I’ve written many times about how goals and New Years Resolutions don’t work and how setting goals is missing the point.
I’m nothing if not inquisitive, so in the face of other coaches continuing with a goal-focused approach and some folks saying I’m wrong, I decided to take another look.
Turns out, I was right all along. Well, kind of.
The fact remains that the vast majority of goals and New Year’s resolutions fail, but before I tell you the fool-proof way to use them I want to explain the problems with them.
The problem with goals
- The very nature of goals make you look forwards at what’s next, never at what you’ve got right now. They instantly create a gap between where you are and where you want to be, and that makes it easy for a part of you to conclude that where you are right now is a place you don’t want to be, and that you must somehow be “less than” because otherwise you’d already have that goal nailed.
- All too often goals are based on what people think they should want, or what they want to want. This is a sure-fire way of heading down the wrong road or giving yourself more ammo to beat yourself up with.
- Goals too-often lack a foundation of meaning and personal relevance. You’re taking something that doesn’t really mean anything to you and trying to make it happen; sure, you might get an initial burst of motivation that gets you started, but that never lasts.
- Goals make you too future-focused and take you out of where you are right now. Goals put your vision squarely on the future and it’s all to easy to get sucked into planning for what might be rather than noticing what is.
- There’s no link between reaching a goal or resolution and happiness. It’s been proven that people who achieve a goal are NO happier than those who don’t set goals or who don’t reach them.
- Goal setting can be a handy way for people to maintain the illusion of control. If you feel like you’re able to plan and control things by setting goals then life’s uncertainties won’t be able to interfere or knock you off track. Of course, the reality is that there’s little we can actually control and exerting effort in that direction is the definition of struggling.
What’s Needed Instead
- Create a mechanism where the perceived gap between you and an end point / goal / objective doesn’t matter.
- Have a system that strips away all of the ‘shoulds’, ‘oughts’ and half-hearted ‘wants’.
- Use an approach that makes it easy to find what really matters so that everything you do is aligned around the things that have a personal relevance.
- Find a way to de-future-fy goals; making sure that where you are right now – this very moment – is the most important thing.
- Understand that your happiness is not dependent on getting what you want but that the real gold and real value is in the experience, NOT in the end result.
- A way of moving forwards that doesn’t involve struggling or suffering.
So with those needs established I come back to the approach I’ve been using for the last few years.
The entire, entire point of playing a game is that you get into the game and play it to your best ability. That need and want you have to play a game is something that comes from the inside, something that’s based on what’s important and what matters to you.
And of course you can’t hope to win a game unless you want to play it. If you win, fantastic, but if you don’t win you learn more about the game and simply become a better player.
You have to get into the flow of playing the game right now, engage with every moment of it, and make a decision to play. And that’s the level of relevance, meaning, engagement and unstuckness that goals and resolutions simply don’t have.
Here’s a diagram for ya.
Looking at the middle box (the one with brand new PurpleArrowTM technology), right at the top is the game you want to play. If you don’t like the word “game”, use theme or intention instead.
Your game is where you jump in with both feet with what I call inspired participation. This has to excite you, it has to look, sound, taste and smell amazing to you. It has to be something you can’t wait to start. The example I’ve used here is being the world’s best tennis player, but it could be having a $250,000 business, travelling the world, being in the best damn relationship you can imagine or anything else that gets your heart thumping with excitement.
Once you have your game you can look at the strategies you can employ to bring your game to life. This is about creating a roadmap towards winning your game, broad strokes for the kinds of activity that will make you the best player you can be. In the tennis example it’s nailing your serve, but outside of tennis this could be something like having a social media strategy, building your dating confidence or mastering the inner game.
Objectives & Goals
Underneath that is where the goals or objective fit in. Once you have your game and strategies sorted you’ll need some specific targets to hit, measurable targets that will stretch you and deliver something concrete. In the tennis example the objective is to add 10mph to your serve, and why not set an additional objective to hit 95% of serves on target – you can include anything that will help to deliver on one of your strategies. Create a new, mid-range product for your target customer, go on 1 date per week or master your fear of meeting new people, for example.
At the bottom level is employing tactics and taking action. These are the specific things you can do to make that objective or goal happen. This is about execution; it’s where you actually play the game. Again, in the tennis example it’s committing to strength training 4 times per week, but this needs to be a specific, achievable action point that you can take away and carry out.
While this might seem fairly rigid it’s actually damn flexible. You don’t need to sit down and plot all of this out ahead of time, and you can tackle it from any position, as long as you keep in mind all four layers.
Let’s say that you’ve set a New Years Resolution to go to the gym 3 times per week. Yawn. Didn’t you try that last year too? Let me tell you right now, if that’s all you’ve got it won’t work. This resolution is all about execution; it’s a specific action point for you take away and do and by itself you’ll never see it through. What’s missing from it is the other 3 levels.
What’s the reason you want to hit the gym 3 times per week? What’s that? You want to loose a stone in weight and be able to run for 5 kilometers and still feel ready for more? Okay, now we’re getting somewhere, you’ve identified a couple of goals and objectives for your action to fit into.
But where do those goals and objectives fit into the bigger picture? What strategies are they a part of that add to something amazing? Well, if you’ve lost that weight and can easily run for 5 kilometers you may well be in your best shape physically. That’s a strategy right there – “get myself in prime physical shape”.
And then the big one. What’s the reason you want to be in prime physical shape? What does that contribute to? What matters to you that would be helped by being in prime physical shape? This could be something like running the New York marathon, walking the Inca trail, climbing Kilimanjaro for a charity that has a personal relevance or perhaps changing career to a sports coach.
See how it works? You can start big or start small, just remember to visit the other layers too. Also, to aid flexibility the two middle layers – strategies and goals – can be swapped around if it’s easier to work and think that way. That means that you can define an objective (e.g. to add 10 mph to your serve, move to a company who understand your values, put together a fantastic seminar, etc.) and then figure out the strategies that you need to employ to bring about that objective. Whichever way works for you is cool.
This is why goal setting is for dummies. Because if that’s all you’re doing you won’t succeed. I’ve run through this stuff pretty quickly because, frankly, I don’t wanna be all preachy and coachy at you. This, without writing a whole book about it, is how you can get into a game that matters and bring it to life. This really is how you can make amazing stuff happen in 2010.
Go to it, let me know how you get on and holler if you have any questions.