The problem with goal setting

I love goal setting. LOVE it. Big picture thinking comes easily to me, and I could do it all day, every day. Dreaming big, imagining success and setting tasks for myself to achieve them is pure bliss.

I’m learning however, that goal setting has a dark side.

Setting goals and working towards them comes naturally, and helps move me towards a happier life, but it also feeds my perfectionism and tendency to burnout on everything that I do.

I don’t like these things about myself, and I’d much rather bury them deep in my subconscious. But they are important to talk about, as I imagine I’m not alone in my struggle.

It’s also painful to admit that while I’m a great goal setter, sometimes there’s no follow through. I spend all my energy on the meticulous planning phase and have nothing left for taking the steps required to achieve the actual goals themselves.

It’s a funny paradox.

I have absolutely no problem with taking action or getting things done the majority of the time, but conversely, the opposite is also true. I have notebooks filled with goals. Plans and actions that never saw the light of day after they were initially written. A goal graveyard.

It would be easy to get down on myself about this apparent flaw but I’m choosing to look at it from another angle.

Maybe sometimes a goal doesn’t have to go anywhere.

Maybe it’s something you don’t really want deep down, but you need to get it out of your head so your ego stops taunting you with it.

I’ve suffered a lot in the past from ‘shoulds’. Goal X should be my goal, because its a worthy goal to have. It will make me happy. I’ll feel successful if I achieve it and why shouldn’t I achieve it, if I’m successful?

This is not a fun loop to be in.

There’s a downward spiral that can occur with this thinking. If you follow this train of thought then you could work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and never feel like you have ‘made it’, or allow yourself to feel happy and fulfilled.

You’ll charge full steam towards a goal – achieve it – then be left scratching your head when all you feel is emptiness instead of accomplishment.

This is exactly how I felt when I launched my functional medicine practice and clients started signing up.

I was a mess.

Instead of elation I was consumed by disappointment. I felt ashamed even. It was not a good place to be.

When you move towards a goal that is not in alignment with your values and your ‘Why’, this is typically the result.

The easy part is setting a goal, the hard part is doing the inner (hard) work required to figure out what the hell you want out of your life, and the legacy you’d like to leave.

Your purpose.

You figure that out first and the goals should take care of themselves.

It doesn’t have to be about changing the world in a huge Bill Gates kind of way either – maybe your Why is related to life-long learning, or spending more time with your kids.

That’s the real stuff.

The ego is a taskmaster.

And a box-ticker.

It LOVES ticking boxes and doesn’t care much if you enjoyed the task or got something out of it.

Mine would drive me to exhaustion if I let it – it already has – but I’m learning to fight back. And we must all fight back if we want to lead fulfilled lives in line with our values.

The kind of lives that make us spring out of bed in the morning, and make us proud.

It’s not about who can get the longest list of accolades, or achieve the most goals in their lifetime. Goal setting has its place, yes, but it needs to be harnessed for good, and not for the self-serving purposes of the ego.

Discover your purpose, your Why, and the rest will figure itself out – no checklist needed.