A Different Perspective on Goal Setting

When you hear the word “goals”, do you get excited or do you want to run for the hills? When I was young, goals were exciting for me, a chance to see what I could do. But then it changed and they started stressing me out. I began to have an aversion to them and didn’t want to set any for myself. Looking back, I can see why that happened. When I was young, fear wasn’t getting in the way of me moving forward. The excitement of the possibilities available to me was stronger than any belief that would hold me back. The shift from excitement to fear happened because I began attaching my self-worth to the outcome of achieving the goal. What if I fail? What if I don’t achieve the goal? What will that say about me and what will people think? I was so attached to the outcome of achieving the goal that the fear of possibly not achieving it was either holding me back or stressing me out.

Not only was I attached to the outcome, I tried to rigidly control how I got there. I would set a goal and then try to micromanage every step of the way to ensure that I was successful. I was successful in achieving many of my goals this way but the journey to the goals felt awful and scary. By the time I reached my goal, I was stressed out and exhausted. The joy I thought I would feel in achieving the goal, simply wasn’t there because I was depleted.

The happiness wasn’t there because I was trying to live my life from the outside in. I was using external sources to prove that I was worthy and I spent the whole time up in my head worrying and planning and controlling every step. One of my mentors, Michael Neill, sums it up really well. He says that “without the thinking, goals are just targets, something to aim for that help organize and coordinate actions, not something to determine your self worth or determine your well being”. If goals are tied up with your well being, it puts off how you want to feel until you achieve the goal and even then, we don’t always feel the way we thought we would. Thinking about what it will take to achieve your goals and what it will mean to you if you don’t, can take you out before you even get started.

The mindset shift that has helped me relax more in setting goals is the following. The reality is, there are some goals I will achieve and some that I will fail miserably at. Either result is fine because it has no bearing on who I am and my self worth and well being. Nada! I love Michael’s analogy of goal setting like a game of snakes and ladders. Sometimes on our way to the winning square at the end of the game, we get to climb ladders which propel us forward quickly. Sometimes we just move forward one square at a time. Sometimes we find ourselves going backwards down the snakes. We may say “Oh crap” but we don’t think, I am a loser and not good enough to play this game. We don’t quit the game. We just keep rolling the dice and making our way forwards again until we reach the end. We would all be sitting in the dark if Thomas Edison quit when he failed the first 100 times in attempting to get a light bulb to work. Thank goodness he didn’t let the snakes take him out of the game.

I was listening to a workshop this weekend and I love what Gabriela Madonado-Montano said because it really rang true for me. She said “Thank God we learn to walk when we are children”. If we learned to walk as adults, we wouldn’t get back up and try again after the first 10 fails. We fell down a lot as kids but we didn’t give up and kept moving forward. We forget as adults that this capacity exists in us as adults. It doesn’t leave us as we transition from childhood into adulthood. We have this innate resiliency within us that helps us bounce back in spite of any perceived failure we may experience. Our essence/spirit/soul can not be damaged regardless of our life experiences. It is deep within us from our time of birth into this world and it is never tarnished, damaged or diminished. It is always there within us whether we feel it or not. Life experiences just get in the way of us feeling it. We become disconnected so that we don’t feel it and then we forget that it is within us still. An analogy would be like the sun being covered by clouds. The sun hasn’t disappeared. It is just being obscured by the clouds covering it. It doesn’t shine any less and isn’t any less brilliant. We just can’t see or feel it because it is covered up. In life, the sun is our essence and the clouds are all the life experiences, thoughts, beliefs and emotions we have had. Your essence is always there, shining within you and is not affected by whether you achieve your goals or not.

Remembering this truth has helped me relax into my goals instead of striving and pushing towards them. It feels so much better! I set goals that I really desire, not because I feel I should set them or because they will determine my self worth but because I really want to achieve them. The energy and my “why” underneath setting my goals has shifted from a “needing to” to a “wanting to”. I have also let go of how everything should look along the way. When I tried to control every step before, I was closing off the possibility of something even better than I could imagine from happening. When I am having an unconscious moment in the car when my husband is driving and I start telling him what route to take, he reminds me that there are many ways of getting to the same destination and I need to just trust that he will get me there safely. I immediately can relax, let go and enjoy the ride.

Here is my invitation to you, should you accept it. Where in your life can you let go of the reins a little and relax the controlling behaviour, knowing that regardless of the outcome, you are going to be just fine? Experiment with it and see if you feel differently. It may feel a little wobbly at first because you are not used to it but I promise that over time, with practice, you will feel more relaxed, free and happier. Surrender used to be my “S” word. Oh shit, I’m supposed to surrender. Now it is more my friend than foe.

Until next time, let go and let live!

Much love,

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