Why You Shouldn’t Set Goals
"You can't achieve anything in life if you don't set goals for yourself first."
Have you heard that before?
It is largely accepted that if you don't have well defined goals in life, you will get nowhere. SMART goals, performance goals, long-term goals, outcome goals, life goals, process goals, you name your own goals!
Unfortunately, rushing into goal-setting mode from the get go can be detrimental and can keep you from achieving amazing feats in life. Let me tell you why, and let me offer you another way to put the world in your pocket.
I have been trained as a Life Coach and accredited by the International Coach Federation (ICF). I have been trained as a Health and Diabetes Prevention Coach, Behavioral Change and Weight Management Specialist, and accredited as such by the American Council on Exercise (ACE). During my training, which spanned over 4-years, goals and the goal-setting process were omnipresent and they were pretty much the very first step recommended for anyone who wants to improve the quality of their life.
Yet, when I look at the reality of my clients and at my own reality, things don't work this way!
When goal-setting doesn't work
For many people, setting long-term goals is daunting and altogether paralyzing. The idea of having to set specific life goals can keep someone from doing anything in the first place and from taking action. Obviously, that doesn't help much in achieving big dreams, right? I have seen it happen again and again. People get stuck and can't go further than the goals setting phase.
Other people are quite excited at the prospect of working on goals. Visualizing long-term achievements, imagining a new lifestyle for themselves.... until they start working toward those goals and realize that their expectations are not realistic and don't accommodate for everyday-life constraints. This can be devastating. Indeed, more often than not, we don't question our goals when we "fail". We blame our defeat on laziness, lack of competence, poor self-control... Or we blame it on those around us, which usually doesn't lead to a much happier life, either.
Don't set goals, do this instead!
When you are thinking about making changes in your life, you might want to postpone the goal-setting phase to later times.
Unless it is an area in which you have already had success, you have plenty of real-life experience, and you know exactly what you are getting into. Otherwise, don't rush into goal-setting mode!
Instead, start making progress toward your vague idea of what a better life might look like. In other words, get to work first!
Start taking action in a somewhat positive direction, and keep the goal-setting and planning phase for later.
I am not saying that setting goals is a mistake. No at all!
I walk each of my clients through a well-oiled goal-setting process. It is a lot of fun and it is always very inspiring for everyone. But we don't start with goals. We keep that process for later down the road. We work first. We get things done. We experience some successes, and we experiment with challenges. In a nutshell, we test the waters.
Why goals can be crippling
Mainly for 3 reasons:
1- This daunting first phase will keep you from getting started;
2- You will define such specific and SMART goals that they won't leave much room for exploration, experimentation, and for going in completely different directions without the feeling that you are losing your focus;
3- Finally, because if you didn't set the right goals from the get go - which happens quite often if you work on defining your dreams too early in the process - you will "fail" to achieve them and you will feel like a "good for nothing". This is going to make everything so much harder from there.
Many clients, when we talk the first time, are convinced that they are lazy and have no will-power, just because they have never been able to stick to their workout or dieting goals. Part of the reason for their lack of success is definitely that they had set the wrong goals for themselves and were using the wrong methods, but also that they had committed to a plan before really knowing what to expect: what they could afford, what they would enjoy, what barriers they would encounter, etc...
There's what we think... and what we do
Imagine you find yourself in the driver seat of a car in a very large city, in a foreign country. You know the name of a little town where you are expected for dinner. You don't have a GPS, but you have a map... And we all now how helpful a map can be in a big city, right?
So, what will you do? Will you park and highlight your detailed trip on the map, city street after city street and avenue after avenue, crossing your fingers that there won't be any "one-way street" or detour in the city?
We all know you won't do that, right? Because we all know it doesn't work.
What is more likely is that you will find a way to get out of that huge city as quickly as possible - that's usually a pretty easy tasks since there will be signs to help you do that. Once you are outside the "chaos", you will stop, take a look at your map, and establish your itinerary via highways and free ways, without going back into the mess you just escaped.
This is exactly how I handle goal-setting with most of my clients and how I do it for myself. This is also what I recommend you do when you have a vague notion of what you might want to achieve. Just start somewhere! In any direction. Taking action is the most important part! Even if it's not quite the best action. Even if it ends up not really serving your unclear long-term vision.
It is important to get things done, experiment, get an idea of how hard or easy it will be. You will learn so much about yourself in that process and so much about your dreams and how you can reach them. This is a critical phase that will allow you to set really SMART and relevant goals a little bit down the road.
What about health and weight loss?
How does that look like when it comes to setting wellness goals? Imagine you want to "become healthier and lose weight". That is not very specific, right? What does it mean to be healthy? When will you know you have reached your goal? And how much weight do you want to lose? By when? If you go through the goals-setting process, you will most likely have to answer all those questions (and many more), to really define what it is that you want to be or do.
I have seen so many people come up with very specific weight loss goals. And because they can't reach them, they just think that they will never lose weight and they get extremely discouraged.
Save yourself the work and the painful experience!
A recipe for long-term success
Here is how I would do it. Even if you don't know what being healthy means to you, even if you don't know how much weight and by when you want to lose it, start getting in motion. Start doing little things that will take you somewhat closer to the vague idea you have in mind. I call those tiny actions: "action steps". Keep your long-term goals as vague as you wish for now, don't sweat it! You don't want to waste time creating "a perfect plan" that won't hold against a crazy work schedule or a bunch of sick kids at home.
Just get moving. Take lots of tiny steps. Track them! Tracking will help you not only be accountable to yourself, but also see what works and what doesn't work for you, what's realistic and what's not.
Do that for a while. Maybe 1 month or 2. Once you have a much better idea of how your vision might fit into your lifestyle, then you can set really good and realistic goals for yourself. Really SMART goals. Because you will have a better idea of what to expect, a better picture of where you are starting from, and a much better idea of what obstacles will come up along the way.
Defining goals is NOT the first step toward achieving them.
Taking action is the first step!
Any action that doesn't obviously conflict with your broad aspirations.
So, tell me, what is the very first action you will take TODAY? Write it down somewhere and add it to the comments below. It will help you feel more accountable and will most likely also inspire another reader (and me!).
If you are stuck, reach out to me. I now offer a Laser Coaching Consultation at a very affordable price that will help you get "unstuck" in only an hour. We can do this in-person or over the phone. It's your choice, so why don't we go grab the moon together? Let's go! Allons-y!