“Once I reach my goal, I will be happy,” is what most people say when they set a goal. What is problematic about this approach to life is the idea that your happiness is somewhere in the future and not available to you now.
Goals, by their nature, fool you into thinking that outside circumstances are what make you happy. They are for your future self, not your present self. This dynamic is how you can feel victimized by goal setting.
Future planning does require your attention to exercise some control and direction over your life. Goals help you make concrete what is uncertain and, if you are like most people, you were taught early in life that if you wanted to be successful, you must have goals. But there are limitations to living goal-to-goal.
Here are a few:
- Goals put you on a roller coaster relationship with achieving. Did you make your goal or not?
- Often goals are not yours. If they are filled with “should, ought to, and have to” phrases, it is a clue they are someone else’s goals, not yours.
- Goals are tied to certainty. You are making decisions today based on the illusion you can predict the future.
- Goals are rooted in either-or thinking. Did you achieve your goal or didn’t you? If you didn’t, your goal can become a problem that Persecutes you into a disempowering relationship with yourself.
There is also an important myth about goals. It is not the goal itself that you want. You crave the feeling that having the goal will give you. You visualize the new shiny sports car and crave the feeling of independence and freedom. You want the job promotion to feel approval and status. You want the extra income to feel more secure. Goals are linked to a change in your emotional state that you want. It is not the goal—it is the feeling that you desire.
As an alternative, fall in love with the outcome that is the larger context of who you really are that has an innate, and creative intelligence as a human being. The larger question is who are you being on your way to what you want? Here is one example how I (Donna) learned this valuable lesson.
I have wanted to paint most of my adult life. I took painting classes with the goal that my paintings would be “good enough” to show to friends. But after several classes I always heard an inner voice that said: “You are not a good painter” so I would set aside my goal to paint.
Last year I realized my goal to paint a picture good enough to show friends was a problem-focused goal and was not serving me. I shifted to a more life-giving outcome and asked myself new questions: “What kind of person do I want to be as I learn to paint?” The answers gradually emerged, and I declared. “I am a person who enjoys being around others who want to paint. I feel my pulse accelerate when I walk into an artist studio. I feel the child-like joy of playing with colors and shapes. I am a person who longs to paint.”
This is an entirely different approach to life than goal setting which admonishes: “Add more, be more, strive more.” No wonder so many people are feeling exhausted during the pandemic, thinking they should accomplish even more goals. Instead, focus on what brings you alive. What do you care about?
Reflect upon who you are being on the way to creating what you want. Work backwards, discern just one Baby Step that will support you being that person. This is the path to lasting fulfillment and realizing your Creator essence, which is who you really are.