hold up to years of challenge and reflection are what ultimately shape who we are. Those values that are not true to our nature we simply shed.

What you can do right now:
Grab a pen and piece of paper or open a digital document, brainstorm a list of values that are important to you. Shoot for 15, they don’t all have to be high priority values but I want you to get your brain working. Sit down and free flow as many as you can. If you can write out 100 that is great too.
Start assigning importance scores to them out of 100. Don’t think too hard on it simply go down the list and start scoring them based on your gut.

An intention is defined as an aim or a plan. While goals are future focused an intention is all about the present moment. For me this is much more about who and how I want to be as opposed to what I want to accomplish. I’ll give you an example from my own life that demonstrates what I am talking about.

I love to climb. Rock climbing, Ice climbing or scrambling. When I go climbing my goal might be to reach the summit. My intention however is to ensure I enjoy every moment of my surroundings and the beauty of the environment I am in and the company I am keeping. My intention is far more satisfying than my goal and can be achieved whether I make the summit or not.

What you can do right now:

Wrapping your head around setting an intention can be difficult. It can seem ethereal, intangible and like grasping at a cloud. Take a look at the following sentence starters and try a few on for size. Complete these sentences without a lot of deliberate thought and see what comes up for you. Try it a few times and see if it changes.

I want…
I intend…
I am…
I allow…
I open the possibility of…

For me these are what immediately jump to mind. Try it a few times and see what comes out. You may be surprised.

  • I want to help more people become the best version of themselves
  • I intend to leave this world a better place for me being in it
  • I am light
  • I allow abundance to come into my life

Milestones are much more akin to traditional goals and are waypoints along the journey. Here is where we can list the ‘things’ we want to have or achieve, understanding that these are secondary to our values and intentions. In other words we do not compromise values or intentions in order to achieve our milestones.

What you can do right now:
Allocate 1 hour to sit down and write.
Brainstorm and write down as many things that you wish to accomplish that you can think of this year. Don’t edit yet, just write them all down.
Review those to make sure that they still align well with your Values and Intentions.
Prioritize those based on importance to your Values and Intentions.
Take your top three and make sure you have a formal plan to accomplish them. Remember ‘hope’ is not a strategy.

Here are a few of the milestones I reached last year.

  • Lead climb on a sport route
  • Minimum of 10 speaking engagements
  • Rock concert with my daughter (Black Sabbath if you must know)
  • Hire an editor to help finish my book

Here are a few on the list for 2018

  • Lead climb an ice route
  • Finish and publish my book
  • Buy a place in the mountains
  • Individual destination trip with each kid

There you have it, my revised framework for 2018.

Now it’s your turn: Tell me one thing you will do differently this year than last.



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