Goal Setting: A New Approach

I was raised to set goals.

I think most of us are. Goal-setting was also advocated by many of the success gurus I used to follow. I remember one in particular—Mark Victor Hansen, of Chicken Soup for the Soul fame—who suggested we ought to have 100 goals and carry them with us wherever we go. For years I set goals, maybe not 100 of them, but I had goals, and they were S.M.A.R.T., too: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely.

After all, if you don’t clearly identify exactly what you want to achieve or what you consider a success, how will you know if you accomplish it? This is the reasoning behind goal-setting. It makes sense. And, I’m sure it’s helpful for many people.

For me, however, setting goals ended up being a double-edged sword.

You see my goals were always specific and centered around how much money I wanted to be making, how many clients I wanted to have, how many people I wanted to get on my email list. Metrics that would measure the success of my business. Sure, these goals provided me with something measurable to shoot for. They helped me create plans-of-attack to achieve them.

There was only one problem with those goals (and I didn’t see it at the time).

The accomplishment of them was outside of my control.

Yes, I could take steps to try to achieve them. But so many other factors outside of my control played a role in whether or not I would achieve them. In many ways I was setting myself up for disappointment, and often through no fault of my own. As I shared in my book, Breaking the Spell, I’m the type of person who will do whatever it takes to make something happen. The challenge is, we really can’t make things happen. At least things that involve other people or factors outside of our control. Because those other people have a say in the matter, too. And no matter what we do, we can’t control the behavior of others, or the marketplace. We can only control our own behavior.

So I stopped setting goals.

I got tired of working so hard and doing everything I was taught, told, or could think of and still not getting there. Or, the other side of the coin: achieving the goal and then immediately setting a new goal without taking time out to celebrate my accomplishments. It became a recipe for burnout and frustration.

The past few years I’ve been following a different guidance system.

I call it following inspiration. It’s all about getting back in touch with your heart and paying attention to where it’s leading you. And, listening for that little inspired voice telling you what to do (I share a lot about this on my other blog, Following Inspiration, and in my book).

I have to say the journey my inspiration has led me on has been a wonderfully successful one. Not only have I gotten back in touch with what’s important to me, and what I enjoy doing, I have accomplished more, more easily, than I did when I was setting all those big goals and working my fingers to the bone trying to achieve them.

I have also received the gift of clarity.

Going with the flow or letting go and trusting (my mantras and really just another way of saying “following inspiration”) has guided me onto a very clear path, both personally and professionally. So much so, that this January I was very clear about my goals for this year. Only this time the goals are different. They’re not about hitting specific milestones of success. And most importantly, they don’t involve other people. They rest completely on my shoulders. And in many ways, I view them as intentions more than goals. They are things I want to DO this year. Not things I want to ACCOMPLISH. May not seem like a big distinction to you, but there is a huge difference between setting out to DO something vs. setting out to ACCOMPLISH something.

We can DO anything we want. Doing involves taking action.

We can’t always ACCOMPLISH anything we want. Accomplishment involves reaching a certain level that may or may not be possible, given our own limitations, the marketplace we operate our business in, and economic and other factors beyond our control.

Here are my goals for this year.

I’m sharing them to illustrate how they are different from S.M.A.R.T. goals. And so you can see that if I am committed to them, and taking action on each one, I will achieve them. I realize the goal gurus may not approve and I don’t care. They work for me and that’s all that matters (this is an important point if you’re allowing others to dictate how you should do things or what you should do!)

One other thing I’d like to point out: these goals are much more balanced across my entire life than in the past. In the past all my goals centered around my business and becoming more successful. Now, I view my work as something I do in between, or alongside, the other things in my life. My life is like a pie with equally sized and important (and enjoyable!) slices.

Goal #1: Run the Rock and Roll San Diego Marathon 

Goal #2: Build out The Business Stylist Marketing Academy

Goal #3: Work toward Therapy Dog Certification with my puppy, Hope

Goal #4: Learn more about SEO

How I came up with these goals.

I did not sit down on January 1st and brainstorm a list of goals for the year. These goals came to me (they were inspired). And, they’re all the natural evolution of things I was already doing last year (running, creating video training courses, training my new puppy, and taking classes/reading books, etc. to learn new and interesting things).

They are all things I plan to DO this year, and enjoy the process of doing. That’s another big difference with these goals. They really are more about the doing—the journey toward the goal—than the end goal itself. And, for the most part, while I want to focus on these activities this year, there is no hard, fast, deadline for any of them. Well, except for the marathon which has a scheduled date.

For me these goals feel very different from any goals I’ve set in the past.

I don’t have a fear of “what if I don’t achieve them?” There’s no sense of having to accomplish them so I can prove something to myself, or anyone else. Instead, they are more of a menu of activities for 2014. They help me plan my days and weeks and decide how I want to spend my time.

About Debbie

Debbie is an author, blogger, online teacher, business owner, and mid-lifer. She's writes on a wide range of topics, from marketing, money and success, to finding meaning at midlife. If it's on her mind, you'll find her writing about it!

2 comments on “Goal Setting: A New Approach

  1. Pingback: Accepting Limitations: Letting Go of a Goal

  2. Pingback: Setting Goals: When Things Don't Go According to Plan

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